“THE DRIVEN is skateboarding in every true sense of the word from chaos to baryshnikov, from majestic fantasha to death trips. Not follow in trends not startin any just proceeding thru the red light wandering aimlessly, like clowns running down your street. We’ll keep functioning in skateboarding. And let everyone else just shit the bed.” – The Driven [Jason Jessee, 2004].
Jason Jessee is a legend. He is also a living enigma, which is defined as a “riddle generally expressed in metaphorical language that requires ingenuity and careful thinking to discover its solution.” He is a natural born actor, who plays himself in every role he’s ever been in such as: Santa Cruz Skateboards’ “Streets On Fire (1998)” and “Speed Wheels (1990)”, as well as “STOKED: The Rise and Fall of Gator (2002)”, and the film he’d rather forget, “PRAY FOR ME: The Jason Jessee Film (2007)”. He is probably best known for his front side ollie in a halfpipe, which many agree was the best skateboarding has ever seen. Words associated with Jason Jessee one way or another over the years are: skateboarder, renegade, the driven, motorcycles, old chevy trucks, “suicide bomber“, consolidated, auto-modown, hi-bond modified, choppers, hells angels, eccentric, reclusive, chasing chickens, surfing, santa cruz, southern california, Neptune, rebel, guns, 100% sk8boarder, Jay Adams, Andy Roy, Christian Fletcher, Neil Blender, inverts to fakie, style… an artist.
I first met Jason Jessee around 2003 at Consolidated Skateboards where he was answering phones and shipping among other things, and I had the chance to see him skate the vert ramp on several occasions, usually with Alan Petersen or some of the other vert dudes that would show up there a certain day of the week. After Jason and Consolidated’s relationship fell apart, he started up Automodown about 10 miles south of Santa Cruz. Automodown consists of: Driven Skateboards, 100% Skateboarder, Hardluck Wheels, Hi-Bond Modified and Auto-Matic printing. I don’t remember how I first ended up there, I suppose it was to get an ad for Concussion Magazine. Jason didn’t have anything prepared so he went off to his office and came out 20 minutes with a hand drawn ad he made with a sharpy on a piece of paper: “Teenage Time Killer” or something like that, with those words and a drawing of a skateboard. No design software on the computer, and no art department – just an idea, and then doing it, instantly. And I suppose that’s how I started lurking out there from time to time, they did have a few computers, but no one knew how to use them, so I became the volunteer tech support computer guy, and since I worked down the street I could stop by after work. Actually, I think no one got paid there, everyone volunteered, with hopes of one day getting paid, or not. You see, Jason is such a charismatic person, people don’t care if they work for him for free. In a lot of ways, he’s like Charles Manson. If he were evil, he could get hordes of humans to go around killing people for him, and he’d never have to touch a soul. But he’s not evil, that’s why he’s just doing his own thing and trying to stay alive, unlike several of his contemporaries from his earlier days in skateboarding, whom are now dead.
So to make the long story longer, one day I shot some black and white portraits of Jason with his Chevy for an photo art show in Detroit, but that never worked out. I don’t think I ever ended up sending them in, or I missed the deadline, or had misunderstood the theme of the photo show, but I ended up getting some classic shots which were published in a few different places over the world (Spanish skate/art magazine, German film premier flyer, and the back cover of the PRAY FOR ME DVD which Shitbird never even sent me a copy of, thanks bro.) Over a few years time I’d drop by every few weeks or so, talk to Jason if he was around (and not hiding out in his self induced solitary confinement in his office), and met a variety of interesting people who would happen to be stopping by: Christian Fletcher, Scott Bourne, The Highway Murderer’s, Ruben Ruiz, Tsuyoshi from Felem (Japan) and the guys who skated for The Driven. In fact, THAT was how I first ended up there, doing a photo shoot for The Driven for Concussion Magazine issue 20 or something. Every time I dropped by Automodown, Jason was up to some type of manic madness. Whether it was a robotic voice over the loud speaker chanting psychotic things (which I think he was typing into the computer in his locked office), or a skate session on the sketchy skate structure, or him welding something for a bike or car, guns (both real and fake), spray paint, explosives, chickens, highway murderer’s band practice… it was rarely, if ever, a dull moment over there, but always bizarre. Jason Jessee is the oddest, most eccentric person I’ve ever had the chance to meet, and I’ve met quite a few. On a few occasions, I brought a camera with me, to document Jason’s mixed media, installation and live performance art. Here are some of the photos I took from 2004-2005.
Photos + words by Jonathan Hay
Art by Jason Jessee
PREY FOR ME – Jason Jessee Documentary – Trailer