If you happened to be passing through the suburban neighbourhood where I grew up, one Sunday in the 70’s or 80’s, you wouldn’t notice anything untoward or unusual. Quite the opposite – business as usual; a place for everything and everything in its place: The chugging of the Qualcast or the hover of the Flymo (depending on which concept of advertising you bought into); the snipping of red handled secateurs; the holler of kids on bikes, or home-made go-carts; the kicking of a football; the chanting of a gang; the whipping of cream, the roasting of beef; the flicking of the pages of a Sunday newspaper; the whack of a cricket bat; the ignition of a Zippo. This was the sounds of the suburb I grew up in, not too far, but far enough, from London, in the wide green belt that surrounds the capital where the biggest crime was to fuck with next door’s lawn, or to embarrass your parents; Both of which I was guilty of. On many occasions, too many to list.
The neighbourhood was cul-de-sac heaven, 4 bed detached houses with 2 cars and a neat lawn in the front (fuck with it at your peril) and I’d check all this as I wheeled myself around. The summers were nice, safe, uneventful: cricket in the park until it got dark, some back garden camping, a couple of Bar-B-Q’s, nothing too excessive. This is the middle class bottom line. You mustn’t be seen as being ostentatious. You mustn’t stand out; be seen or heard, unless you’re bragging about how well your kids are doing at school, university or career (never a ‘job’). My parents never really had the pleasure of doing any of this. I didn’t care…I was buck wild, which they explained away with the adoption word, this was their get out of jail free card: I wasn’t really related; there was no bloodline. If there had been, I would have been some weak-assed, square as fuck, geeky pencil-wallah, who got great grades but was bullied and as far away from the street as I could be.
Nowadays I celebrate my individuality, but back then I wish I had not been so repressed, so smothered in middle-class rules. Fucking rules for everything. No this no that. Don’t shan’t can’t… Fucking drove me mad. Insane almost…So with the above in mind it’s not rocket science to see why I became a Casual. I can remember slitting my slacks and getting hold of a Lacoste shirt, a pair of blue and white deck shoes, a fake-Pringle jumper, some Nike McEnroes. The other popular sub-culture was what we called ‘Long Coats’ – almost goths, who were into the Smiths and wore long shitty coats from a charity shop or an elderly relative. I wasn’t down with that. Too shabby – the European fashions of the Casual movement were what did it for me: a touch of the continent in the suburban hell I’ve probably spent too long describing.
Casual Hit list: Lacoste; Fila BJ; Sergio Taccini; Ellesse; blue or red suede Patrick trainers; Borg Elite; Farrah’s (split at the shoe); Lyle & Scott golf jumper; Aquascutum; Sunday Night Haven Disco on the London road; Capital Radio’s the best junior disco in town at the civic hall; rocking it watching the ‘Pioneer Breakers’ battle some team from Stevenage or Welwyn, whilst trying to get off with some girl called Jackie or Lisa in skipants and white jumper.
During this phase of my (rather chequered) ‘career’ I’ve written 4 books, shot several docs about interesting people and phenomena’s, appeared on TV, given a TED talk, run a workshop or two, and done some nice work for global brands – but I’ve never got much of a mention in the mainstream press (I-D Magazine once ran an on-line feature about Street Knowledge; Time Out wrote about my favourite Tel Aviv spots; Elle Decoration South Africa did a piece on my yard). Not that this matters as the power is in the hands of the digital masses and luckily I am backed up by some killer on-line publications, and still regularly write for a couple of niche magazines which – shock horror – are still printed, distributed and then sold in shops. Most importantly I have a loyal following on the social networks who are there for me and get behind what I do 100%.
With regards to the mainstream press, I know what this is all about: it’s down to my name. It’s because I work under my street name, and this is a constant reminder that I’ve come out of street-, sub-, and youth-culture. Now-a-days, the mainstream hacks dip in and out of this pool of amazingness when it suits them; when they want to appear to know what is going on. When they want to fleece us for our originality.I once wrote a feature on the Rwandan music scene for a mainstream newspaper. Not only did they strip out my ‘voice’ – something that has taken me 20 years to craft – but they also refused to print the story under the moniker ‘King ADZ’.
So as much as our original culture has been begrudging co-opted by those who control the mainstream (newspapers, magazines, the arts, etc.) we are still seen as outcasts, which is good news in my book. We are doing something right there. Much love to the 1%.
