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Dear Skating: Liberty Horror Interview

Dear Skating (@dearskating) is Chris Lipomi’s homage to skateboarding’s past. For his most recent project, he has recreated the Liberty catalogue, re-released Liberty Horror on VHS, and even remade the shirt that Fred Brown wore in his section from the video. We spoke to Chris and Todd Congelliere, who rode for Liberty and features in the video, about Liberty Horror, the death of vert, and World.

Words: Daryl Mersom | Pics: Courtesy of Dear Skating/Ron Chatman

KP: Chris, what prompted you to release Liberty Horror again, and on VHS?

Chris: It’s a Classic!!! (to the 15 people who have seen it).We watched it religiously as kids, my friends and I. But we didn’t know anyone else who had it or who had seen it. Until we met Todd [Congelliere] – my best friend that I grew up skating with, and I, befriended him as kids. But through the music scene, rather than the skate scene.

KP: Where did you and Todd meet?

C: I wrote to Recess for some 7″s and Todd wrote back. We met at some hardcore show. Maybe Orange County. Maybe Claremont?

Todd: It’s strange because I have a very odd selective memory. I can remember punk shows I went to when I was young but can’t remember shit of my skating days (which was even after some of that).

»We’d spend the night eating way too much candy, crank calling people, watching horror movies – and then wake up super early, eat 6 donuts each and go skating«

KP: And you are recreating the Liberty catalogue to coincide with the film?

C: Just select items, and some things that were never in production previously. Like the shirt Fred Brown wore in the video.

Mike Smith & Todd and Ron Chatman behind (circa 1991)

KP: What are some of the best things that you have revived so far?

C: Memories, and personal connections to experiences and friends, some of who are no longer with us. And with Liberty, the Fred Brown shirt is what I’m most excited about. I’m partial though, I’ve always been a huge Fred Brown fan.

»Vert was dying big time. And that coincided with me losing my ramp. So my life felt like it was over«

T: It’s awesome to see Liberty Horror re-released. It was never that big of a release when it first came out, compared to other skate videos, but I thought it was the most interesting. But it lacked a ton of crazy street skating. So it went under the radar.

I watched some bits of it online the other day and it brought back very fond memories. And it was much better than I remembered it. I was super young, never touched editing equipment, which was a big old console back then. But Spike taught me real quick. I’m surprised I was able to do that back then. Because now all the software is there and all the online tutorials but I can’t even make a 15 second Instagram video!

KP: Was street dominant over vert at that time?

T: Yes it was. Vert was dying big time. And that coincided with me losing my ramp, and then there wasn’t many skateparks, as opposed to now. So my life felt like it was over.

C: Why did you lose your ramp?

T: It was in the backyard of the house I grew up in and we lost the house to the bank. Since I was making a little bit of money skating, I helped with a mortgage payment or two for my parents, but we just couldn’t keep up with it.

C: Wow, 1991 recession.

»When I was in Germany I knew it was over for me«

KP: How did the death of vert impact on you and your friends?

T: We all stopped hanging out and most of them stopped skating, as my ramp was a hub for all of them. I held on for a little bit longer. Skated a lot with Jeremy [Klein], but street wasn’t my thing. I had fun because Jeremy was my best friend at the time, but it was obvious that I wasn’t going to join the street skater ranks anytime soon.

Toward the end, [Mike] Smith was losing it and I very briefly rode for Milk. They sent me to Europe for the Munster contest (and some demos) and when I was in Germany I knew it was over for me, in the pro world at least.

KP: Who was Jeremy riding for at that time?

T: World still.

KP: What were those sessions like?

T: Super fun because we were always getting into some sort of trouble. We’d spend the night at each others’ houses, eat too much candy, crank call people, watch horror movies – and then wake up super early, eat six donuts each and go skating.

What made it fun was that me and Jeremy really didn’t give a shit about the whole industry. I had a reason not to care, because they all stopped caring about vert, but Jeremy they still drooled over. So it was kind of strange that he felt the same.

We always thought certain people were into skating for the wrong reasons. I’m sure now it’s even much worse.

KP: Like who?

T: I can’t even remember names, but a lot of the team managers and dudes who would be practicing a “routine” at contests rather than just skating. In retrospect that might not be such a crime but it was very disgusting back then [laughs].

My feelings when I landed at the Munster contest back then was, “so these dudes have been here for a week and every time they drop in it’s the same run! And I haven’t even had a chance to look at a vert ramp for 5 months!”

»We always thought certain people were into skating for the wrong reasons. I’m sure now it’s even much worse«

KP: What do you think of the gore and violence in Liberty Horror?

C: It’s reflective of the violence in America. [Laughs] I’m joking. They are clips from Hollywood horror movies of the 80s. Movies I grew up with. And Movies Todd and Jeremy grew up with.

T: It was an homage to those 80’s horror movies that I loved so much. It was art not violence. [laughs!]

But the awkward part was that Mike Smith was courting two skaters (Gator and Swindell) to ride for Liberty and both those guys ended up in jail for murdering someone!! That’s why I had to put that disclaimer at the end.

