The Scott Bourne Interview

Scott Bourne reminds me a little bit of myself. Well, not really. He’s tall and handsome, I’m short and not so handsome. He writes poems with a typewriter and gets them published in books. I use a typewriter and write poems,  I mean lyrics, but no one ever reads them, and I guess they suck. He moved from California to Paris, and returned to USA and then moved to Europe for good… me too. He’s an amazing skateboarder. My best trick is a frontside grind. Ok, so the similarities aren’t so strong, but as much as a sophisticated artsy dude he is, somehow he is one of my heros… Here’s an interview by Austrian graphic artist, photographer, zine maker, etcetera, Thomas Reitmayer made with the illustrious Scott Bourne  – J. Hay

You are 35 years old now. Did you ever imagine half a lifetime ago that you would be living in Paris?

NO. Not at all!!! I could have never imagined the life I now have or what makes me tick. As a small boy I had my dream set on the ocean. I loved the water, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. After I hit puberty skateboarding took over, there was little anyone could do to keep me off the thing. I had visions of California dancing in my head and a dream that when fulfilled became quite incredible and then unimaginable…. so I left to embark on my next desire with life. 5 years later I am at my desk composing stories. Everything is an unbelievable dream, even when things are bad, I still feel blessed by my individual will… and all around me is the reward.

What brought you to Europe in the first place, and what made you stay?

Skateboarding brought me here for the first time in 2000. I fell in love and just couldn’t make myself get back on the plane. Six months later I was completely out of money and getting pressure from my sponsors… so I returned. For the next three years I would come to Europe whenever I could, in early 2004 I loaded up my bag, a board, all the notes I had compiled on my first book, the ole typer and rented a small room in Paris. I have been here ever since.

Do you feel the need for something like a “home”? What is home to you?

I have always struggled with the idea of a home. I am still unsure what it is or what it means to be home. I am at home in the woods of Caroline where I was raised and roamed as a child. I am at home on the streets of San Francisco where I lived, loved and skated for ten years of my life. I am at home in the French countryside where I lived, wrote and spent the most incredible year of my life. At the same time I am very much at home here at my desk under the roofs of Paris. Wherever I go I find love and life. My curiosity makes it impossible to not find the things that make a man feel at home.

Wallride. Photo: Lars Greiwe

How big is the role of skateboarding in this stage of your life now?

Skateboarding is certainly the central force in the evolution of Scott Bourne, but at this point in my life it is more the foundation of a dream that makes all other dreams possible. I think to myself that if I could do what I have done with skateboarding then I can do what ever it is in my head that needs to be done with the rest of my life. The trick now will be to out live that legacy, to progress in new talents and desires.

With the mind growing up and the body growing older, how has your skating changed over time?

I became a master of improvision, more and more creative with my body and its movements. Unable to perform old tricks due to injuries, I simply changed in style and approach. At this point in my skating life, I can really do just about anything that I want to do on the board; I simply have to have the desire to do it. My body has good days and bad days and I live in between these days on and off my board. On the other hand my mind is no longer attracted to the culture or the mentality of many of the newer generations. My interest have simply changed and much of what originally attracted me to skateboarding has simply died or been destroyed. I plain and simply grew up, something that I never really thought about as a child. My desires have changed and with that change so has my vision of skateboarding.

Speaking of change, what made you stop eating meat and, a bit further down the road, consider veganism? Does this still apply?

Whooaaa, that’s gonna be a long answer!!! Veganism is simply a matter of evolution in the vegetarian progression as is the return to eating meat. When I was a kid I was really into punk music and got into the straight edge thing. Later I would here KRS-1 speaking about being addicted to meat on the BDP EDUTAINMENT album. He said that if you think you are not addicted to meat, try to stop eating it. I took his challenge and didn’t eat meat for I think 17 years, 10 of which were vegan. At the time I had been coming to France for a number of years. I was vegan but it was incredibly hard to eat vegan not only in a country where I could not read the language but at the time there was very little vegetarian available and I was being invited to dinner at all these wonderful peoples’ homes. They were so happy to have me and show me things from their country and culture. In all honesty my honor became far more important than my personal protest. I felt honored to be in their homes and shown a new world and culture. I really wanted to respect these people. It was at this time that I started to cut the vegan diet when in Europe and simply made the compromise to vegetarianism. Not a big deal for me, I knew how I felt about my world, myself, and my diet.

