Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ode to Rodney Mullen

by Drew Martin
What music most influenced skateboarding? Punk rock? Grunge? Actually, I would say classical, specifically Beethoven.

Rodney Mullen (pictured here in all three images), the savant of the Bones Brigade skateboard team who invented the 
flatground ollie, kickflip, heelflip, impossible, and 360-flip (moves that opened the doors for street skateboarding) grew up with a mom who was a concert pianist. When he picked up skateboarding, his father poured him a concrete slab, put a roof over it and installed lighting. It is where young Mullen would practice his moves from 2 – 5 am, partly because it was the coolest time of day in steamy Florida, where he grew up, but also because it was his alone time to focus.

Mullen was labeled as a troubled kid, possibly autistic, and he rarely talked. He said everyone spoke in whispers at home. He loved classical music, especially Beethoven, but it was through skateboarding that he expressed himself. It became his voice.

"What makes us all do what we do at a high level is an inspiration that comes so deep. It’s all so like a controlled desperation. But if you can’t tap into that, then it just extinguishes. And you can’t do it through here (tapping on his skull) it has to seep way down in there." (moving his finger down his chest)

Mullen was amazed that Beethoven pushed himself into isolation once he became deaf, but explained that this is when he became himself. Mullen says, “Don’t let anything poison your individuality. Be away, break away. Look inward, not outward.” Mullen acknowledges, “My biggest blessing was being in isolation.”

Mullen came of age in a time when the skateboarding world was divided between punkish vertical riders and goofy freestyle, which was a throwback to how skateboards were first marketed like yo-yos. Mullen did freestyle but when he showed up at competitions everyone stopped what they were doing to watch him. Kids around the world are doing his moves every second of the day.

You do not associate philosophy with skaterboarders but Mullen is simply profound.

“I spend a lot of time in the stacks in libraries, and you’re looking at these stacks of unreadable masterpieces that men devoted their lives, standing on the shoulders of geniuses before them. Bertrand Russell, Principia Mathematica, and all these things that – who will read those? How will they change society? How do they really factor into things? And me? I was able to contribute with a lot of tricks. Those tricks now have names and those tricks factor into what everybody else does. In a very meaningful way, I have helped create a vocabulary by which this community communicates. I mean, you can hear people chat, listen to how skaters talk. These are all words and expressions. Things that we created. It’s our language but it’s also physical. And it helps define us as individuals, how we fit within that framework, and it helps define the community itself. And so, when I look and I think of the contribution of all these geniuses, and the smell and the browning paper of these dusty books that no one will read, I think that I am so rich and what I have done has meaning."

Mullen concludes this baroque reflection with a mental lapse..."So I don’t know what that answers. Where did we start?"...and he and the interviewer start laughing. 

Quotes from the documentary, Bones Brigade: An Autobiography. Click here to watch the trailer.

P.S. Not only do Rodney Mullen and I share a birthday, August 17, but...three years his junior, I was conceived in the town where he was born. Whoa.