So speaking of Blender…
I know, I know, each dot should lead to another new one, but there’s just too much beauty and mystery and straight-up magic in Neil Blender for me to just move on immediately. But I’ll do it with focus- his part in “Footage” from G&S.
By the time 1990 rolled around, Blender had already been there and done that. All of it. He was a vert legend by the early ‘80s, contributed OG street innovations (no-comply, anybody?), ushered in the era of mini-ramps, been a figurehead in the DIY board graphics movement in skating, given all the best names to all the best tricks, and generally been a unique and ultra-creative personality for years upon years. What all that seemed to add up to was a part featuring some of the most “I don't give a fuck” (in a good way) skating and speaking ever captured on video. Blender seemed like he couldn’t care less about being cool or doing anything related to what the cool guys were doing (note that this part was post-Hocus Pocus, post-Rubbish Heap), and as a result, he was the coolest ever. That’s kind of a cliché, but he epitomizes it. Some notes from the epic and savagely under-appreciated seven-minute part…
1) It opens with an illustration of possibly a seated kangaroo playing a lute for some cats? The tone is set.
2) Scene two finds him in the bathroom at a Super-8 motel with some cheap toy top, a cup, and a sink full of water. I want to pause on this fact for a moment. This is obviously down time on some tour. Rather than partying, getting chicks, shopping, buying weed, or whatever else most pros on the road would do with their precious down time, Blender has chosen a toy, a cup and a sink full of water. It’s these little moments that become the nuggets of both confusion and attraction for me, as memorable or possibly more so than most tricks in video parts. Anyhow, the top goes into the water, and his reply: “I hate that game.” What? This is a game you’ve played before? So many questions! How is the water supposed to factor in? Argh, the mystery has already begun.
3) “That’s the stuff people put in their coffee.” Lighting non-dairy creamer on fire in the street? Enough said.
4) Rocket tailblock on the ramp in the woods. Have you ever tried this? Just thinking about it is difficult.
5) “Guh-duls… guh-duls!” Imagine trying to use that call to actually get girls. He had the weird, vaguely eastern European accent down pat a solid decade before Borat emerged. I call to my two daughters this way at least once a week.
6) Fakie manual on a mini-ramp. People were not doing this in the streets yet.
7) OK, now the incredibly quick scene where he walks up, drops his bag and gets into an attack crouch in front of a group of young kids… this might be the single most mesmerizing thing in a skate video I ever saw. When this video came out, my parents had just gotten a new VCR that had a slow-mo function, and I used that button literally hundreds of times while watching this scene. He moves like a graceful hunting cat, and the children are actually frightened. Look how they scatter. Why does he do this? Why do I need to see it over and over? Why is it so captivating? It’s like a scene out of Twin Peaks or something.
8) Back to the mini. This whole segment blows my mind. He does tricks that nobody ever did before and nobody has done since. If I could choose between doing the tricks he does in this part or the tricks Daewon and Haslam do in Cheese and Crackers, I would not hesitate a moment to take Blender’s quiver. The shopping cart/push manual, the fakie sweeper, the pendulum f/s rock, and on and on, all done by a 6-foot+ man on a three-foot mini while wearing full pads.
9) “Trip out, trip out.” Another moment I cannot explain my fantastic attraction to, and another phrase I utilize regularly whenever something is supposed to be weird but actually isn’t.
10) The scene in the shop where he analyzes a few graphics. This is probably the most widely known moment from the overall part because of the skeletons comment. Parking Corey O’Brien’s flaming reaper may have been the exact turning point in the transition from the ‘80s to the ‘90s in terms of board graphics, the metaphorical shot heard round the world. I think we, as a community, avoided skull and skeleton graphics for a solid six or seven years in the aftermath of this comment. That’s how powerful and how much a sign of the times it was. Neil dictated the future. It was right on then, and it is right on now. How skulls made such a comeback, I just don’t know.
And also the John Sonner comment- is he calling him a whittler, as in somebody who does small things, or is he calling him a widdler, which I was told means somebody who pees the bed? Either way, John Sonner retired shortly after this part came out.
11) Watching him throughout the part, I still notice his clothes. This was 1990- Limpies pajama pants, neon high-top Airwalks, side print t-shirts, chain wallets, etc. But there he is: skinny khakis, black socks, extremely basic low-top sneakers, t-shirts with no logo. Minimalism. Basics. Made me realize that when you really stand out from the crowd, you don’t need to advertise it outwardly. Actions speak louder than outfits.
12) The small spine. This session also blows my mind. The hand-out on a deck not much wider than his board. No-handed nosepick on a board with very little nose. Nollies over the spine, also with very little nose. And of course, inverts around the spine. Around it. I think that is the quintessential trick in the part. Never seen it again.
13) A few moments later, the music starts and you realize there has been no music the entire time, and you have been totally captivated nonetheless. As a HUGE fan of music creating the right vibe for a part, I must say that I can’t imagine this part with a song. It would have ruined it, would have taken away the hushed reverence, the silent awe that I appreciate it with. And it’s interesting- as the part fades out and you get the very Dino-sounding track, the super-8 footage, and the crusty Ohio wallride spot, you can literally see the initial contractions of the birth of the Alien Workshop happening. Within a few months, Blender would leave G&S, taking along Steve Claar, Duane Pitre, a pre-pubescent Rob Dyrdek, and a few others along to start AWS with Chris Carter and Mike Hill. Remember, when Workshop was first around, it was riding on Blender’s shoulders. He carried it. His aesthetic was a huge piece of what defined the Workshop look and feel, and still does to this day. I don't think enough people give him credit for that. And then once Workshop was up and running, he promptly disappeared. Into the ether.
This is already ridiculously long, so I’ll clip the string in a second. But to me, this is one of the parts that is bigger than skateboarding, more than skateboarding. It’s a moment that shaped my life in strange, unknown, but powerful ways. Neil Blender is one of the few pros who I admired greatly but didn’t ever meet- and I hope to keep it that way. Sacred cows and all that.