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Behind the music.

When watching VH1's Behind the Music, it's easy to be critical of the stars who continuously hit the same pot-holes on the road to and from super-stardom.

"OK, here come the drugs," you think, not that it's much of a surprise knowing the general theme of BTM as well as the constant forecasting and perfectly cued crisis music.

Announcer: "He was on top of the world, but later...would descend into the depths of hell."

And it's hard to feel sympathetic for the bassist from Whitesnake, or whoever. Because if you were in a band like Whitesnake, with hit after hit, beautiful fringed leather jackets and Camaro-loads of hard-rockin' fans (not to mention, eager gals in every town--not bad for a dude with an especially pronounced forehead and underbite), you'd be satisfied with that. You'd enjoy your good fortune and not rock the boat, err, waterbed. Sure, you might treat yourself to an occasional Ferrari, but you wouldn't let things get out of hand. Would you?

Current marketing would lead you to believe that skaters are the new rock stars, and in some ways, it's true. Though the cash is only there for a select few, the tie that binds professional skaters with their heavy-riffin' (or rhyming, for that matter) brothers and sisters is the incredible amount of free time at their disposal--and more distinctly, the way in which said time is disposed of.

And boy, did we dispose of some time in Australia. I went for two weeks to Melbourne with a small brigade from the top-notch Emerica team--Chris Senn, Donny Barley, Aaron Suski, and Mike Manzoori. As the days progressed, we got up later and later 'til we eventually set a new world's record for a Saturday skate-day departure--five pm.

We'd be in the van in front of the hotel, and inevitably someone would be missing.

"I think he's in the shower," someone would say.

Now skaters are notoriously poky, especially in times of tour, but in this case we didn't have a team manager type stoking the fires of responsibility, no demos, and the other usual drill captain--the photographer--was me. And, well, after the first week I was feeling as poky as the rest of them.

"100, 99, 98, 97, 96, 95," Mike would start counting down. At first, the count down was just for comic effect, but as the tardiness grew, we eventually started leaving people.

It's not like there wasn't hella rippin'. There was--hella. It's just that, like Whitesnake, we sometimes didn't get rockin' 'til later in the day.

The trip started off with a bang, as everyone was in town for the Globe World Cup World Championships of the World.

When looking back at contests past, nobody ever talks about what place people got or even how much money somebody won. Rather, the only thing that makes it from a typical contest weekend into the collective skate consciousness is when something goes wrong, someone flips out, or somebody gets smashed. The Mile-High dead cat toss, Congelliere's mid-run pants wetting, or the Munster Masterships vert ramp deck collapse--these are the kind of incidences that make it into the "Remember When" column of the dreaded back-in-the-day talk. So regardless of who did what at the Globe World Championships, all anyone will ever talk about is that crazy girl who smashed her first-place car on the floor of the street course.

On the subject of the street course:

"How the hell do I get speed for this thing?" Eric Koston asked me.

"There," I said, index finger extended and quivering, "Double Trouble!"

While many skaters, including Eric, were a little put off by the extreme-style double camel-hump blaster, Double Trouble was the precise obstacle that allowed 12-year-old crowd-favorite Ryan Sheckler to blast past Supercock and into fourth place in his premiere pro event. Young Sheckler, seen for the first time without his trade-mark full-pads kit, put Double Trouble to the test, unleashing melon tweakers, the benihanna and the spectacular Shecki-air, a Christ-air style kickflip indy in a style not seen since Patch's X-Games glory days and indicative of the cross-training snowboard big air fervor all these skateparks are bringing to a boil.

Other stand-outs include Dan Drehob! who jumped Double Trouble backside to fakie and with a frontside 360 and then unsuccessfully tried a bone-up to fakie into the whiplash corner, missing the tranny and taking the whole of the impact on his lower-back area. Rick Howard showed up and blew out the box with dazzling manual variations. Koston skated tough and Tony Trujillo rocked the house with amazing lines that no one else could step to. In the end, Rick McCrank won. Bucky won vert. As top points earner, Bucky also won a truck.

