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Pipe Dreams: Plan B Skateboards

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pipe dream 260 Pipe Dreams: Plan B SkateboardsAs far back as I can remember, skate videos have been one of the prime sources for musical exploration among our generation. Many still sit around talking about how badass it was to hear certain songs paired up with certain skater’s parts. Throughout the years, hundreds of teams have compiled footage and edited to amazing and at times even inspirational soundtracks. What they inspired us to do is not the point, but rather what the music inspired the skaters in the videos to do. Most of the time, skaters were known to handpick their own songs, and the ones they didn’t pick were usually selected by the editor. The editor was not always a Hollywood guru either, but usually the chief member of the team, and those choices show how they were trying more to flourish in their art.

Now, I could have started with a number of videos and teams, but I feel the finest place to start is where everything changed within the sport and art of videos. This goes back to the early ’90s, when legendary Steve Rocco was taking the industry by storm. After proving that skaters could independently own their own companies, skater Mike Ternasky recruited a number of skilled skaters to form the Southern California-based Plan B. Considered to be one of skateboarding’s most legendary lineups, the Plan B team basically wrote all the rules to modern skateboarding and skate videography…and then they fucking broke them. I don’t think they realized they were literally going to change how the sport was perceived and executed.

plan b tv Pipe Dreams: Plan B Skateboards

Plan B was composed of some of skating’s most revolutionary players, who, in my opinion, still could school today’s top boarders. Ternasky had picked some of the finest people to associate with until his untimely death in 1994. Rodney Mullen was their “great one,” as he was already notorious throughout the sport as one of the top freestyle competitors (he won his first competition at 13).  And Danny Way was their vert mastermind who has continually kept this style interesting. Colin McKay was probably the youngest on the team at that point (apparently he was 16, but he looks at most 12) but showed a lot of promise. Pat Duffy, Mike Carrol, and Rick Howard were no slouches either, and all were newer to the game but have gone down as icons. Oh, and they had Matt Hensley (for a minute), who retired and joined Flogging Molly. And pretty much all of them had “swell” tastes in music.

Part 1: The Videos

The opening to their first film, 1992’s Questionable, is a poorly edited montage set to “Los Bastardos” by Primus, as Pat Duffy was a huge Primus fan (more on this later). This was Plan B’s first time in the public eye, and they were literally warning us, “Here they come.” At this point, Primus was still a relatively budding California band whose most famous moment prior to this was showing up in Bill and Ted (Claypool was still becoming Claypool). It seemed the whole team was on point with “underground selection.” Sal Barbier skated to Del’s “Ahonetwo, Ahonetwo” before Del had even become a hip hop icon. It should also be noted that the demo section contains a Green Day track during the pre-Dookie era. Plan B may have been doing a cut-and-paste job, but their musical tastes were right on the main nerve.

The editing definitely got better the following year in Virtual Reality, and Plan B learned that music could add to their image in a huge way. Of course, this was 1993, and skateboarding wasn’t nearly as popular as it would become five to six years out. Teams didn’t necessarily need to claim an image for themselves, but the videos on the mass market started to create “personalities.” In this video, Plan B’s basic message was “we kick ass.” This is evident from two things: the intro with a live Ozzy Osbourne song (complete with “O Fortuna” intro) and a contest section featuring “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.

Also, it was at this point that it seems the guys at Plan B made a business deal with the Hieroglyphics crew. There are four Hiero songs in the video, and Domino is credited as a “musical assistant” and, at the end, reads an ad for an 800-number for any info regarding the Hieroglyphics crew (it is now a phone sex line). Not only did Plan B make a sweet musical business deal, they also had fantastic taste in hip hop (enough to shred fantastically). More interesting than that is their choice for the final credits. After Buffalo Springfield, the end credits feature Rick Howard jamming on “Here Comes the Sun” with a homeless man. They could have picked anything, but they wanted a homeless man innocently rocking out… and then getting taken by the cops.

By the time 1994’s Second Hand Smoke came out, Plan B had really learned to craft their videos. The intro was still cheesy as hell, complete with Rush’s “YYZ”, but the video clocked in at 25 minutes as opposed to an hour. Jeremy Wray’s part set to Cream’s “White Room” is insanely dramatic, too, as he does a one-take intro that finishes right when the song kicks in (to be more specific, he sticks a huge set). 1998’s The Revolution was a true last hurrah, though. At this point, skating was becoming more mainstream, and the guys at Plan B had to step up their game, but they failed to outshine some of the other videos at that point (primarily those of Toy Machine and Zero), although they did start adding artsy shots. But Way and McKay’s finale (more later) to “The Four Horsemen” is fantastic, and the closing credits being the Beatles’ “Revolution” is somewhat prophetic.

Part 2: The Skaters

The videos are fantastic…but the skaters have, for years, been what I was most interested in. Their musical selections are the most honest glimpses we get into their personalities.

