Tag Archives: suicide

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.

SUNGLASSES

I have a big head. Not in terms of arrogance, but in the literal sense. As a result, buying sunglasses is a pain. Most pairs make me look like a third-rate coke dealer, sex offender or—with my deathly pallor—a vampire. I aspire to be one of those folk who can throw on a pair of standards, like the Wayfarer or Frogskin, but it doesn’t work. My sleep patterns and caffeine habit should, by rights, make sunglasses a necessity, but the width and height of the damned things makes me utterly self-conscious, and if you aren’t comfortable in shades, it shows. At least I’m aware of this.

I’ve got a few Ray Bans that are immediately rendered uncool on my face, and a pair of Stussy Michaels (which I always assumed were themed on Michael Caine’s Oliver Goldsmith favourites) that felt right once but don’t any more. I would wear cheap locs like Eazy-E and accept defeat but save on expenditure. Except they make me look even dumber. When the quest for appropriate sunglasses leaves you so adverse to readily-available models you’d rather squint your way around a seafront, something’s gone very very wrong.

But at least I’m aware of my sunglass-unfriendly face. Many aren’t. The second rise of the Frogskin—particularly in bolder colours—truly highlighted buffoons in box logo hats on skinny bikes as ones to avoid. It’s a classic design, and the Eric Koston variations are particularly strong, but it isn’t to all heads. Some need to fall back. Then there’s those who should be held up as the masters of darked-out glass. John Ford remains an unheralded style general. For ‘The Searchers’, ‘Stagecoach’ and ‘Fort Apache’, his legend is cemented, but he heads up this legends of sunglasses cavalry with his pipe and rounded frames.

Dignity, authority and power is reflected in those lenses, and they were noted by another legend-Akira Kurosawa, who idolised Ford. It’s refreshing that an oft-imitated genius (yeah, I said it—prove me wrong on that burst of bombast. I triple-dare you), like Akira felt inclined to imitate himself, by aping the old-West master’s dark-glassed appearance, but adding a flat cap (though Ford was no stranger to headwear himself), creating his own iconic look in the process. Then again, the Wild West genre would pilfer from Kurosawa when it came to the lucky number seven, so it was swings and roundabouts.

Beyond the auteurs, on the sonic front, the master is Martin Rev on the synthesiser, creating a drone with concealed eyes, and aiding in antagonizing Clash fans. It’s law that most bands benefit from an aloof individual manning keyboard, synth or drum machine, hiding behind shades to amplify that blank aesthetic. Rev helped cement that musician rule. His sunglasses were often preposterous—vast ski numbers pre b-boy contradicting his wiry frame. But that was part of the look, and Martin pulled it off with the illusion of effortlessness.

Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright remains criminally un-Twittered on his death day, despite a vast musical legacy and one of music’s most striking looks, from the boxy Pendletons to navy chucks, old-English fonts, Jheri curls and the formidable corners of his disposable swapmeet sunglasses. The perfect accessory to crank up a mean-mug. Listening to the cartoonish violence of ‘Louisville Slugger’ , Eazy merrily embraced a cartoonish persona, and these glasses helped define that character, but as with the previous trio, he never let the sunglasses wear him. Always the other way around.

For me, the quest continues. It needs to be resolved by next Summer.

SHOULD'VE BEEN A CONTENDER: STEPHEN KEATS

It’s no big secret that I think ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ is one of the great crime novels and movies. Credible, dialogue driven, yet often unrecognised, beyond Mitchum’s low-key, grouchy performance – one of his best, he’s surrounded by some of the best character actors out there. It’s a shame that so many passed before their time and never got the dues deserved. Richard Foley for one, died too soon. I know every motherfucker with a WordPress account is eulogizing the style of some staggeringly obvious performers, but it’s heartening that Erik Brunetti’s mighty FUCT – specifically its SSDD imprint, referenced ‘The Trial of Billy Jack’ – OGs riff off the offbeat while everyone else fellates McQueen. Bronx-born Stephen Keats is the true star of ‘…Eddie Coyle’ as gunrunner Jackie Brown.

Consider that bombastic statement – that’s in a film with a career best from one of the greatest that ever did it, but I stand by that statement. At turns ultra relaxed and ultra fidgety, Jackie’s always on his Ps and Qs, and while the big collars haven’t aged well during his talk of broken knuckles with Eddie at the film’s opening, the hair, polo neck, multi pocketed leather jacket, car, firearm knowledge (automatic weapons are a more problematic matter) and sunglasses make him a lowlife icon. Absolute cool. It’s only some old-fashioned snitching that brings this workmanlike delivery man down.

Tragically, despite some appearances in classic films like ‘Death Wish’ and ‘Black Sunday’ b-movie status inexplicably remained – he got no shortage of work, but should’ve become more well-known – and he took his own life in 1994. He undertook a Vietnam tour-of-duty before becoming an actor and interviews indicated he saw some harrowing things that took a toll. RIP Stephen Keats. One of the greats.

A depressing story needs some happy news – other than the fact you need the Criterion ‘…Eddie Coyle’ disc in your life, Janus films (Criterion’s brethren) recently put out a cinema print of the madcap 1977 Japanese horror, ‘Hausu’ aka. ‘House’ – well-regarded but confined to trades by lovers of odd films, you need it in your life. There’s more lurid brilliance in 5 minutes of ‘Hausu’ than you’ll get in any film released this year. That means a DVD release is a-coming this summer. There’s even a t-shirt.

The director actually made this comically manly Japan-only Charles Bronson deodorant commercial too.

On a newer film note, while ‘A Serbian Film’ is probably going to ruin our lives with depictions of something truly hideous if it ever gets released without Daily Mail readers engaging in self-immolation outside art cinemas, on a ’70’s cinema topic, the writer, who I assumed might be a lunatic, masturbating with razors and tediously out to shock, seems eerily normal, with some fine reference points mentioned in this interview. It’s the calm ones you have to watch out for.