As a kid, I was possessed by the same lower middle-class disdain for local private school pupils as the rest of my friends, and despite a poorly informed socialist phase, where I would’ve come undone at the lowest level of interrogation as to what my beef was, over time, eventually you’ve got to get that chip off your shoulder. Jumpstarts in life, crucial connections…I’ve seen many squander their good fortune at potential business level. A toy is a toy, regardless of class stature. Like most of these posts, this topic’s born of three subjects currently rattling in my cranium, all characters I hold in the highest esteem for just pushing their chosen field to its limits. The cash behind them and depressingly early passings are largely incidental, but it helps in the pursuit of mythmaking.
Michael Herr’s ‘Dispatches,’ as grimly relevant as ever, and extraordinary in its descriptive, Agent Orange-drenched anti-flowery prose has Sean Flynn as a central character, Craig Stecyk; another journalist who redefined coverage in his chosen field’s ‘Bunker Spreckels: Surfing’s Divine Prince Of Decadence’ charts the life of the surf pioneer and hard partying individual. Then there’s Dash Snow.
Seeing in 2010, it was difficult not to feel a little shell shocked at last year’s big name mortality rate. Whatever your interest, there was a death to distress everyone last year, whatever your disposition or blahzay attitude to familiar faces exiting. Boxers, ‘c’-listers, tarnished megastars, musicians, actors…and artists. Dash’s death was the saddest. It resonated as the kicker if you’d ever read an article on him and revelled in his apparent nihilism from the safety of your sofa, far, far away from the East Village. It’s then that the onetime cheerleaders, in their long-distance elephant tears start tutting about heroin being a death wish and covering their arses by telling tales of a friend’s friend’s friend who died from an overdose too, maybe omitting one or two chains of friendship for dramatic effect in the empathy-hunt.
Sean Flynn, Bunker Spreckels and Dash Snow weren’t born poor. Sean was Errol Flynn’s son, Bunker was Clark Gable’s stepson, and his father was sugar heir Adolph B. Spreckels Jr. Dash’s great-grandmother was Schlumberger heir and Menil Collection co-founder Dominique de Méni. Plenty of old money to go around, yet, in Sean’s case, he fled the limelight and accusations of nepotism after a failed film career, dodging his father’s shadow by entering the realm of combat photo-journalism.
Prolific master of the NYC throwup, JA was born to an upper middle-class family, and through his frequent bombing missions, death-defying climbs and willingness to go to war in the spraycan and one-on-one or crew beef senses, few talk shit to his face. Preempting that approach, shortly after Sean’s 1966 arrival in Saigon, in his determination to evade those comparisons to his old man, his curious luck and ballsiness had him down as a fearless adventurer wielding a Nikon, yet he spurned interviews and unwanted coverage. Bruce LaBruce’s 2001 IRAK profile in ‘Vice‘ pays particular attention to Dash/Sacer’s hardcore approach to graffiti; getting up on the Brooklyn Bridge, and demonstrating his fearlessness at a gathering,
“With a can of Bud in his hand, Sacer jumps up on the front ledge of the building and peers seven floors down into the black abyss as Ryan and I snap pictures. As Sacer dances and prances and does a jig on the precipice of death, I discover I don’t have the stomach for this. For a moment I think it’s a classic case of the Heisenberg principle—the presence of a “journalist” influencing the behavior of his subject, causing him to take risks in a way he normally wouldn’t—but then I realize I’m flattering myself. The adrenaline, the flirtation with death or jail or bodily harm, is as natural for these kids as peeing. Sacer is poised to lob a snowball at a passing car fifty feet below and as I fear that the momentum of the throw will send him over, I choose to retreat back to the apartment.”
Bunker was evidently no shrinking violet, but like Sean and Dash, he threw himself into his chosen profession with a verve that could silence the silver spoon critics. Turning his back on a charmed life, his move to Hawaii to surf and subsidise himself made him a legend – his approach to building boards and style (crucial for can, camera and wave alike) commenced the legend, but despite a lowkey start in his field to rival Sean’s, his sharp turn into excess and receipt of his inheritance made him a near-mythical figure – hard living, hard spending, image conscious, but a complex, spiritual character – there’s a reason why Kenneth Anger used him as the star and subject of ‘My Surfing Lucifer.’
If you haven’t done already, you should read the aforementioned ‘Vice’ profile, Zalin Grant’s piece on Sean (there’s ‘Flynn,’ a biopic in pre-production too), the ‘Frank151’ piece on Bunker leading up to the release of ‘Bunker77,’ the ‘Observer’ reprint of a Stecyk/Spreckels conversation and the ‘New Yorker’ Dash article from 2007.
In 1970, Sean Flynn was abducted in Cambodia alongside fellow photo-journalist Dana Stone. He was 28. While his remains were never formally identified, it’s assumed he was killed in 1971 alongside White. Bunker Spreckels died on the 7th of January, 1977 at the age of 27. Dash Snow passed on July 13th, 2009. He was 27. Personally, they complete a trinity of inspirational characters who lived life to breaking point and whether intentionally or unintentionally, or just through plain not-giving-a-flying-fuck, made a crater-sized mark in their respective fields on their own terms to confer capo status. But these weren’t those who need to pass on to cement their achievements, and that’s the saddest part of all this.
No matter how much of a provocateur you are, there’s no need to be a martyr to your artform when you’re stockholding so much talent, Dash was a father, and Bunker had two small children. But I find myself returning to all three stories time and time again – I’m not as preoccupied with those still walking among us. Why aren’t I blogging about them – living eulogies for the likes of Herbie Fletcher, Tim Page, Ryan Trecartin and Terence Koh? Perhaps I’m too caught up with the drama of spurned inheritances, tragedy and million dollar blow-outs, well…more than I’d like to admit.