I'd never seen or heard of Big Brother magazine, and was quite surprised to stumble upon my first issue, no 2, in a skate shop in my town around 1992. I had been skateboarding for a couple of years already, and thought I had my first steps into this wild new world of skateboarding sort of figured out. Little did I know…
It was pre internet hype days. However, skateboarding was changing rapidly.
In the early 90's being a skateboarder came with being a complete outsider, being different. So the full-on teen skate-nerd that I was, opening up the magazine pages was opening the door to a universe where being different and basically not giving a fuck was glorified and taken to extreme. A universe of skateboarding on and off the board, excitement and thrill, nonsense… and dumb shit – just about everything you want growing up. So soon enough Big Brother became educational literature for a whole generation of skateboarders.
Dave Carnie was part of the Big Brother staff almost from the get-go and turned editor in chief shortly after. Alongside an illustrious editorial team he was the omnipresent voice of the mag and coining figure until the mag's demise in 2004. He's one of the few gifted writers that could make articles in a skate mag actually worthwhile; from tour stories sans skating to absurd product tests. While many of his written works for Big Brother magazine can be found compiled in “Boob", Dave and fellow staffer, Sean Cliver have now put together a proper coffee table book highlighting the (visual) heritage of Big Brother magazine with the help of DC Shoes: “Shit", skateboard cultural essence on 113 pages.
We took this opportunity to sit Dave down and speak Big Brother… skateboarding, childhood memories to porn adventures… and back.
Words: Jan Kliewer | Pics: DC, Ethan Fowler, Dave Carnie
Did you have a big brother? One that bought you cigarettes and told you how the world is working?
No, quite the opposite. I have a younger brother. I’m literally a big brother. When we were growing up he went through some weird phases, one of which was a Christian phase—there was also a ninja phase, and a military phase—but I remember during the Christian phase he borrowed my Minor Threat album and when he gave it back all the cuss words on the lyric sheet were crossed out. It was so weird that I remember not even being mad about it. Fortunately that phase didn’t last long because adults who believe in Santa Claus are ridiculous.
Was Rocco the Orwellian big brother controlling skateboarding back in 92 when the mag was founded? Especially for younger readers, could you lay out the spirit in which BB magazine was formed and went to lead (on) skateboarding when it was at its lowest, yet rawest and most creative?
I was going to say, “Read the Wikipedia entry," but it’s characteristically inaccurate. I got all uppity recently when I learned that the cash register in Pink Floyd’s “Money" was originally used on The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine." Really? That’s amazing. So, naturally, I was like, “Well where is this magical cash register? I want to see it." Turns out there is no cash register: the sound was taken from a sound effects library at Abbey Road Studios, but apparently one person started this myth about this Beatles/Pink Floyd cash register and now everyone just cuts and pastes the same goddamn story over and over again. Which is my longwinded way of saying the internet is stupid. What was the question again? Oh. How did Big Brother start? The story is actually pretty indicative of the mag itself. Rocco submitted a 101 ad to Trans World that featured Gabriel Rodriguez holding a gun to his head. I think the idea was that he couldn’t make a trick so he was going to kill himself. The ad was rejected by the conservative, right-wing, Christian nut jobs that owned TWS. So Rocco decided, fuck this, I’ll make my own magazine where I can say whatever the fuck I want. And that’s how Big Brother was born. “And I’m not going to clean my room either!"
Did you want to challenge the status quo of the way skate mags were? Taking skateboarding out of a skate mag to some extent?
I mean, in hindsight we can make up all kinds of nonsense, but the truth is we had no idea what we were doing. You know how when you go to an abandoned house and you just start breaking shit and throwing rocks at windows because you can? That’s pretty much what we were doing. A lot of what we did was simply to see what we were doing looked like in a magazine. Like, here’s a sequence of Ronnie Creager. “Hm, wouldn’t it be funny if one of the frames in his sequence was a pair of tits?" It did look kinda funny. Although not to Ronnie Creager. I believe he had a tantrum in front of World Industries and destroyed a tree on the lawn. He was mad because he couldn’t show his mom the sequence. At least I think it was Ronnie Creager? My memory is horrible.