And I was making that video for about 6 months or so. When that shit went down I was 99% done and I was told (or Rocco told Smith) that I couldn’t release it.

The odds that someone puts out the first ever “Skate Horror” film by the company that’s trying to get the first two skate murderers is a million to one.

KP: What happened next?

T: With me, I just went with another company, very reluctantly, because I felt like Smith didn’t care anymore. He was courting some street skater and had a 1 track mind with that. So I just quit and never really heard a complaint. But it was never the same after that.

One of the turning points was when I did good at a pro contest (I never competed well) and, in my mind, it was great for Liberty. So 5 min after I got the trophy, I call up Smith to tell him that we did really good. And he couldn’t have cared less. I was kind of heartbroken. Then, years later, he admitted that he was smoking crack that night when I called.

KP: Was your relationship with Smith difficult?

T: Well I know I wasn’t paid correctly, and he was reluctant to send me places where others were going but to this day I love him and LOVED being on Liberty. So I can’t say our relationship was difficult because I think I understood what I got into.

There was something special about Liberty that is very hard to explain. There’s no other company like it. And the differences were instantly recognized once I switched teams. I wasn’t supposed to do that. I was supposed to live and die Liberty.

»The awkward part was that Mike Smith was courting two skaters – Gator and Swindell – to ride for Liberty and both those guys ended up in jail for murdering someone!!«

KP: So how have you gone about re-releasing the VHS?

C: Well I had to track down a place that still works with VHS first – it’s an antiquated post production house.

I’m lucky that I’m in LA. But even still, it wasn’t easy. ‘The Valley’ is an incredible resource.

KP: What’s The Valley?

C: The valley is… a valley… an area of Los Angeles where a lot of the older business related to the film industry are.

KP: And you still have your own copy of the VHS?

C: Yeah, I still have the same one I bought in 1991. From Rip City.

KP: It’s interesting watching parts in which vert skating is followed by curbs.

C: Totally!

KP: Are you copying the packaging too?

C: Yes, down to every detail.

KP: What does that entail?

C: Remaking the box, printing, labeling, faux aging – sculpture-making basically.

KP: So these are completely hand made by you?

C: Yeah, everything from Dear is.

KP: Do you have that kind of involvement with board shapes? I wondered about how you get them to look like they do in the videos?

C: Yes I do. That’s actually a longer process of sampling and going back and forth with the woodshop. The first board I produced required quite a learning curve.

KP: So are they made from memory, or looking at videos, or from surviving boards?

C: A combination of all 3. The same as the shirts or anything I make. Sometimes you get lucky and Ron Chatman has one in his parents’ garage. But most of the time it requires a lot more research.

KP: How did you find out that he had one?

C: He’s a friend and someone I skate with regularly. So, like a friend, I bug him about stuff.

KP: Where are you getting the unseen footage from that you posted on Insta?

C: That came from a project that Mackenzie Eisenhower from Transworld and I worked on a few years ago. The Venture Video. His Instagram is @deadhippie.

Basically we tracked down a bunch of the footage. Jacob Rosenberg had most of it on a hard drive since he was a big part of that abandon project.

»Skaters seem to be hyper consumed with documenting and archiving. A lot of people can’t even skate without being filmed or documented in someway. It’s obsessive«

KP: And was he stoked for you to post it?

C: Yeah.  Though I’m sure he would be more stoked to release something he’s worked on in the last 20 years. [Laughs] maybe a latent stoke?

KP: In your experience, are skaters good at archiving things?

C: Skaters aren’t, collectors are. Some people are both, but not many. Actually, I guess more are now. Skaters seem to be hyper consumed with documenting and archiving. A lot of people can’t even skate without being filmed or documenting in someway. It’s obsessive.

KP: But I think that we understand, without thinking about it too much, that board art is ephemeral.

C: Yeah (as it should be).

KP: Why do you say that?

C: Because I think the skating comes first. So when you’re talking about board graphics, you’re talking about a picture on the bottom of an implement created for experience and fun.

KP: Do fans ever send you bits of ephemera?

C: Yes they do. It is rad. Mostly stickers and what not. Paul from Skaters Advocate in Michigan sent me an original Liberty catalogue flyer which I am reproducing and including in the orders.

KP: Do you ever get boards?

C: Sometimes, but I’m not a collector, so I don’t know what to do with them.

KP: Do you think that the Liberty catalogue will resonate with younger skaters?

C: Jeeze, I really have no idea. Vert is back, so maybe. I hope they can find something in there that they could relate to. We found Liberty to be very accessible as kids.  Best ads, great graphics, rad underdog team…

KP: Have you ever been notified of mistakes you’ve made when trying to recreate something?

C: No, usually the opposite. Sometimes I have a more accurate memory than whoever I am working or reminiscing with on a certain project. But it varies from person to person.

KP: And finally, do you want to develop Dear?

C: I don’t, Dear, is as developed as it is going to get.

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