Isolation Station: Tommy Guerrero

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Social distancing. Photo: Claudine Gossett

 

While the lockdown situation continues we figure that many of you with extra time on your hands may still be searching for worthy ways to spend it. One of our favourite skateboarders of all time is our latest Isolation Station contributor with a rich and diverse selection which will place you in four very different times in history, including a very important moment in our own.

Tommy Guerrero needs no introduction, turning pro 35 years ago, his many gifts to skateboarding punctuate it’s timeline and his contribution continues. Nostalgia reigned when the Amigos video circulated recently. This classic for Tommy’s old clothing company Forties transported us to another time and place like all of his recommendations below have the potential to do. I’m stoked to have had the chance to check in with San Francisco’s street skating pioneer about the gems he wants you to explore and where he is at right now. I’m looking forward to safer times when that tour finally has the chance to roll through.
 

 
POWELL PERALTA PRESENTS: THE BONES BRIGADE VIDEO SHOW
 
The Bones Brigade Video Show, what made this your video pick?

Just Lance’s part really, the fact that it’s one of the first skate videos from the early 80s. It’s really the pioneering video in our world. Lance’s part, him just cruising around the streets and being funny. Lance is so goofy and he brings so much fun to skating that it makes you want to skate. It gives you the sense of “hey I can go out and do that”, I just loved it. It was similar to what we had already been doing any way. Street skating, cruising around and basically exploring the city so it was neat. There was so much humour involved, I loved it, it was one of my favourite parts.

It was kind of echoing your own journey and what was going on in SF. Do you remember where you were when you first saw it?

I don’t actually, it could have been a skate shop. I didn’t have a VHS player at the time so probably at a skate shop. I just remember seeing his part. I loved his board, the orange board with the classic Stecyk skull and I think he’s riding the blue mini cubes. He’s wearing a skeleton suit in his part and jumping around and freaking out, he’s such a fucking character, it’s great. It wasn’t so serious I think that’s the beauty of it.

 

Lance’s part, him just cruising around the streets and being funny. Lance is so goofy and he brings so much fun to skating that it makes you want to skate.

 

He stole the show.

That’s what everyone kind of says and after that was when people started demanding his board.

Were you working in Concrete jungle at this time? It was filmed in 1983 and came out in 1984

I probably was actually because I was working there before I turned pro. I turned pro in 85 and I had told them that when I turned pro I was going to quit. So yeah it could have been Concrete Jungle.

This video solidifies the cultural importance of the curb.

Haha the cultural importance, that’s pretty funny. Yeah as far as people being able to see it in video form, in moving form. There had already been photos of people skating curbs and stuff before that. But as things are, we are all kind of doing the same things at the same time in different places. So you know people are already skating curbs and doing whatever everyone else is doing on the curbs for the most part. But I think you’re probably right where it brought it to the fore and really elevated the curb as an obstacle to be contended with.

Street skating gathering momentum.

Yeah like everywhere in the states, especially California all the skate parks started to close down, probably in 1980 so we grew up skating the streets because I grew up on a hill. When the parks were open the closest skate park by car was probably about an hour or so away. So we had to take several buses and the BART etc to get to the park so it was a good two and a half hour journey. It took us quite a while plus the cost when we didn’t have a lot of money. There was membership, you would pay by the hour or by the day plus food, drink and transportation so it was a bit costly.

Those parks closed due to liability and we went back to the streets. In San Francisco there were very few backyards that could hold a ramp, not only that, the neighbours wouldn’t allow such a thing. Because of the proximity of living, you’re living right next to each other. So many homes have no space, they are just built butt fit so it was basically back to the streets.

Hopefully somebody younger who has never seen Lance’s part will watch this

Hopefully.

DEAD MAN By JIM JARMUSCH
 
Dead Man by Jim Jarmusch. This film came out in 1996. Was this an easy pick?

Yeah fairly easy, just because that film has stayed with me ever since. It’s funny, I saw it in the theatre and I was with three other people and they all fell asleep. I loved the visual aspect of it, the pacing is slow, Neil Young doing the score with these big guitar reverbs. It was amazing, I loved it. The premise, the character Exaybachay whose name means ‘nobody’ and his belief that Johnny Depp’s character is this famous poet that he loves and he keeps reciting poetry. Oh man Crispin Glover he is insane in it, his character. Cinematically it’s so beautiful, I love that film.

Are you a Neil Young fan?

No I’m actually not, not that I dislike him by any means I just never listen to him at all. There are a few songs that I definitely like but yeah I’ve never bought a Neil Young record.

Because with this one I’ve listened to the soundtrack but never seen the film.

Oh wow, that’s really funny. You should definitely give it a watch. I might watch it again now after our discussing it.

So it’s in no way a regular Western?

Oh no definitely not, there’s so much humour involved and so many characters, Iggy Pop is in it too. The characters and the visual aspect of it, this really contrasting black and white is just amazing. The story has a lot of grit and grime, it’s set in a time when it was pretty lawless so it’s brutal too.