»…hm, wouldn’t it be funny if one of the frames in Creager's sequence was a pair of tits?«
Big Brother was pretty much a dream team: Witted writers such as the “good cop/bad cop" duo of you and Chris Nieratko, the best graphic guys in skateboarding Sean Cliver and Mark McKee and larger than life media guys Rick Kossick or Dimitry Elyashkevich, the Reda before Reda… how was it working with such an eclectic group… and how exactly did Earl Parker fit in there?
BB had no fear in printing racy stuff… the Asian issue, the black issue & the gay issue which pushed some serious buttons back then. You had no fucks to give at all. I don’t think a mag could get away with this now without coming with a social media backlash from someone. Big Brother was like a unicorn. Do you think something like this could ever exist again? What do you think would happen if you guys were to redo some of the things today? What, if you posted the Andy Roy interview today?
There will always be something like Big Brother. Kids have been doing the same shit since the dawn of time, and they’ll continue to cause trouble til the end of time. We just happened to have the generous support of a very successful skateboard company (World) to finance our shenanigans and broadcast them to the universe. We also had the good fortune of behaving like complete shitheads at the same time that video cameras and point-and-shoots were being made small enough and affordable enough for dumbfucks like us. So, in that sense, what we were doing wasn’t exactly unique, but what was unique was that we actually documented that nonsense. I remember Bam telling a story about how he always used to get accosted at bars by drunk dudes claiming their dumb lil buddy did the shopping cart shit way before him. “My brother did that shit way before you!" Bam’s response was always, “Yeah, well did you film it?" (For reference, note that the show America’s Funniest Home Videos came out about the same time, in 1990.)
Do you think you’ll fall victim to future prosecution with the way things are going more and more clean?
What, like I’ll go to jail for shit I did back in the 90s? Isn’t there a statute of limitations? But, regarding the word “clean," I don’t run a skateboard magazine anymore, so I don’t follow skateboarding that closely these days. I’ve noticed, though, that the landscape is a little cleaner and safer—and not just in skateboarding. I think it’s a big, complicated cultural and economic issue. To put it in big dumb caveman terms: corporations are getting bigger and are owning and controlling more areas of our lives, in particular the avenues of communication, and big corporations have big law firms that insist on playing it safe.
»You can’t talk about skateboarding, what’s the point? It’s like trying to describe the color red to someone. The only way to understand skateboarding is ostensively, to ride a fucking skateboard«
Who would you want to interview in today’s skateboarding world in the way of the Andy Roy interview from back then?
I mean, do you know anyone in skateboarding now who is addicted to heroin and was nicknamed “The Snuggle Bandit" in prison? There’s only one Andy Roy.
What was the difference in early days BB out of Dwindle and BB out of LF publishing/Hustler? The magazine was done independently through Dwindle at the start, then bought by Larry Flint/ Hustler later on. It was 'no holds’ barred & no subject was tabu when it was done through Dwindle. How did switching to Larry Flint Publishing change the mag & what you could get away with? Also rumour had it, Larry Flint loved the mag, yet mainly used it as a tax write off. Upon purchase you as staff went from barley making anything to a corporate jobs in a publishing house. How did that shape the mag and then spawned the big brother video series?
I always dislike this question because it was during the LFP days that Jackass began and I became Editor In Chief of Big Brother. I actually began working for the mag in issue #2, and I was there until the very end. And while I’ll readily admit that the magazine’s golden era were the early-BB days, there was quality shit being made all the way to the last issue. In fact I think some of my best work is during the LFP era. Admittedly, there are some issues here and there that aren’t that good, but you can’t hit a homerun every month. And that was probably one of the biggest changes to the mag when we went to LFP: it became monthly. We had a lot of pages to fill. The other thing that changed was no more nudity and no more cuss words in pull quotes. Both were editorial decisions made by us and LFP jointly. When the mag was at World, it didn’t make a dime. So when Mr. Flynt bought it, he bought it to make money. And, to this day, you cannot have a magazine that is aimed at children with adult material in it existing on a newsstand. As I alluded to earlier, there are only a handful of distribution companies that control what goes on newsstands around the world and they don’t want any trouble. They’ve got thousands of titles they’re dealing with so if there’s some dumb little skateboard magazine that is causing problems and people are complaining about it, fuck that dumb little skateboard magazine. I always felt the nudity issue was insignificant anyway because there wasn’t really that much nudity in the mag to begin with. We were fucking dorks. We barely knew any chicks, let alone ones that would take their clothes off for us. I should also mention that LFP did not want to buy Big Brother. Snowboarding was big at the time (1997) and so Larry was interested in buying Blunt (the snowboard mag we made at World). Rocco was tired of both magazines because, as I said, they were costing him money, so he told Larry he could have Blunt if he took Big Brother, too. The funny thing was that the snowboard industry totally tanked shortly thereafter and Blunt didn’t even last a year at LFP. The idea of Larry Flynt taking a loss is hilarious, though. That dude is all business and he does not suffer losses. Although I think he kept Big Brother around for probably a year longer than he would have preferred. He probably made enough money off of our parking fees to pay for it, though. Yeah, we had to pay to park in our own building.