As stated earlier, Pat Duffy loved Primus, which probably meant he was goofy and liked to party. This is clearly shown in Questionable; he begins shredding a handrail to the opening of “Tommy the Cat”, and now the editing actually is more on point. And Duffy wasn’t done with Primus until Virtual Reality, where he skated to “DMV”. One must note how someone says, “Go, Pat” as the bass starts. Later on, after grinding a handrail in the rain (to the Doors), he flaunts his Primus shirt – in slow motion. At the start of Questionable, Duffy is referred to as a “Terminator whose program malfunctioned and now he can’t be destroyed,” and one might say the same thing about Les Claypool and his bass as well.

However, this doesn’t explain why, in Second Hand Smoke, Duffy skates to Peanuts or to big band in The Revolution. Maybe another program malfunction.

Mike Carroll was definitely the first person to get it right. Carroll’s first part was perfectly in time with the Beastie Boys’ “Time for Living”, and he did what skaters should do in videos: He skated really hard and really fast to a really raw and quick song (see: Zero). It was triumphant. However, this would not be how Carroll would continue to skate. Every other part was a hip hop groove, primarily Beastie Boys and Hieroglyphics. (Thank BMG for not being able to post Carroll’s true parts on the web).

Colin McKay kept his parts strictly metal. To be hilarious and ironic, his part in Questionable kicks off with him rapping to “O.P.P” in his living room. McKay’s Naughty By Nature opening shows he was the brat of Plan B, as his voice hadn’t even dropped yet. The rest of his part was a set to Iron Maiden’s “Aces High”.  For his next part, McKay went classic rock in Virtual Reality, which shows how his style had progressed a bit. While the first half was the Steve Miller Band’s “Serenade“, he still wanted to thrash as hard as the guitars did in his favorite songs. His next three parts would be songs by Kiss and Metallica, and his ending in The Revolution with Danny Way is the least boring vert clip I have ever seen.

Have you ever watched vert skating? It’s excruciatingly mundane – at least in comparison with everything else. But Danny Way always kept it interesting (especially once he joined forces with McKay). I think the reasoning behind that would be Led Zeppelin. Danny Way’s intro to Plan B was as rock solid as the first chords to “Good Times, Bad Times” (which he skates to in Virtual Reality), as he jumps from a rooftop to a trampoline. He even used “Over the Hills and Far Away” for his short SHS part (due to injury). As Led Zeppelin did with their music, Danny Way did with vert skating: He kept it interesting. He is the least boring–and therefore best–vert skater to ever exist.

The one who I could never figure out was Rick Howard. Eventually, Howard went on to help found Girl, which is (arguably) one of the most successful skate companies to date. Howard’s song choices, though, always seemed to be more about being ironic than necessarily reflecting his enjoyment. For example, in Virtual Reality, Howard skates to Rick James‘ “Give It to Me Baby”, which on its own is pretty funny. I mean, come on– a tall, skinny, white dude busting heelflips to that sensual track. And in Questionable, he obtained the sole hit by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. This may have been as a poke at modern music, but I don’t remember if the mass public perceived that song as cool. Plus, he had a thing for talking to crazy homeless people (click the Rick James link). I still think  everything truly shines through when he sings with the bum. Oh, how the Beatles bring people together.

But, of course, the most interesting character to ever exist in Plan B history is Rodney Mullen. Mullen will forever be the king of skateboarding, and his musical choices clearly reflect that. Like his own skating, Mullen picked songs by musicians who were innovative and had complex personalities. For Mullen’s first two parts (because he was that good), he chose beautiful works like “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong and “If You Want to Sing Out” by Cat Stevens. Both are in no way songs most people would ever think to thrash to, but Mullen saw something reflective of his skating in those pieces, as they flow with his amazing flat-ground footwork perfectly. His next choices would be two songs by Jim Croce, including a slow-motion casper slide sequence set to “Time in a Bottle”. This makes one think he had to do enough clean casper slides to fill up that portion of the song. His other choices included “Help” by the Beatles and “Dream On” by Aerosmith, where he had the most technical flat-ground part ever in a pair of bowling shoes. And by the time the song picks up, you’re really rooting for Mullen and his kickflips. Not many skaters are advanced geniuses, but I think Rodney Mullen definitely qualifies.

Concluding Thoughts

Plan B’s efforts may have been very cut and paste, along with some trial and error, but they were writing the craft of mass-produced skate videos as they were doing it. Considering their musical selection for editing their parts, one has to give them a pat on the back for giving it their best shot. In a way, the team was a lot like the artists they listened to. Groups like Green Day, Hieroglyphics, the Offspring, and Flogging Molly hadn’t necessarily achieved fame yet but would go on to. Similarly, the skaters who made up Plan B have all gone on to have great success. You might say the bands and the skaters both were riding the same concrete wave and wound up making some pretty good artwork along the way. Plan B had so much assurance that their music tastes were superior, they even stated it in the end credits: “Go buy this music – it rules.” And we damn well listened.

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