So we get to the meat of it--they gave out cars. Bucky won a Ford F-150, complete with steering wheel on the right. The winner of an Aussies-only event won a weird Subaru Brat-looking thing and Amy Caron, the girls' contest winner, received an updated Ford Festiva-type car for her excellent efforts.

They brought out a Ford representative who handed out keys and handshakes from the pyramid-turned-awards platform. Amy was first and, after pressing the flesh, was cajoled into climbing behind the wheel of her new ride. No sooner was her ass planted than the Festiva roared to life! It hitched and bucked like a moderately-priced Christine and then lurched forward, sending balding TV camera men and assorted other well-wishers scrambling! Someone really could have been killed if not for the fact that the devil car's kamikaze path ended a mere four feet away--jamming solidly into the bumper of the Aussie champ's Brat.

The dude was bummed. He scoped the damage with the eye of someone who'd just been rear-ended. Amy just laughed and laughed. The thousands of people in the stands did too. Everyone was laughing.

Not to be outdone, Bucky climbed behind the wheel of his F-15a and tore off towards the nearest quarterpipe, plowing into it purposefully I guess he was going for the rock fake, but had to be satisfied with some gratuitous peeling out towards the coping. A huge toxic cloud of charred plywood and burned rubber filled the arena.

People went apeshit. I myself ran over and had someone take my picture standing amidst the carnage. It was great.

Perhaps it was the strain of the contest or all that excitement that sent us into semi-hibernation mode. Granted, if you've ever seen Senn or Barley on a street course, you know good and well that they'd need some recovery time. But more so than that, there simply isn't a more comfortable place than in a hotel bed, stoner curtains blocking out all available daylight, with the air conditioning breathing its icy breath across your several layers of covers. Heavenly. Regardless, it's just not healthy for a grown man to sleep 16 hours a night.

Emerging into the light, we continuously ended up at the same barrier spot. Now a plastic barrier isn't exactly the type of terrain you'd imagine when traveling half-way across the globe, but Barley and Suski had lines on their minds, so there we were. The locals had built a bump on the foundation of a torn-out building, which coincidentally acted as a massive reflector. Donny got so sun-burned the first day, he was practically purple.

A few days in, Chris Lambert and Chany Jeanguenin joined the crew--Chris from a nearby hotel and Chany coming off a 30-hour travel hell ride that even Phelps would be leery of. It seems that upon boarding his flight for LAX, Chany was unaware that his US visa was in jeopardy due to some unfortunate timeliness regarding renewal and other complicated details known only to immigration attorneys and the INS. So after a 16-hour flight, an exhausted Chany landed in LA where he was immediately detained by immigration and forced to sit in a room while his case was reviewed. No phone calls were allowed and all his fellow detainees spoke only Spanish. After 10 hours in a plastic chair, Chany was escorted back to the concourse where he was put on a return flight to Australia Sixteen hours later he was back.

"It was like deja vu," he understated. Over 40 hours of sitting and he even had to buy a new plane ticket home.

Manzoori had problems of his own. He was also renewing his visa and, having been born in Iran in the '70s, raised a red flag to immigration officials. Mike didn't have to fly back to LA to find out, but discovered he had to stay an extra two weeks while the paperwork was being processed. Hooray for bureaucracy!

"I knew it!" Manzoori said, delighted, "No wonder he always looks so good in photos!"

Chany and Lambert are great friends and two of the nicest pros you could ever meet. Chris got tech on the barriers and then worked the bowls '70s-style on a borrowed banana board. Chany is a skate ninja and pounced over a sketchy fence at the barrier spot with kickflips and switch ollies. He really is a ninja. He can make fists with his feet! Imagine getting punched with a foot fist! His attention to detail extends past his skating and he gingerly ironed his jeans before shredding in them.

Manzoori is my new favorite videographer. He's an absolute laugh riot, at least to me.

"What?!!" he'd ask. "What's so funny?"

I would start laughing just looking at him sometimes. His dry English wit combined with Coke-bottle glasses equals excellent comedy. He's funny alright, but his skills on the stick, especially when sailing through head-high crooked cops, are deadly serious. Mike drove the whole time and was always in good temper, which can be a valuable stabilizing force on any trip.