This seems like a lifetime away, and it is. Apart from digging Reggae on David Rodigan’s Captial Radio show ‘Roots Rockers’, this was probably my first direct connection with street culture and all the good and bad that comes with it.
Okay, so back in 1985 one fine June day, I’m sat on the tarmac in a 747 for the first time ever, waiting for take off: LHR to PHL (Philadelphia International Airport) but I’m really counting down till the no-smoking sign to go off so I can spark up a fag. This is back inna day when I smoked seriously and when you could smoke on a plane, which both seem absurd now in these days of no smoking any-fucking-where and how it considered so dangerous and anti-social… but there it is. And that’s how it was.
The plane is on the ground and I’m already high as a kite. Wouldn’t you be? I was 15, travelling alone, and about to spend 2 weeks in the USA for the first time. You have to remember that back then the USA was still the place to be. No-one ever dissed the Mecca of apple pie and cheese, no sir. They loved it and it was the new world, and if you were lucky enough to get to go there, well you were one step closer to becoming a legend yourself. I had a mate called Mark at school who’s old man was a yank and half-way through the 3rd year he moved back. This was me going to see him. On my own. Yeahhh!!
The big bird rolls off and soon we’re airborne and the whole fucking section of the plane (coach, far back left of the plane) sparks up, inhales deeply, and then blows out smoke like a Chinese plastic factory… Ahh, that’s better, I lean back, stretch out and get ready for the ride. I’ve got an empty seat next to me and so I’m, like, made in the shade. The trolley service begins to wobble past and as I’m a youth I holla for beer and begin to make some of my money back from the quite considerable ticket price. The ride is smooth until there is some kind of ding-dong occurring a few seats in front. I’m not in the least bit interested as I’m juggling fags, beer and a decent sized bag of pretzels.
An airhostess walks up to me and asks if would mind if someone sat next to me. ‘Not at all, the more the merrier!’ I chirp, half-cut already. Fucking lightweight! And then, down the plane strolls a Rasta with what seems like a chimney pot on his head, covered by the red gold and green, and swings into the seat next to me.
‘Alright!’ I say, offering my hand, ‘Adam.’
‘David,’ he replies and we shake gentleman style, very prim and proper.
‘What’s up? You getting moved about!’
‘Yeah you could say that! The woman sat behind me got all upset ‘cos she asked me to remove my hat, as she couldn’t see the screen and when I did, she still couldn’t see the screen.’ He pulls up his hat to reveal that underneath is a tree-trunk of a dreadlock the size of which I’ve never seen before, or since. ‘That’s when she started yelling…’
‘Fuck ‘em!’ I say and wave the trolly dolly over for another beer. David asks for something soft. I don’t watch and learn. No way, I’m way too young and restless and on the way to the US of A.
So we get talking and I get drunk, eat the food, talk the usual airplane shit, eat David’s food (he’s not touching the stuff) and I’m just finishing off his pudding when I discover that he’s from Handsworth and in a band called Steel Pulse. I stop what I’m doing (licking the tray) and tell him I’m into Reggae and he seems surprised that this little lairy white boy from St. Albans had even heard of Roots Rockers or Ram Jam Rodigan. But I am and I’m bang into Eek-a-Mouse ‘Wa Do Dem’ and this meeting my changed my life. Steel Pulse recorded the killer album ‘Handsworth Revolution’ in 1978, which I knew about and won a Grammy in 1986 for best Reggae band but I knew fuck-all about that, as that was the future. What was important was that I was into roots rock reggae and sat next to the singer from a proper reggae band on the way across the Atlantic. How fucking cool was all this shit!
Then we land and it all changes. As we walk down out of the plane, David turns to me and tells me quietly not to queue up with him. I think he says ‘You don’t wanna queue up with me’ but I can’t really remember. I was young and foolish and still pretty pished and tell him that I don’t mind queuing up with him at all. That it would be my pleasure. ‘You don’t get me…’ he tries to tell me but his words are lost on me and he just shrugs and we continue to chat away as the queue slowly diminishes. When we get to the fat white American men at the desk they take one look at us and lead David away to one room and me to another. It all happens so fast and the questions keep coming and I can’t find the bit of paper (lost back in time with the empty beer cans on the plane) with my mates address written on. I get the works and even after they found nothing they still won’t let me go. I get upset when they open all the presents I’ve brought for my mate and his parents.
