THE JEFF PHILLIPS TRAGEDY

My MacBook just died. It contained some things I was going to blog about, so I resorted to a backup plan. When in doubt, just recycle an old article that isn’t already on the internet. I see movements accelerated by online outlets to the point where they burn out in mere months and while it’s easy to chuckle at what’s no longer on trend (and we’re currently in a realm where 48 hours after anything arrives online requires some form of self-conscious “late pass” talk), there’s victims in any defunct element of a declining subculture.

Skateboarders love gossip as much as rap fans and graffiti nerds. They love tales of fatalities, misbehaviour and “where are they nows” more than most, and a key catalyst for misfortune was the transition from vert to street. Superstars plunged from grace as a new breed emerged, and the old guard had to evolve or die – of course that was meant literally in terms of diminishing careers and funds, but in the case of Texan skate legend Jeff Phillips — a childhood hero of mine —
the change in the culture’s physical landscape and personal problems led to his suicide on Christmas day, 1993.

We all know how Gator and Hosoi dealt with their problems in the early 1990s, but whereas Mr. Rogowski was afflicted with a douchebag streak, Jeff just came across as a guy who loved what he did for a living.

That enthusiasm was infectious. I recall meeting Joe Lopes (with my dad actually, who constantly made reference tour meeting with Joe until he too passed away – I think he was either trying to embarrass me or impress me with his memory. In the former, he failed and in the latter, he succeeded) in 1988 during a Circle-A tour of local skateparks. He seemed like a good guy (I’m sure he and his team mates were handing out pornography) and I was saddened to hear that he died in a car accident in 2002. I also remember a thinly veiled tale that pertained to the man in an issue of ‘Big Brother’ too, but this isn’t the time or place.

I’ve seen few truly progressive movements in my lifetime beyond skating, so I guess those left behind during its most significant leap. For that reason, stories like Jeff’s affected me a little more than the macabre tales Google frequently spits at me. I haven’t bothered with ‘Rolling Stone’ in a long time. Does it still take itself seriously, ’Almost Famous’ style? The last good article I read was a piece on straightedge gangs a few years back and before that the “bugchaser” piece in a 2003 issue. In 1994/5 they were still publishing some great material.

Kevin Heldman’s JA and GHOST trailing ‘Mean Streaks’ in the February 9th 1995 is a classic, but there’s a few more notable non-music assignments from around that time too. Peter Wilkinson’s ‘Skate Till You Die’ — a six page piece on Jeff’s last days — ran in the September 8th 1994 issue. It was sensitively handled and enlightening too, exploring the complexity of his depression. I miss excellent journalism.

8 thoughts on “THE JEFF PHILLIPS TRAGEDY

  1. Gary — aprreciate the good words about my work; thanks — I wrote that Rolling Stone graffiti article back in the 90s — you’re right about your observations on the state of writing/reporting in the publication.

    I’m still plugging away — just wrote a piece on Albanian Organized Crime — most of my work is up on my website JournalismWorksProject.org and my blog — EverySingleWordisTrue.

    all the best
    Kevin Heldman

    1. Kevin, thanks for getting in touch. I think I speak for several friends too when I say that it’s one of the best pieces ever written on the subject of graffiti. Too many people tried to theorize graffiti’s bigger picture, but that piece just captured the reality and shone light on some favourite characters of ours. Will check the site now. I also recall an RS article by you about care home abuses (I could be wrong – foggy memory!) that was excellent too.

  2. A bit harsh on Rolling Stone, they have picked up their game lately. They also let you print their articles easily, meaning that the printer on the way to the bogs will most likely have a Rolling Stone article on it that grab on the way to trap 2.

  3. Thanks for posting. I met Jeff Phillips at skate ramps in Dallas in the mid-80’s and only now realize he’s been dead for nearly 20 years. wow

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