On one especially slow moving morning I made the mistake of thinking out loud.

"I wish we had some amateurs with us," I said to myself I got scowls all around.

Now nothing is more threatening to seasoned veterans than talk of amateurs--these freaks who can land everything first try, jump down 28 stairs for 16 hours, and still be kickflipping on the carpet at three in the morning.

"No, no. You guys are great!" I tried to cover myself, "I just mean so I can be out shooting them on the rails in the morning until it's time for us to go to a park." More scowls. "I, uhmm, err," I sputtered.

The last thing I wanted to suggest was that eager stunt-jumping ams are preferable to the skilled grace of titans of the sport like Senn and Suski. I've just grown accustomed to having wild kids on trips who will skate all the dangerous spots, leaving the real gems for the elders. Regardless, I know it's a touchy subject. A few nights later, a tanked Sena tossed a lit cigarette in my lap.

"That's for sayin' you wished there were kids on the trip!" he snarled. I deserved it.

Prior to the trip, I only knew Chris Senn from his combative contest performances and his stern no-bullshit demeanor on board. I was ready for him to be one of those stare-right-through you types like Julien Stranger--like a character out of Grapes of Wrath, hardened by drought and failed harvests. Truth is, Senn's super funny and as good-natured as Judge Reinhold.

Donny Barley is a man of extremes. Probably one of the most natural and skilled skaters today, Donny was also the guy we were always waiting for and who could sleep the longest. When we were walking out the door, he would be walking towards the shower with a towel. It's not that he's lazy. Hardly. It's just that when you've got that much ability, you've got to ration it. After an extra-late night, Danny got up first thing in the morning and skated for four hours straight in the heat of the day. I'm not sure where he gets all his energy. He came so ridiculously close to some tech rail stuff that it was almost a crime he didn't roll away. Donny started out with long hair and ended the trip bald.

Aaron Suski looks like Prince Valiant, with a Superman chin and a permanent five o'clock shadow like all the dudes on Melrose Place. While we were insuring our beauty by an extra six hours of sleep each night, Aaron cruised the town, went to the aquarium, and was generally on his own productive schedule. Every time he did a trick, he would then put himself on a mission to incorporate it into a gnarly line. You can see why he's an underground champ. In a business built largely on hype and cronyism, Suski has come up on sheer ability and determination.

We didn't really hit up too many parks, as would be appropriate in Australia, but I don't remember being too bored. Just in the downtown area alone, Melbourne is chocked with spots and we kept running into things to shred every time we drove or skated around.

At night we skated out to bars, went to a party, and goofed around with a few locals and some cool kids from Canada.

Although I'd heard rumors, I didn't really believe the mythic-sounding claim that Australian girls like American accents. American accent--that sounds like an oxymoron to me. I think of the American style of speaking English as almost an anti-accent when compared to the rich variations of Scottish and Australian. Apparently, that's exactly what the appeal is.

"Ooh, say something American!" a group of girls asked me.

I tried to think of something American to say--harder than you might think.

"Barbara, this casserole is delish!" I offered. It was the most ridiculous thing they'd ever heard.

The dudes kicked it into high gear on the last day. Senn and Suski skated a nasty hubba in the rain and Barley bombed a whopper of a double set. Manzoori even woke up extra-early to let me capture the 'cop in all its glory, blasting from bowl to bowl at Fitzroy, beard glistening.

In the beginning of the trip, I would stress that we weren't getting enough done, or that we should be getting up earlier or whatever, but as I settled into the schedule, I became more accepting of a definition of work that doesn't give any credence to the structure of the traditional nine-to-five.

I'm not going to say these guys are artists, 'cause what's an artist, really? But, hell, you wouldn't wake David Lee Roth up at eight and insist he start wailing and high kicking. When people are highly talented you have to let it come naturally--even if nature tells them it's time to perform only after drinking 14 Victoria Bitters and sleeping for 22 hours. Forget Protestant work ethic. These guys got it done on their own schedule.
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Author:Burnett, Michael
Publication:Thrasher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Words:2479
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