Big Cheese Cover Story

May/June 1997


It was about three and a half years ago. I'd just picked up the latest issue of America's skateboard bible 'Thrasher' and I was flicking through its pages. Then I saw the ad. It was for a photographic book called FUCK YOU HEROES and it was by Glen E. Friedman, the man whose skate photos from the seventies in the original 'Skateboarder' magazine had inspired me and pretty much changed my whole fuckin' life. His pictures of Santa Monica Dog Towners like Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Shogo Kubo and skateboard pioneers like Stacy Peralta, Alan 'Ollie' Gelfand, or Mike McGill defined the culture, the size of the airs, and the state of its fashion like no one since has. Friedman was the fuckin' business. So anyway, I got hold of the book, from TURNAROUND BOOKS (tel. 0181 829 3000) and decided to write a feature on it in the now deceased 'Hey Tony' magazine. At the time the feature ran not many other people took much notice, but fast forward to February this year and it seems everyone wants a piece of Glen's cutting edge arse. Not only has he just released FUCK YOU TOO, his extra's plus more scrapbook of skate stars, hip hop icons and punk rock pioneers, but he's held an exhibition of all his work at London's I.C.A.

Looking at photos of punk heroes of yesterday like England's 999, Discharge and The Damned, America's Fugazi and Black Flag of Hip Hop's royalty of Run DMC, Ice T or Eric B and Rankim, it's almost like Glen E. Friedman is either my ghost or my memory. And he's not finished yet. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time whether he's managing bands, filming videos or simply taking photos. Big Cheese's Neil Bowen met up with Glen for the following interview and over the page Ice T exclusively speaks about the man who caught him at the beginning of his career.
The Bludger

NB-People still feel that skateboarding is a children's fad
GEF-Even in 1978, when I was wearing Bermuda shorts and skateboarding into the city, and there were punk rockers were really big in New York, people used to call me and my friends 'clowns'. They thought that skateboards were toys and we were like punk rockers on a skateboard, back then it was a really abstract thing to them. Skateboarding is something you can do by yourself, you don't need a group of people to do it, but certainly a group of people make it more fun like anything else. Not necessarily, though, I used to skateboard by myself and my best skateboarding is a lot of it has been done by myself, just getting out angst as a teenager. You can't do anything else, but you have curbs in your neighbourhood that you can grind away, I mean when you're upset, it's just a way to get out your energy. I still do that today, every time I go to Kenter, I go there on business, I have a board in the trunk of the car and I go there and I ride for at least a couple of runs. It's like a rule for me, every time I go to LA, I have to do it. One time I couldn't do it because there was too much grass between the cracks and I felt sad, because how could people neglect it? Here you have the greatest skate park in the world, one of the greatest natural skating surfaces, and how could people not take care of it? I felt insulted.

NB-Many parks that had been made when skateboarding was at its peak with specialist ramps, etc, had been built by councils and have been since covered over with gravel etc. It's a real shame and seems quite sad.
GEF-That tells you something about the sub-culture of skateboarding - that it is not meant to be organised and that is part of the problem. In my first book there are only a few skateboarders with helmets on. I did that for a reason, because you want to get back to the basics, what it really is. The whole thing about skateboarding and rules, the two do just not go together. It is not like baseball or football and when people start to make it like that, that's when it gets killed.

NB-The skateboarding competitions in the 70's had quite bizaar types of events held like high jump etc, which don't seem relevant to the subculture anymore.
GEF-This was when skateboarding was in its infancy and yes, people did do high jump and slalom and you did not know what sort of contests there could be. You also had barrel jumping. It was pretty much a novelty. I remember the first pool riding contest, but I personally feel that contests and skateboarding don't even mix. It's almost like surfing - I guess surfing you count the waves, but it's more a matter of style. None of my friends from 'Dog Town' ever took contests seriously. Organization is not what skateboarding is about. Even the magazines they have today, it is nice to have different points of view, but it just gets kind of redundant. The photography in them is such crap. If you are doing little tricks on the street, like flips, the video medium is far more interesting for that aspect of it. Stills for what kids do on boards today I don't think cuts it. The way they do it is not that good in the daytime with a flash, and it looks like the pictures have been glued on and it's not that interesting. I think 'Slap' is right up there, 'Big Brother' is interesting, with these two magazines who would even bring another one in. They are bringing 'Skateboarder' back. It's like the Sex Pistols getting back together, as far as I am concerned.

