Spike Jonze was a BMXer
From BMX to "Where the Wild Things Are"
At one point in time, Spike Jonze was a BMXer. He's since moved on to a bigger and brighter future in Hollywood, most recently as director and co-writer of the newly released film "Where The Wild Things Are," but for a few years, way back in the mid-'80s to early-'90s, BMX claimed Jonze as one of its own.
It started innocently enough. Jonze, whose given name is Adam Spiegel, was a teenager in suburban Bethesda, Md., working for Rockville BMX, a premiere mail-order and BMX shop throughout the '80s. Given the infamous nickname Spike Jonze by his co-workers at the shop, Jonze entered a photography contest in Freestylin' magazine and won. By the time he was 17, he had left Maryland for Southern California to work for Wizard Publications, the publisher of BMX Action and Freestylin'. According to the October 1987 issue of BMX Action: "One/eighth of the original Rockville gang and part-time Haro roadie, Spike Jonze is now a resident Wizard staff guy. He will be helping out both mags and will probably head up any special projects we come up with in the near future."
Under the direction of Freestylin' editors Mark Lewman and Andy Jenkins, Jonze literally "freestyled" his way into a role as photographer and associate editor at the magazine. "I moved out when I was 17, I didn't know anything about photography, but the magazine I worked for had a darkroom, a refrigerator full of film and an expense account at the processing lab. I was also around a lot of photographers, so it was like photography school," said Jonze.
Jonze learned quickly, and within a year, his iconic approach to BMX photography became the literal focus of Freestylin' magazine. But Jonze not only shot photos of the many BMXers that graced the pages of the magazine; he rode just as well (or better) than many of the pros of the day. And he skateboarded. And he worked part-time on Homeboy magazine, alongside Lewman and Jenkins.
Clearly, Jonze was gifted, and like most BMXers and skateboarders of the day, he didn't recognize boundaries. If the day called for a flatland photo shoot with Mongoose pro Chris Lashua, Jonze nailed the photo. If a bike needed to be tested for the magazine and no pros were on hand, Jonze tested the bike. And if the staff felt like skateboarding after work instead of riding BMX bikes, Jonze came along for the ride and learned whatever skate tricks he wanted to.
By 1989, BMX and freestyle had entered into its first recession. Riding styles were evolving, street was coming into its own and ad sales at Wizard were down. The two magazines merged into Go: The Rider's Manual, and Jonze remained on staff as a photographer through mid-1991. He also continued to ride and skate, getting full-page photos in Go doing fufanus on sub boxes, and sometimes placing top-10 in the expert class at the newly christened 2-Hip Meet The Street comps. But around this time, Jonze seems to have discovered a world outside of BMX. After Go folded in 1992, Jonze, along with Lewman and Jenkins, founded the short-lived Dirt magazine. Published by Sassy, the magazine was aimed at youth culture and was sometimes billed as "Sassy for boys." Around the same time, the skateboard world was treated to Jonze's directorial debut in the Blind Skateboards video "Video Days."
From there, Jonze slowly but surely moved from one area of expertise to another. Groundbreaking skate vids led to his directing music videos for Sonic Youth, The Breeders, Dinosaur Jr. and Bjork. Music vids led to full-length features, including "Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation" and the "Jackass" series. "One thing led to another, and it was so gradual, and it was always about, for me, just doing things that I was excited about doing, whether it was taking photos or making a skateboard video," said Jonze.
And that brings us to present-day Spike Jonze: director, producer, world renowned visionary, former photographer and editor at a BMX magazine who could cancan and fufanu with the best of 'em. A lot of older BMXers like to claim Jonze as one of their own, and that's cool. But I think there's a bigger lesson to take away from Jonze and the influence he had on BMX. Jonze ably demonstrated the fact that a simple BMX bike can open anyone up to a world of possibilities. And that's a truly wild thing.
"Where The Wild Things Are," Jonze's most anticipated film to date, opened in theaters on Friday and was the top box office draw for the weekend, grossing $32.7 million.
Follow Brian Tunney on Twitter: @briantunney
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