The previous months have brought three worthwhile additions to the skate literature canon. I present these reviews in order of least skateboarding content to the most.
The easiest thing to say is that this book is amazing. From Scott Bourne’s “Black Box” columns in Slap Magazine, to his video parts and more recent poetry books, the man has shown a serious dedication to quality across a variety of media. A Room With No Windows is Bourne’s first novel and one that is fully worth the decade of anticipation that preceded its publication. Bourne notes in the introduction that he writes to release himself from shame. To this end, Bourne casts himself the main character in a story that is as impressive in its introspection as in its illumination of other people and places. With alcohol as a “seasoning for sin,” a single man explores the differences between love and sex while coming to understand San Francisco’s geography based on the different neighborhoods where he wakes up after going home with women. He makes these beds when he leaves them, seeks a cup of coffee and a park, then wanders back to the Webster Street apartment where he resides throughout the novel. There is a beautiful passage about installing a door that provides slightly more light into Bourne’s windowless room.
Bourne proceeds to detail the various hustles and camaraderie that ensue when a group of housemates is determined to live life without “real jobs.” One roommate’s interview for a valet position leads to the creation of the illegitimate but thoroughly respectable San Francisco Valet company. One night on the job, Bourne ends up driving a tipsy woman in a rare vehicle back to her palace that is the only house in San Francisco that watches the sun rise over the Bay to the east. This married woman seeks sex and companionship that her absent husband cannot provide, so Bourne accompanies her to dinners, ballets and sleepovers, through which he provides us consistently astute social and romantic analysis. That Bourne leaves her after realizing the love she still holds for her husband is indicative of the high standard to which Bourne holds himself and the confusion in which he finds himself mired.
Bourne has mentioned his admiration of Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller, both writers noted for their eroticism. A Room With No Windows features sexual writing on par with these or any other authors. Once he leaves the married woman, his next serious girlfriend is a working orphan who offers Scott a complete love that he alternates between accepting and rejecting, with plenty of sex as he contemplates. “It was the filthiest of deeds we did that freed the human soul from the restraints of society, for it was society that created the wall that made nature perverse and these deeds need not be denied.” There are many promising and happy passages that leave the reader longing to embody the character, but the romantic and fraternal situations built on unofficial and incomplete understandings crumble in tragic fashion as the reader suffers at a helpless remove. Bourne escapes to Paris at the end of this book, where readers will be privileged if Bourne creates as magnificent of a work about his next decade as A Room With No Windows is a testament to a young man’s twenties.
Iain Borden writes the introduction to Richard Gilligan’s DIY, which is the first of many pleasures to be found in this book of photographs. Gilligan appeared in Format Perspective with a discussion of skate photography as specialized landscape photography. This method is especially relevant here, as DIY is a skateboard photo book with no action photographs. Instead, this coffee table tome shows over one hundred handmade skate structures around the world, a sort of elegant and specialized spot book. Apart from the occasional character portrait, Gilligan’s human focus is on the anonymous creators who have built their variations upon the DIY theme. The implication of community around these ramps and boxes creates a welcome release from skateboarding’s tendency toward categorization based on skaters and trick progression. As viewers dream upon the suggestive spaces, the reason for the lack of skaters becomes apparent. On the streets, a skater’s presence provides alternate use instruction for spots and elevates the otherwise banal pieces of architecture to the momentarily remarkable. In Gilligan’s photographs, the shapely DIY forms posses intrinsic power as skate objects with no skater necessary to demonstrate the potential.
Gilligan’s skill at landscape photography shows how these renegade spots successfully situate themselves into the world’s nooks. In a conversation with Gilligan, Paul Seawright points out that these DIY spots are “not exotic locales with expensive entry fees.” Instead, they exist in the democratic forest, often in a deliberately obscure location with the isolation hopefully leading to a durable creation. Perhaps for this reason, spots such as the BQE and Greenpoint spot, both documented here, exist successfully outside the major borough of Manhattan. Elsewhere in America, observe a beautiful park in New Orleans called The Peach Orchard bathed in green and gold. A foundation spot in Memphis is both starkly minimalist and a friendly reminder of how paint can brighten a drab environment. Spot names such as The Low Holly, Antifornia, and Needleside show the poetry and humor that abound in these unsanctioned spaces. Even in the often desolate, secondary locations, evidence that predecessors have given love and intent is a welcoming sign. Whether the spots then crumble, thrive or transform is further commentary. Large and small, these DIY structures are inevitably the brightest spots in landscape and proofs of skaters’ artful reclamations.
We all know that skaters are bums on wheels, so Joseph DeMough makes the fitting decision to write Better If You Don’t Come Back as a skateboard novelization of Samuel Beckett’s homage to lurking, Waiting for Godot. DeMough’s version of “the void” is an abandoned SoCal warehouse yard where V and Gogo smoke weed and pass days waiting for salvation in the form of magazine coverage from Godot, a photographer at Thrasher. The boys are of the barely legal age between 18 and 21 and good at skating in the way that California kids are good. The high amount of competent skateboard talk, such as narrated games of S.K.A.T.E., flows smoothly while reminding us of the intricacy of skate maneuvers. As the description of lines reveals a fairly basic local skate spot, the boys’ dreams of exposure reinforce a fitting naiveté. While Godot remains occupied elsewhere, young skaters Poe and his brother Lucky join the session. We see how the new arrivals integrate themselves into the crew through movie impersonations and discussions of trick theory. Characters provide value through helping pleasurably pass time.
There is pleasure to be found comparing Better If You Don’t Come Back with Waiting for Godot, but anyone can enjoy the 142-page novel as a study of friendship and skating without having read Beckett’s play. While Beckett’s bums have only the barest backstory, DeMough uses the more thorough novel form to show V and Gogo embracing and deflecting a variety of responsibilities as adulthood approaches. The boys inhabit multiple generations of makeshift family structures and DeMough’s writing turns effectively experimental as he mingles times and spaces to show how family histories lead to scenes that contain painful, but comprehensible actions. Drunken sex at a party leads V into fatherhood and an extended relationship with the girl he met that night. Lack of other career choices leads to him enlisting in the army, which is ready to accept him even as he cannot bring himself to tell Gogo about his plans for the future. Gogo’s main father figure is an ex-boyfriend of his mother’s, who gifts Gogo hard earned cash as a chance to leave his dead-end world and go work on a fishing boat in the Pacific Northwest. As the boys choose their methods of acknowledging and avoiding their coming decisions, we see them holding onto the precious idyll that skate sessions offer at the end of an endless summer.