Would you say you were ever caring less about skateboarding in favour of being controversial?
Big Brother never abandoned skateboarding: it was and always will be a skateboard magazine. But mischief was very much a part of everything we did. And, as you know, or I hope you know, skateboarding is as much about what you do off the board as you do on the board. I’ve always maintained that you can’t talk about skateboarding. What’s the point? It’s like trying to describe the color red to someone. The only way to understand skateboarding is ostensively, to ride a fucking skateboard. I mean, when you talk about a band like Motley Crue, or something, do you want to hear about how their guitars are tuned, or do you want to hear the stories about the sex and drugs?
»No amount of damage control ever repaired the divide that review created«
What did you think of the way the videos took, on to the Jackass movies? What's your take on those today?
Everything seems really tame to me in hindsight. Although the music seems to have stood the test of time quite well. It’s as shitty as I remember it being. DC is throwing another Big Brother collab party in Paris and they asked me to come up with a playlist for the party. Fortunately I found skatevideosite.com where they have a list of all the music in every Big Brother video. God bless those nerds. I was overjoyed to be reminded of “Morrissey Rides A Cockhorse" by the Warlock Pincers and “Belly Roll" by D&G Core. We had a real knack for shitty music.
What was your guys' process in coming up with article topics like “How to kill yourself" and so on?
I have no idea, but I’d hazard a guess that it was very similar to how we took shits: we’d just sit down and wait for something to come out. That particular article—hold on, let me ask Cliver about “How To Kill Yourself," he has a better memory than I do. “Lots of lore and hearsay now," Sean wrote, “but Rory Storm, aka Cherie Westrich, was a girlfriend of Natas's then and she had the idea. I thought I heard at one point that someone close to her had committed suicide, but I'm not entirely sure of the validity. Spike shot the photos." I vaguely remember it was her sister who committed suicide? Anyway, there’s the process for the “How To Kill Yourself" article: local girl inspired to write suicide instructional manual after friend/sister commits suicide.
Is there any one piece you really regret doing? Anything you would have changed?
No. Although there is one piece that I didn’t write that caused some problems. I don’t regret running it because there was no way I could have anticipated the reaction. At the time, a lot of skaters were starting to get work in Hollywood, so there were a lot of skaters with professional Hollywood 8x10 headshots, most of which were very amusing to us. One of them belonged to John Cardiel. He looked kind of stoned in his photo. So, naturally, Pat Canale, the author, mentioned this in his short review of the picture. He said something to the effect that it looked like “the light had gone out" in Cardiel’s eyes. He was speaking to John’s expression in the photo, but for some reason John and the rest of the NorCal skate community misinterpreted the words as an attack on John’s skating and that we were saying that the light had gone out in John’s career. Nothing could have been further from the truth, but no amount of damage control ever repaired the divide that review created. In fact, we lost a lot of our Vans advertising because of it. Cardiel, along with Greco and a few others who had recently joined Vans, were of the opinion that Big Brother was not a serious skateboard magazine (true) and that Vans would be better off spending that money elsewhere. So, yeah, that one hurt.
»Muska’s quote on the back of the SHIT book is indicative: “I don’t think I was nervous to pick up any other skateboard magazine but Big Brother."«
What’s your fondest memory of your BB days?
Was there ever a taboo that you guys felt like not breaking, any door you thought might be better kept shut?