‘Just go out there and find my mates mom’ I tell them and then finally the penny drops and someone does go out there and indeed find my mates mom who is pretty worried by this time that I’ve not appeared. She verifies my story and they grudgingly let me go and I have to completely repack my shit and I discover they’ve broken my aftershave and I’m gutted as I walk out into the bright American afternoon and spot my mate and his mom looking anxiously out for me…
Every now and again I can’t help thinking about what happens to Harold Shand when he gets into the ubiquitous gangster Jag at the end of the Long Good Friday. All seems well for a nano-second, but after they’ve pulled out into traffic, he slowly realizes that something is not quite right. Then Penis Brosnan pops up looking like an aged rent boy toting a gun. The game is up, as they say.
Although it’s one of the greatest endings to a movie, the rest of the film is pretty naff – over the top American Mafia characters, Helen ‘tits-out’ Mirren living up to her nickname of the time, and a lot of crap cockney ‘character’ actors hamming it up with a capitol aitch. But that all fades away as the camera holds holds holds on Bob’s face as he is driven away to his death. There is no obvious escape – a gun is hovering a foot away, the driver is probably armed and looks tasty-as-fuck. What could Bob do to escape? This is where I go sometimes when I think about cinematic moments.
‘Can we just stop here for a moment?’ Bob could ask, ‘I’ve got to nip in me mum’s – just by the betting shop…’
‘Get the fuck…’ followed by the sound of him being pistol-whipped.
But this could be Penis’ mistake.
Just as he is leaning over to give Bob one last thwack, a small animal, or a old dear pushing a shopping trolley – this was the 70s after all – could veer out in front of the maroon car making the driver swerve a little or lightly touch the brake. Bob would seize the moment, and before you know it he would have grabbed the gun, and – without a moments hesitation – have shot the Brosnan between the eyes and rammed the red-hot barrel into the neck of the driver, before you could say gorblimey.
‘Like I said – pull over darlin’…’ The car screeches to a halt, Bob’s hand is on the door latch, his finger the trigger. Ffttd – he shoots the slag of a driver, opens the door and is away on his toes. ‘Fucking IRA!’ he shouts to no one in particular. ‘I fucked ‘em!’
That’s cleared that up then, but I know deep down in the hyper-reality of the film, the big car would swoosh past me in a deserted street, with a lone figure in the back with his head in his hands and the two dark figures in the front calling the shots.
I’ve known Eric for sometime; we’d met back in the 90s in a really naff beach bar in Cape Town called La Med, and had bonded over our mutual love of film. Since then we’d spent out time wandering around the southern suburbs yakking about Kieślowski, Wenders, Henke (who did shoot those videos?), Herzog, von Trier (pity about the Nazi stuff), Bloomfield. Blah de blah de blah.
This wasn’t that unusual as my life has always been a bit weird. I guess you could say that I’ve always been a bit weird; a by-product of the suburban hell that I just happened to grow up in – suburban because of the location and hell because of the woman in charge of me –in control of my time until the age of 16.
Eric loved that fact that I was different, and when I found this out I began to feel a bit better about myself.
‘It’s what makes you interesting,’ he told me one evening when he had nothing better to do than hang out with me in a Rondebosch park named after a shrub or something, full of early evening strollers and parents trying to wear out their kids. No-one ever recognized him without his beard and glasses. He looked like he was in film.
‘Yeah. Who wants to be normal?’
‘When I was a kid I longed for normality: not that I knew what it was. I just didn’t want to feel how I did.’
‘And now?’ he asked.
Fuck-knows, I thought. The moment hung. He arched a brow and cocked his head and I realized that that he really wanted to know. Really. It was important. Shit.
‘I want it to be interesting: my life. What I do. The people I meet.’
‘Stakes is high then!’ He laughed, and this was when I decided it would be okay to ask him about some of the more colourful moments in his life.
Jay’s got it. Or rather he had it. One of the great moments of ‘The Bones Brigade - An Autobiography’ is when Tony Hawk tells us that some of the Dogtown crew used to spit at and abuse him for being ‘too clean’. Jay Adams has spent much of his life in prison, after blowing up as part of the Dogtown team, and Tony Hawk went on to become the most famous skater of all time. The moral of the story here I guess is that it pays to be a clean-living, square whose idea of fun is to practice skate moves in his motel room. Not barfing in the back of the Rainbow Rooms at 4am the day before an important competition.