 

The story has a lot of grit and grime, it’s set in a time when it was pretty lawless so it’s brutal too

 

I read that It was really well researched when it comes to Native American culture and the unsubtitled Cree and Blackfoot language in there has many in jokes aimed at Native American viewers.

Oh wow, I hadn’t read that, that’s really funny. See I just learned something. I’m gonna look that up

Other than this film are you a Jim Jarmusch fan?

Yeah I am a big fan. I haven’t seen his latest one about zombies but other than that I believe I’ve seen pretty much all of them

JOHN COLTRANE. OLÉ
 
John Coltrane Olé tell us about this one.

Yes one of my favourites. Olé is the name of the album and the name of a song on the album and the song is about eighteen and a half minutes long. I believe I first heard it when we were on the road, I was driving and I think we were headed south, I think it was the trip where we were headed to Texas. I was driving and the song came on, I can’t remember who had it but for some reason I remember Tobin Yelland turning me on to it.

I’m driving the car looking out at this stark landscape in the middle of nowhere and this song comes on. The intensity of it and the fire really had an impact on me at that moment. Every time I listen to it the intensity is just there, it’s such an incredible tune. It’s this kind of linear tune which builds dynamically and melodically and shifts but the tension is always underlying, it’s a heavy tune.

 

I’m driving the car looking out at this stark landscape in the middle of nowhere and this song comes on. The intensity of it and the fire really had an impact on me at that moment. Every time I listen to it the intensity is just there, it’s such an incredible tune

 

You were already a jazz fan before hearing this tune?

Yeah I was, I was already collecting records and stuff. What really turned me on to jazz was all the early hip hop stuff. I’ve been playing music forever and I started getting more into making beats in around 90 or 91. I had a little sampler and I had my gear, I’d sample myself and sample snippets of parts and stuff so I would always go round looking for jazz records. This was because all the hip hop back then, A Tribe Called Quest who were one of my favourites sampled a lot of jazz. You would go searching out these records, back then when it was hard because you couldn’t just google something, you had to go and dig and find it. That is what really got me into jazz.

There’s a double bass part in the middle of this song where it breaks down. There’s bit over the top of it where it sounds like scratching but on the string.

Yeah he’s using a bow, he’s bowing. There are two bass players on that tape which is really interesting. I think one is more bowed and the other is fingered. You rarely hear two bass players on anything.

Coltrane was a sax player, have you ever tried out the sax?

I have not no. I would love to learn to play some kind of horn but I just haven’t delved into it yet. You have to really figure out the embouchure and it seems really difficult actually.

With the Neil Young soundtrack to the film before and this song there is a kind of hypnotic feel to it which reminds me of your music, it’s transportive.

Yeah it’s definitely the trance inducing sort of music where it’s really repetitive but it’s also layered and it builds and there is a quiet depth to a lot of it where changes can take you out of the moment. I am a fan of linear, repetitive trance like music. I’m not saying trance music and I’m not into any kind of dance music. But modal jazz and the spiritual jazz stuff is what I’m a big fan of. Of course I echo that in what I do because it’s what comes naturally to me and it’s what I dig. Also I think a lot of the musicians out there who approach music in that way are also searching and for what I don’t really know.

For the music to really work do all of the musicians need to be in a kind of flow state? Do you see a link to skateboarding? When everything works there is a state you reach.

There is a state where skating and music are similar. It’s where you are trying to transcend the moment, you are trying to take yourself out of being in constant thought, stopping those gears churning. I tend to think a lot and both music and skating give me some respite from that. When you’re skating you’re not thinking necessarily you’re just in the moment. The same with music, when you’re really in it. That’s what I love about music, especially when you’re playing with the right people who understand the music and aren’t just going through the motions.

So you recommend people digging into the John Coltrane archives?

Oh yeah of course. A Love Supreme is one of the greatest records of all time. Any genre people dig, everyone always quotes Coltrane A Love Supreme as being one of the greatest albums. Even if they may not necessarily be into jazz. But all of Coltrane’s catalogue, he got really out there and there’s some bugged out stuff that’s really hard to listen to, when him and Alice Coltrane really got into it.

But for so much of his work he was searching and you can hear it in his music. You can feel his presence in his music, it’s unlike anything else, it’s insane. That’s why he gets the accolades he does and why everyone is so drawn to him. He is so magnetic because you almost feel like you’re there with him, a lot of it is pretty intense.

THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by TIM O’BRIEN
 
Tell us about this book….

It’s fiction and sort of autobiographical I guess and it is about the Vietnam war. It’s really intense and the reason I brought up this book is because it’s always stayed with me. If people ever ask me what book they should get I always go to this one pretty immediately. Check this book out, it’s intense, it’s engrossing, it’s very poetic but it’s harsh too. It’s the war and what they went through, the follies of war, the trials and what they had to go through is so intense. It’s one of those rare books where you literally can’t put it down.

 

It’s the war and what they went through, the follies of war, the trials and what they had to go through is so intense. It’s one of those rare books where you literally can’t put it down

 

So it’s a sequence of short stories which cross pollinate each other?