For the White Issue, I bought a Ku Klux Klan hood and gown off the internet from some hillbilly. The idea was to get a black dude to wear it skating on the White Issue cover. At the time, The Chappelle Show was at the height of its popularity and they had even recently done a skit in which Dave played a black, white supremacist in a Klan outfit. I thought it was a funny idea and a great big FUCK YOU to white supremacists. But, unfortunately, none of the black skaters that I approached with this idea found it very amusing. And, when the actual Klan hood finally arrived in my office and I opened the box, I also didn’t find it very funny. Ordering a Klan hood off the internet was funny at first, but actually having the Klan hood in our hands was kind of gnarly. I still think it’s a very provocative image, I think it would have been an interesting cover, but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have gone over very well. It’s 2016 and I think race relations in this country might be even more tense now than they were back then. Nieratko still has the Klan outfit in his attic in New Jersey. He keeps threatening to tie-dye it. That actually might have made a funny cover, but, like I said, we were kind of freaked out by the thing.
»Nieratko still has the Klan outfit in his attic in New Jersey. He keeps threatening to tie-dye it«
As a writer, what do you think of the instagram age skateboarding seems to be in these days? Would you say there’s still room for fun skate-journalism? Debauched gonzo tour articles vs a couple of #’s?
Well you have to realize that paper and writing has been around for at least 7,500 years. The internet, cell phones, all these shiny gadgets aren’t even 20 years old yet. We’re definitely distracted by our shiny new toys, but I don’t think they’re a threat to the luddite’s preferred mode of communication. At the same time, I embrace the shiny screens. It’s just another part of the evolution of communication. We didn’t always write on paper, you know, there were scrolls, and tablets, etc.. But I enjoy the progress. Have you seen my Instagram account? I use it to deliver glue and paper collages with pretty lengthy story captions. It makes me giggle every time: I use Instagram for writing. You can see and read them @acidinvader and acidinvader.com.
Then again there are people who carry on BB's spirit in good ways, today's “poop in shoes"reviews, shredding in Gucci loafers, comes to mind. Does this stuff still interest you at all today? What's today's equivalent of BB? Why has no one else ever tried to be so controversial? Who's come the closest?
That’s a weird question because it’s kind of like asking, “Whose family comes the closest to yours?" It’s something that I don’t compare. Today’s equivalent to Big Brother for me is going out and riding my skateboard. I don’t skate as much as I used to because I suck at it now even more than I used to. It’s absolutely maddening to not be able to do the tricks I used to be able to do, but I’ve resigned myself to my shitty plight. I even gave it a different name: scooting. I don’t really skate so much as I scoot now. But that’s what Big Brother was and is to me: riding a skateboard. And I’ll always lean towards the people that are doing it their way. I like the guys at Fancy Lad, I like what Ian is doing at Jenkem, of course I’ve been working for King Shit Magazine in Canada, and I like girls that skateboard. Female skaters always remind me of the original spirit of skateboarding: they’re not doing it for anyone but themselves because at best, no one gives a shit about them, and, at worst, they’re straight up hated on.
»Once I made a dildo out of my own cock for a story«
What's up with Whale cock?
Trolling the depths of the ocean. It might breech the surface again some day, who knows? Why, you want a little suck?
Do you still do Kingshit mag?
I do, but not as much as I used to.
Do you wish you'd ever done more “serious" skateboarding stuff? My memory might trick me here, but I feel like the “ground breaking" shots usually ended up in TWS at the time, or am I wrong?
No, that’s true. What’s funny is that when Big Brother first came out, it was the other way around: while Thrasher and TWS still had one foot in the 80s, BB was on the forefront of groundbreaking skating. But it didn’t take them long to get with the times and quickly surpass us. We had such shitty piss poor production. Plus our reputation preceded us. People didn’t know what to expect from us. There was always the worry that we would wreck ‘em, or make fun of them in some way, so we weren’t anyone’s first choice destination for their photos. Muska’s quote on the back of the SHIT book is indicative of that: “I don’t think I was nervous to pick up any other skateboard magazine but Big Brother."
A friend who was visiting the offices at the Larry Flint Building in LA back then told me about a porn closet that you could take stuff from. He said it had anything from under the publishing house you could ever want which made for some fun gifts to take home, besides tshirts/ stickers/ new issues of the mag. What was the best thing you ever found there / gave away as a gift?