So I began eating cheese and a bit of dairy. It wouldn’t be until years later while incredibly sick in Mongolia that I would eat meat for the first time since I was 15. Practically starved to death on the Trans Siberian Railroad, Kenny Reed would buy a smoked fish from a seller outside the window at one of the stops. We had both been sick in Ulaan Bataar and had not had or seen food in 2 days. The fish was a golden-brown color, with head and tail. The body gutted and held open with matchsticks. It had been smoked and cured and looked like beef jerky. When Kenny began to devour the fish I must have looked over at him with the most pathetic look on my face. We locked eyes and without a word he slowly handed the fish across the table to me. For the next 10 minutes we passed it back and forth until it was nothing but bones and head. The train had no dining car. We were unaware of this when we got on for the 5-day trip from Ulaan Bataar to Moscow. We had just passed over into Siberia and the fish was most certainly out of Lake Baikal, of which is the largest body of fresh water in the world as well as the deepest. It has more water by volume than all of the Great Lakes combined. Not a bad way to break a 17-year relationship with a meatless diet. It was in the moments that followed this event that we saw a Russian passenger coming down the corridor with a hot steaming chicken plate. Kenny and I must have nearly been drooling on the guy’s plate. Kenny who speaks a bit of Russian immediatly began talking to the guy and then grabbed me and started dragging me through the train. We had been to the back of that train at least 20 fuckin’ times and ther was NO dining car. This time when we got to the back of the train… there it was, people sitting around eating and drinking as if it were the normal thing to do. It was pretty mind blowing. Like a mirage or a hallucination. We found out later that when the train had passed over into Russia, they had put on a dining car. The Mongolians were too poor to afford one, so the train traveled for two days without food. I am sure the Mongolians knew this, but we had no idea. Kenny and I immediately sat down and I ate 3 entire chickens clean from the bone. Mongolia is the only place in the world where 99% of their diet is animal based and they have no health repercussions from it. The land is very tuff and temperate and makes growing food almost impossible. There is nothing else for these people to eat, they are nomads, and follow their food. Where it goes they go. This is when I had the stunning realization that the entire idea of an animal free diet is a first world luxury. I don’t want to say I nearly died for false values but in essence that is where I had pushed myself…. close to suicide! I live and learn and don’t take my privileged first world ideas into the third world. I still buy primarily vegan, soy milks and organic foods. I now eat wild fish and range chicken but will rarely consume it in the states. My reasons for not consuming animal products have always been rooted in cruelty issues.

Wanna talk about the transition from “straight edge” to smoking and drinking?

I think that sometimes we just do things for so long that we forget why we began them. We also use tools and tricks to oppress ourselves. Tattoos are a great example. They are a way to get trapped in the past, stuck with an idea or statement that you made when you where young and naive. I am open to change and I think I needed a bit of a push. It was 1999, I was 27, and on my first real international tour as a pro. We had been flown out to Australia to do a series of demos. At one of these demos I watched Alan Petersen try a blunt to fakie on an impossible structure. It was a crappy wall ramp that ran up the wall in a warehouse. About six foot of vertical to one of the beams that supported the warehouse. I watched him get broke for close to an hour. It was impossible, but Alan is one of those guys that can do anything given the right reason and on that day I learned this lesson. The Australian tour was dominated by beer. Everyday we got in the van with 2 full coolers of VB’s and XXX’s…no water…. that’s Oz. I was sitting on one of our coolers watching Alan get broke. As he skated back from one of his tries I said: “It’s not possible Alan… no way man!” he said: “What ya gonna give me if I make it?” I laughed and said: “Alan, you make that blunt and I’ll have a beer wit ya!” he looked over at Karma and said: “you heard him.” Karma just said: “hell yea Alan… do it.” That was all she wrote, Alan skated across the warehouse, turned and approached the ramp, and as if he had done the trick a million times, he road up the wall, lapped into an ollie blunt, popped out and road away with perfection and style. Karma pushed me to the edge of the cooler, got up, handed a beer to me, then got one for Alan and the three of us had a drink. Again… not a bad first time experience. My first beer was with two of the greatest skateboarders that have ever stepped on a board. I spent the next six months in a drunken state. It wouldn’t be until I traveled to Europe in 2000 that I would actually get a hold on my drinking.

Speaking of addiction, “…finger sore from an old typewriters tap, unable to commit to the computers silence.” – you don’t seem to particularly like or even trust technology. Please elaborate.