Yeah it doesn’t come off like they’re short stories though, it’s definitely pretty seamless and I didn’t perceive it that way. It is moments in time, these stories which take place and so much of it is factual but he says that it is more fictitious. Probably because of legal reasons and embellishing bits etc but it doesn’t read like short stories.

What makes O’Brien’s perspective on the war different than what we may expect?

There is a human side to it you know. People seem to lose perspective when they are actually in it from what I’ve read. Why are we here? What exactly are we doing? None of it seems to make sense especially post war when nothing came of it. No good came from any of it. Peace through violence doesn’t ever work. It definitely comes from a more on the ground human perspective.

Young lives forever changed.

Yeah you can’t go through something like that and not be changed, it’s not possible.

So you walk away from reading it with some sense of the trauma

Yeah that’s why I think it stayed me. It’s really heavy and it lingers for quite some time because you realise that you’re getting kind of first hand account of what was really going on because he was there and he fought as well. It’s all so frightening to think that you put these 18 or 20 year olds out there in the middle of a jungle, armed to the teeth and not knowing what they are doing. it’s crazy.

Thanks for those recommendations. Hopefully they aim people at some positive stuff. How has this lockdown situation affected you personally?

Well to be honest I spend a lot of time at home anyway because I don’t go into the DLX office very often because it’s not necessary. So what I end up doing is staying at home and working on music, working on art and spending time with my son. He lives with me part time and part time with his mum, mostly with his mum now because he goes to school where his mum lives and he just rides to school. He is sixteen so he is pretty autonomous these days.

My girlfriend has been staying with me going through this but we don’t live together and I’m constantly alone. I’m always trying to figure out what to do with my time. Most of the time I’m figuring out music, playing music or recording amongst some other things. For me things haven’t changed too drastically other than not being able to go out and see your friends etc. My life and the things I have done and continue to do really dictate me being solo. I’m a solo musician, I make all the music and being creative, making art. I’m no stranger to being alone that’s for sure or being indoors.

Right now my foot has been messed up and my knee is always bothering me and my back as well. Those things come and go to a point where I can still skate but my left big toe has been fucked up for the last couple of months. I was going walking every morning for a couple of miles, getting the blood circulating before I started my day which was great, I was out taking photos and stuff. Then walking in my Converse wasn’t the best thing, I have insoles and so forth but it wasn’t enough. They’re made to be flexible which you need for skating but they are not good for walking.

You need stability in walking shoes so your toes don’t bend for the most part so that triggered some sort of inflammation. I have actually bought some sensible walking shoes for the first time in my life and they’re fucking hideous. I’m just wearing them in the house so it’s pretty funny you know. Otherwise I’d be trying to get some skating in. Right now I’m kind of jonesing pretty hard to go skate. You’ve got to keep your mind of that and stay busy so I’m trying to dive more into music.

Do you have any advice for anyone out there reading this?

Yeah find new ways to spend your time. Because even if you have something that you dig you’re going to get burnt on it so you need to find something else to shift that to inspire each other. Right now I’ve been making a lot of visual art which has been nice to take a break from music because you can get stumped. You can get to that moment where you’re like “what should I do now?’ Especially when I create so much stuff that I don’t have a vehicle or an outlet for. I have so much music, I have a new album waiting in the wings. I have to figure out when to release it and obviously with what we are going through it’s difficult. I just released a collaboration record with a friend of mine two weeks ago and I’m sitting on a whole bunch of other music so it’s difficult to move on.

I need to purge that music in a sense, put it out there so I can get on to the next, having it waiting in the wings is just frustrating. So I’m shifting my creative necessity to something else and doing a bunch of visual stuff. So I think just making sure you can stay creative but in different ways, different mediums is helpful, try different things. Don’t be afraid to try something new you have never done, whatever it is. I’ve been cooking a lot more, people are making bread, you need a little variety, you can’t keep doing the same thing or you will stagnate.

Not being able to go through with a tour must be frustrating too.

Yeah the fucked up thing is I had a short run here in California which was supposed to happen in April and then I was supposed to be in Japan late July and August during the Olympics. They were going to do an event based around the Olympics and then a tour in Europe coming through the UK and nine countries in October. I think it was a three week tour and that got cancelled so this year is a wash.

The DLX stuff you guys are doing is wicked. The Sketchy Skateshop Appreciation Program is amazing.

Yeah it’s so cool. Jim [Thiebaud] is always full of really cool ideas, he has got great ideas. Always trying to figure out ways to keep the community together. He is definitely all about the skate community. We try.

Community coming together is a positive and this time to take stock. Even people posting back garden kickflips during time out skating they wouldn’t have necessarily had has brightened my day.

It changes your perspective and it makes you more creative because it forces you to think outside of how you normally would. Necessity is the mother of invention, the necessity of not going crazy makes you come up with other ways to exist and make them interesting or new.
 
 
Words and questions by Jacob Sawyer
 
Thanks to Tommy for taking time out to speak to us, it’s much appreciated. If you enjoyed reading this and haven’t already checked out our previous Isolation Station posts then read what Dom Henry, Rory Milanes, Sam Sitayeb and Ben Kadow picked out for you.