I don’t doubt that there was a porn closet as your friend said, but it wasn’t just in a closet, it was everywhere. It’s weird to think of porn coming out of a closet given the other things that come out of closets. Especially because when you work in porn, THERE ARE NO CLOSETS. You take all dicks in all your holes, or if you’re a male porn star (you weirdo) you cross swords every day at work. The porn industry is fucking weird. I know because I was friends with Hustler’s editor, Alan MacDonnell and he would occasionally have me write an article for Hustler. Once I made a dildo out of my own cock for a story. There was an ad in the back of Hustler that I think it said exactly that: “Make a dildo out of your own cock!" It was a kit: you filled up a cup with this freezing cold plastic shit, jammed your dick into it, and a few minutes later the freezing cold plastic shit would create a mold of your dick, which you would then fill with this other mixture, which would harden and become a dildo. The first time I attempted it I didn’t create the recommended paper shield and I ended up cementing my pubic hair into the goop in the cup. I had to cut myself loose. For weeks my dick looked like a wolverine attacked it. But after a few tries I finally got it to work and out came a dildo of my own cock. I gave my little dildo a GI Joe army jacket, some Mr. Potato Head arms and feet, glued some googly eyes on it, along with locks of my own hair, and, voila: Carnie Cock was born. Carnie Cock went on to become a world famous celebrity in the Skate Doll Action Squad comic in the back of every issue. I keep him in a box and about once a year I take him out and buttfuck myself with my own dick.
Was there ever a “red herring" cover that you wished should have gone to print?
All of them. We always wondered if the executives at LFP would ever choose one of the Red Herrings. Because we presented those to them every month. Should I explain that? Well, one month the LFP executives decided they needed to see four different cover variations at every cover meeting. We were like, “Four? Are you joking me? It’s a skateboard mag, we’re lucky if we even get one cover that looks good…" But Tremaine was smart enough to say, “Look, we’ll show them the real cover and then just present them with three bullshit covers." I was nominated to make the bullshit covers, which we aptly called “red herrings" (“something that is meant to be misleading"). I remember there was a limit on how much time I was allowed to spend on making the Red Herrings—it was something like four minutes per cover—because if I was actually allowed to spend time on the fucking things, there was the possibility that I might actually make something good. And that was not the idea at all. Stupid is what we were after with those.
»Visors are stupid. Because they are!«
I feel like Europe (especially main land) usually used to be looked down upon in BB. The general tone of articles can be summed up in the visor hat story, partially for a reason. Could it be that European companies are actually influencing a lot of the skateboarding world these days?
Well, we made fun of everything, including ourselves, so I wouldn’t take it personally. I only vaguely remember the visor story, but my guess is that it said: visors are stupid. Because they are.
What’s your take on the European scene in general? Any opinion?
I’ve always liked the European scene, and just Europe in general. I’m still holding onto this fantasy that I’m going to move to Berlin, or London, or something eventually. I’ve also found that Europeans, in general, got Big Brother better than Americans did. Europeans seem to have a better sense of humor than Americans, and are better equipped at understanding sarcasm. But in terms of actual skateboarding, I used to always refer to skating from anywhere other than the US as “cute." You have to understand that I was born and raised in the place that skateboarding was invented. But I’ve watched the quality of skating in Europe grow over the years. I’ve also always enjoyed the European mags because they tend to lean a little more to the artsy side of skating and there’s more transitions and weird spots on display. I grew up skating vert and tranny so that’s just kind of what I enjoy looking at when I watch videos or flip through mags. One of the first cement parks I ever skated, incidentally, was Stockwell in London. All the skateparks in California closed right when I started skating in 1979. The first one I skated was Derby Park in Santa Cruz, but that measly snakerun can hardly be called a skatepark. I think I skated Stockwell in like 1983? Also skated the Crystal Palace ramp on that trip. So, yeah, my European skate roots are deep.
How did DC come on board to make the BB book happen? When will we get to see your pro model shoe in the skate shop shelfs?
Who will school and entertain the next generation of skateboarders the way you guys did, and towards what sort of future do you see skateboarding headed?