It’s just that nothing digital is stable. Most people do not know this, but it is true. Which in essence means that we are looking at a coming gap in history. Already I know people who have had their computers crash and in doing so they have lost all their baby pictures as well as other valuable family moments. This is just one aspect. With this in mind it is not hard to see the coming repercussions of technology, computers and the way information can easily be altered or lost. With all the newspapers going online it’s easy to go back and alter the news, in Orwell’s 1984 we see people employed by the government to go through all the books and change history to match what the government wants history to say. This is a pretty impossible feat, but now it is actually possible with all news sources going out of print. It’s getting scary. That’s not conspiracy theory, it’s just the facts. The media has been used to manipulate us for centuries, now they’ve just made it more efficient. These companies are openly monitoring what you consume through the internet. People are paid to sit for endless hours and scan your MYSPACE pages for pornographic content. You put something pornographic on one of those sites and they shut you down in a matter of hours. What makes you think they aren’t using all the data you post on your life to more efficiently sell to you?  I recently read that the two largest subjects that are looked up on the internet are pornography and religion. Perfect… .that says it all!!! I recently met a guy that works for google and he told me that the single most googled person in the worlds is Britney Spears. Whoa!!!! That’s a bit scary, what are you people doing? On average people spend more time in front of a computer screen than they do actually interacting with other people. The statistics are heart breaking. The thing about the typewriter is that one does not need the machine that created it to read the document created. Paper is still the longest lasting way to store data, with vinyl at second. DVD’s, CD’s and hard drives are at the bottom of the list. We are erasing ourselves with the seemingly great convenience and instant gratification of digital. On top of all that the typewriter is private!!!

Scott in a shop in Republic of Macedonia. Photo: Lars Greiwe

What made the little boy Scott Bourne from the backwoods of North Caroline interested in Mozart, ballet, and literature?

Animal Farm, by Orwell was the first and only book I actually read in school; a wonderful teacher by the name of David Duffee, basically tricked me into reading it. I had just been expelled from school for wearing a t-shirt that I had written on: “If we can not take our skateboards to heaven, we will ride them in hell.” Duffee fought right along my side for my freedom of speech, but in the end he told me that every man had to choose his battles. Shortly thereafter he put Animal Farm in my hands and I devoured it. It was real, cohesive and I could attach myself to it and to the characters. On top of that I was certain that it was about far more than the underlying theme; a theme that would eventually get Duffee expelled from the school system as well. This was my 8th grade year… Woodlawn Middle School, Mebane North Carolina.

The following year Duffee was chased out, as great men often are. I never forgot the lessons he taught, or that day he stood up for me. In and out of trouble my entire school career, no teacher had ever stood up for me, much less told me I had been right. It’s funny to think about it now. That single event and that single man had in the years leading up to now, become a great inspiration to me.

The years that would follow my graduation from high school would be filled with petty crime, jail time and common rebellion in every form. It was while waiting for a friend at a musty little bookshop on Hillsborough street, in Raliegh North Carolina that I would find the next book in my life. The first book I ever picked up and read on my own was Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller. Fresh out on bail I had gone to the bookshop to wait for my cohort Shawn Springer to pick me up. The shop became our meeting point for many of our illegal activities. This was how it always worked. Things had gotten sketchy and often, if he went to bail me out, charges would be brought against him as well. It was the same when I went to bail him out, so we devised the book store as a meeting place and usually got our girlfriends at the time to take in the bail money.

It was there in those musty shelves and stacks of books that I saw a binding that read “Tropic of Capricorn.” I figured the book was about astrology. My brother was a capricorn and we had never gotten along, so I picked it up. It was an old hardback edition and on the very first page it read: “To Her.” That was it. It blew my mind. I was like, “Who the hell is her???

I read the first line, “Once you have given up the ghost…” and I was hooked. The first page annihilated me. I went home that night and read the entire thing. It was beautiful. The most fucking beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life and it was “To Her.” Who the hell was she? I didn’t know, but I wanted more. I read everything I could find by this Miller guy, and everyone he talked about, well I read them too: Dostoevsky, Rabelais, Proust, Joyce, Hamsum, D.H. Lawrence, Lawrence Durrell. He referenced Nijinsky, I read fucking Nijinsky. He spoke of Jong and I read her shit novel too. I was hungry. I was looking for it and Miller tipped the scales. He sent me into a new world. Then everyone that “those guys” wrote about, I went out and found them too. It was murder. My brains were being rearranged by the greats.

In the months that would follow this incredible event, my good friend Shawn Springer would go down on 13 felony charges. I went to see him through the thick glass of custody and he picked up the phone without speaking and mouthed the words, “get out of town.” I left that day for the mountains, moving four hours away to Asheville, and stayed with my good friend Brent Hobby for a couple of months. After Springer took the rap for something I could have helped him pay for, I set off for California.