NB-What sort of people have been to the exhibition, mainly people who already knew your work?
GEF-People seem stoked. In London I did expect a lot of old school skaters and a lot of hip hop people. I didn't expect any American hardcore fans and there are quite a bit. I am very surprised, which is really cool. So, that's good, I mean really, it's all good. I know that's a burn-out saying, but it is all good, everyone has been having a good time. They have liked the photos and getting the books and being happy. Everyone has been real nice to me and it's a real pleasure to come here. I wish I could stay longer, but Ihave a shoot to do in New York. Not that I have that much to do, but I feel a need to go home.

NB-Nowadays do you mainly take photos relating to music?
GEF-I've not shot much in the last couple of years, to tell the truth I have not seen much that was exciting, but I still follow skating. I still follow music and when something is interesting enough I take photos of it. Please look at a magazine called 'super x' (on the table), it was from Japan. There are skate photos I took last summer. I went to the contest in Northampton, Radlands, the skating really stoked me. I was blown away and there was a good attitude from people all over the world. There were these Brazilian kids who were rad, they were like aggressive old 'Dog Town' style and Ed Templeton was there and a couple of other kids I remembered. So I took some photographs for another book and I felt motivated, the skating was good. And I went down to South of France after London and I went via Marseilles too because both Tony Alva and Tom Gorholski told me I had to check it out and I did and I did not know that I could skate it too, I thought it would be more radical than that, because I'm not skating vertical and there are like cool bowls I would have had to pass time. I took some pictures and Ethen Fowler happened to be there and I had lunch with him once in New York. So I took some photos then. I still love skating, but I hate those little kick flips.

NB-Yes, I prefer to just carve the streets and parks. Rich and Dave sometimes ride fibreflexes for kicks.
GEF-Riding Fibreflexes? That's insane. Slam City - they still got kryptonics. The wheels just fly.

NB-When you first started skating did you think it would evolve into such a fine tuned activity?
GEF-No, not at all. We skated just for fun, but I had a feeling street skating might take over eventually. I didn't think that street skating would become the way it is. I thought people would ride walls and curb grind, I didn't think they would do kick flips so much.

NB-I started when I was about 12 years old and I had one of those polythene pencil shape decks. You couldn't really do much on them and you saw these older kids doing 'ollies'. You couldn't imagine lifting the board without holding on to something.
GEF-I tell you that seing these tricks done by Ollie for the first time was pretty amazing too. The thing is that when I first started skating, people were not even doing kick turns on vertical yet. I remember the day when Tony first did frontside air in a pool. It was just like insane, he didn't even know how to describe it. I know I'm being a dummy because I say that in my book, but it's true. The way it has developed no-one could predict, you don't even know what's going to happen. The reality is that cement is all around us and some people are able to skate it. It's sad the way that only half-pipes have become the only vertical skating. People used to think that it was boring just doing 'forevers' - that was what we used to call them, just going back and forth, back and forth. It involved no style, I mean, carving lines in a pool and then doing things and having different lines, that's creativity. That's why skateboarding is a cult. It is creative, it is an individual creative expression. Physical almost as much as or more than martial arts.

NB-Do you think you took certain attitudes from the cultures of punk rock and hip hop?
GEF-Oh yes, if you are a true skater you develop a certain kind of attitude. From the time I grew up if you weren't playing little league baseball and weren't influenced that much by your parents, you had to be a skater. Where I grew up, skateboarding was a lifestyle. Skateboarding was a way of life. For a lot of people skatebnoarding was something to do when there were no waves. You know what I mean, because they were all surfers. I think that maybe I was one of the first generation of skaters, a pure skater, me personally, because even Tony and Jay, they all surfed. I was from the Ease Coast, I didn't like waking early in the morning and I wasn't one of those people who went surfing first thing in the morning. I had dark curly hair and not straight blonde hair, so I just became a skater. Just hanging out with my friends because that's what they did when there were no waves. It's been an incredible influence on my life.
I attribute everything to skateboarding. My mum is a very creative person and maybe I got some of my eye from her. But my whole attitude originates from skateboarding. It instigated a lot of it, and I think a lot of other people say that too. People like Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins and the guys from SS-Decontrol were all influenced by the same people I was influenced by in skateboarding. I mean, I influenced those guys as well, through my work, but Stecyk who wrote the initial articles and even though I happened to live there, Stecyk influenced all of us. We have all influenced a lot of other people as well.