In the years that followed I made it as a professional skateboarder. Two of my early board graphics would reflect both of those authors. I ripped off a drawing that [Ralph] Steadman had done for Animal Farm and printed the last paragraph of the book on a board. At the same time I put out a board with a paragraph from Miller’s Black Spring. I had Moish Brenman (in-house artist for Consolidated skateboards at the time) illustrate the words.

Ralph Steadman's illustration for Animal Farm that inspired Scott Bourne's board graphic

Shawn Springer was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment, suspended with heavy probation: he had to return to school and work high-level mathematics for N.C. State. Years later, Brent Hobby, one of my closest childhood friends would become the sheriff of the town we all grew up in. The novel I am working on now is heavily based around all these events, as well as on the other boys of my youth. In 15 years of being interviewed for skateboard publications, no one has ever asked a question that would reveal that story.

Jail time brought me the books. Small bouts in a cell. Ballet brought me the classical music. I have always been enthralled with the female body and form. There is no better place to admire its beauty, form and elegance than on the stage of the ballet house. I went for no other reason than to steal looks at these almost naked women. Ballet in itself is also a very erotic movement, I have always been interested in what an erotic moment is, and to see it put to dance is wonderful. I have also begun the notes and a map to an erotic novel I wish to write in the not so distant future.

Tranfer to Disaster. Belgrade, Serbia. Photo: Bertrand Trichet

In a time and age when most of your peers from the skateboard world seem to make a living off things like limited edition sneakers, or “art” that looks as if someone with broken fingers scribbled a to-do-list on a sheet of paper, what made you choose something as old fashioned as poetry?

I didn’t really! I was just writing down all these notes and short stuff that never really fit into the story I was trying to tell in my novel, but I really liked the small stuff. For lack of a better name it became poetry… no space, line, rhythm or definition to it, but there was a story being told. Lars from Carhartt had liked the work I had done for the Mongolian book and we started to talk about a book project for me. When I gave him all the short stuff, I never in my wildest imagination thought I would see it published. He really loved the rawness writing and next thing you know, we had created the book. In the end it was really scary for me. The stuff is quite personal, but the response was amazing… we are now working on a second one that I have already written.

There are also two novels that you have already finished. What are they about and when are they going to be published?

At present I am still editing the first book and there is definite interest in it, but I am not going to cut the heart of it out to see it published and that’s what many of these houses want to do…. dumb it down for the masses. I just won’t have it. I am also about a 100 pages (typed) into a second book, and have the notes and the map to complete it, what I don’t have right now is TIME. I am writing for all kinds of magazines just to stay fed and pay the rent and it’s really cut into my rhythm. To tell the truth, it’s frustrating as all hell and I am about to lose my mind. Although both of these novels are fiction they are heavily based around my real experience with the world.

Photo: Michelle Pullman

You seem to be portrayed as the cliché of a starving artist and tormented writer, so where is the joy, laughter, and happiness in the life of Scott Bourne?

All joking aside…. I am flat broke and live day to day. People think you design a shoe, or a frame, they see you in films or TV commercials, they see you on the covers of magazine around the world, they see your book of poems and they think that guy must be loaded, but its just not the reality of what’s happening especially in skateboarding. Sometimes I don’t even believe it. I look at my life, my accomplishments and all the places I have seen my name, and face and I go fuckin nuts…. why the hell am I broke??? But that’s not the point, the point is to be driven, to love what you do and do it, and that’s the joy I have in my life. I am really doing exactly what I want everyday. Yea…. there is some torment, I am frustrated as hell, I am 35, my knees are blown, my back is broke, I have no insurance of any kind, no security, no steady income, no savings, I owe an incredible amount on back taxes, on paper I am literally fucked for life, and on top of all that… believe it or not…. I am starving. There are times when I can’t pay the rent, when I go with nothing but noodles and potatoes, my buddies buy me beers and we laugh at ourselves. It’s all full circle. I have never had money and money means very little to me. When I have it, I buy the beers, I spend it… done, and I am on to the next project. AND… the truth of the matter is, that if I had money, I probably would not be so driven, driven to stay fed, and keep the rent paid. I am running a marathon with myself. Everyday I think to myself how much longer can you go for, but I just keep going. Money can make just about any of your desires come true, but it will never give you desire and I am so thankful for the desire.

Interview by Thomas Reitmayer

Excerpts from Scott Bourne's "Eclipse"