NB-Do you still hang out with people like Tony Alva?
GEF-Yes, I saw Tony just the other day, but I don't really hang out with him, and since the books came out, I mean, about 4 or 5 years ago I met up with him at an art show. Since then I've talked to him about once a year or so, just to cheak in with him. We're not close friends and he is 5 or 6 years older than me. He used to pretty much give me a hard time when I was a kid - I used to sell boards for him. He'd get the boards for free and I'd sell them. When I sold four, I'd get one for free, one for myself. He appreciates what I have done for him lately, bringing him back into peoples eyes. I do talk to him and I talked to Jay a couple of years back. Jay is like a born again Christian now. He has done a lot of very rough things in his life. I guess that happens to people when they want to reform themselves, not that I agree with it, but if that's what he needs, good for him. Tony has his own company now and just doing business on his own terms. Slowly but surely just handling things himself.

NB-When you originally took pictures in the pools, were you allowed in them?
GEF-No, usually it was illegal. I would say 80% of the time we were shooting pools, we were trespassing on people's private property. They were all pretty hairy. If it was cool, you would be playing music, if it wasn't, you would always be listening for someone coming. I remember one time this guy came chasing after us. We heard him yelling and he started up a chainsaw. I ran one way, the others ran the other way, it was just insane. There was this guy driving around the neighbourhood looking for us.

NB-In some of the old skate videos from the 80's it looks like their own backyards, because the pools are heavily grafittied.
GEF-Sure, skaters bought their own houses, but that was much later on. In the 70's there were no skaters that owned pools. There were only a few pools in skate parks and by 1980 most of them were destroyed anyway, because it seemed to have gone down hill.

NB-I wasn't really aware of any of the big names back in the early period of skateboarding until I read your book.
GEF-That's cool, I'm happy that now you know that people like Jay and Tony and stuff like that. Those are the real guys. Tony Hawk and Caballero, all those guys. I was probably one of the first people to photograph them, getting them into skateboard magazine and they deserve some respect. But they are 3rd or 4th generation, I know they are considered old school now, but that they aren't. They are not old school, and style they don't have. Stevie has some, Tony has none. People consider a lot of people to have style now, but to me thay have none. Even Steve Alba is looked at as good now. They used to call him 'La Machine'. La Machine is not a complimentary term from where I come from, a machine does not have style, but Steve has this unique style compared with people now.

NB-Well, thanks Glen. Gotta go skate now...


I met Glen Friedman in LA a long time ago. He was walking down the beach and he ran into me. He knew all about me. He's like a Jewish kid who was really like knowin' a lot about hip hop and he told me he was good friends with Rick Rubin and he had known about all kinds of stuff that was goin' on in hip hop on the NY side. So what made Glen cool was he had tapes of all these new rappers comin' out. He had a tape of LL Cool J before "I need a Beat" came out, he had a tape of Public Enemy when they were called just Chuckie D, and the record was PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER 1. I had the tape before there was a group called Public Enemy and he was just cool, you know, he was an intellectual among hip hop, he knew what was up. Ever since then Glen was always like the number one photographer in hip hop.
He shot everybody, I mean he shot P.E.'s album covers, Run DMC's, LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, mine. At that time, those were the biggest groups. There were no other groups out. He shot Eric B and Rakim, Slick Rick. In that era, those were the biggest groups and he did good jobs, he shot my famous POWER album cover with Darlene on it that won album cover of the year. So, Glen's the man, he knows his shit. He's like a white dude that you'll run into, but he definately ain't no new school kid. He's an old G in hip hop. He knows his shit. He knows Russell. He started out as a skateboard photographer and he has pictures of the Dead Kennedy's and early Rollins and you know, he's somebody worth listening to. Glen has his own opinions, he's really opinionated. He's the kind of motherfucker I play my records to and he'll say "That shit sucks, I can't believe you made that record, it's the worse shit." And I'll say "Fuck you Glen, what the fuck do you know? You ain't shit. When was the last time you picked a hit record?" We'll argue. He will tell you what's on his mind. And you know, all pictures tell his story. He wasn't just walkin' up takin' pictures, he was there, with it. He knows every artist he took. So I mean, hopefully his exhibit will go, and be big. 'Cause there's nobody else that was really out there.

(Cover story - 4 pages - 2 color, 2 black and white - with many photographs)