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Friday, March 1, 2013
Inside Aggro Rag: The Complete Collection

By Brian Tunney
XGames.com

During the '80s, when the average BMX Freestyle rider's lifeline to the world of BMX riding outside of their town relied on printed media, there existed the more established BMX magazines of the time, and a smaller, more organic form of media dubbed the zine. While the magazines covered the bigger named pros and did what they could to please their advertisers, zines were able to expose lesser known riders, offer a more subversive take on the BMX scene, and establish regional identities for the various BMX scenes throughout the world.

Mike Daily's Aggro Rag, documenting the exploits of the Plywood Hoods, was without a doubt, the most sought after BMX zine in the entire world. Not only was Daily an adept writer and editor, he was documenting what was arguably the most progressive group of flatland riders at the time (Kevin Jones, Mark Eaton) as well as exposing new faces such as Dave Mirra and bridging the gap between BMX riding and music. But trying to condense all that Daily and Aggro Rag accomplished during the five years of Aggro Rag's publication during the '80s in this paragraph is a complete disservice to the zine. Suffice to say, it was an integral part of shepherding BMX Freestyle from '80s corporate neon to early '90s do-it-yourself BMX.

Daily stopped publishing Aggro Rag in 1989, and went on to edit BMX magazines such as Go: The Rider's Manual and BMX Plus before moving on to poetry, literature and music. But his interests in BMX returned in recent years, along with his desire to publish Aggro Rag. Last summer, Daily released issue 13 of Aggro Rag, and next month, he will release Aggro Rag Freestyle Mag! Plywood Hoods Zines '84-'89: The Complete Collection, a 443-page book containing each issue of Aggro Rag, plus exclusive new interviews with Kevin Jones (19 pages) and Dave Mirra.

The completed book is a thing of beauty. And in between vast emails, a few recent text messages and the occasional late night email confessional, I managed to get Daily to answer the following questions about the book, the Plywood Hoods, and what it takes to accomplish a good interview.

XGames.com: The simple place to begin, if ever there is one, would be your motivations behind the book. Aggro Rag laid silent for a long time before the release of the hip-hop issue last year. What made you want to revisit the original issues and compile them into a book?
Daily: Four years ago at the Dew Tour here in Portland, Ore., Mark Eaton asked me why I hadn't published a book collecting all the Aggro Rag zines I had made from the mid-to late-'80s. What was taking me so long? The main reason I hadn't done it -- hadn't even considered doing it, really -- was simple: I wasn't into riding anymore. Sure, I had a bike: a 2000 S&M Dirt Bike: The Next Generation, that I'd custom-ordered ten years earlier from Chris Moeller at S&M. The gold Shimano DX pedals I had on that S&M came from the Ozone that I'd owned at the end of '89, when I moved from York, Pa., to Torrance, Calif. to work for Wizard Publications. Mark Lewman had recruited me to become Assistant Editor for GO: The Rider's Manual, Wizard's merger of Freestylin' and BMX Action magazines. I thought I'd continue making Aggro Rag while working on GO, but it never happened. I was riding a lot (Mike Tokumoto's backyard halfpipe, the Subway banks, The Spot), but the only cutting and pasting I was doing was in the Art Department with GO Art Director and future Jackass producer Jeff Tremaine.

Mark Eaton's idea of doing an Aggro Rag zines book piqued my curiosity in 2010. I put the word out to friends and Plywood Hoods teammates, and compiled a complete set of the 12 issues that I had produced from '84 (BMX Rag, reflecting my deep respect for Bob Haro's classic "The Grab-On Kid" comic strip and Bob "Oz" Osborn's Most Factory Magazine, BMX Action) through '89 (Aggro Rag 12 featured a color cover that was photocopied by King of Prussia, PA's Raymond J. Schlechtweg, Jr. -- Raybo!). Holding the colorful stack of zines in my hands was all the convincing I needed. I had to go for it. I had no idea that Aggro Rag Freestyle Mag! Plywood Hoods Zines '84-'89: The Complete Collection would take more than two-and-a-half years of after-hours work (and a network of talented friends) to complete.

After conducting/transcribing two dozen interviews with innovative flatland and street riders from "the fluorescent era of freestyle," I discovered that I had amassed way too much new material to fit into the Aggro Rag book. I would have had to release it as two volumes, and that didn't make sense. That's when I decided to put together and publish Aggro Rag 13 in August 2012. Riders/BMX freestyle enthusiasts nation and worldwide welcomed, embraced and acclaimed "The Hip-Hop Issue," much to my surprise. A good quarter of the 68-page issue featured underground hip-hop content (Roy Christopher got an exclusive interview with Aesop Rock and I interviewed Dark Time Sunshine and Sole).

You managed to track down many of the original riders you rode with and/or featured in the early issues of Aggro Rag. How much time and effort went into this, and how did it make you feel to reconnect with people you knew at a young age?
Participating in social media at the time, I found it relatively easy to reach riders whom the Plywood Hoods and I had always admired like Marc McKee, Chad Johnston, Chris Day, Joe Gruttola, Jim Johnson and Adam Jung. Curb Dogs' Maurice Meyer was key to getting in touch with Aaron Dull (who has since taken his wife's last name and goes by Aaron Lee) and scuffing innovator Tim Treacy, "The Ultimate Undergrounder," as I called him in the zine. Research gradually became more time consuming as I strove to make the interviews the best they could be. I was very thorough. I had made lists of each rider's trick accomplishments and random quirks. Reconnecting with the riders felt great. Joking around with Frank Garrido was a blast. Frank is now a successful, highly sought-after automobile detailer for corporate clients, in Los Angeles.

Compiling paper zines printed 25 years ago into a book is no easy task. Were you diligent in archiving everything you created Aggro Rag related from the beginning, or was this a huge undertaking to gather and recreate the original zine content? I'm curious about that process, and if you were one of those guys carrying extra boxes from apartment to apartment looking ahead to this book's publication.
It was a huge undertaking, compounded by poor decisions when I was in my 20s. I learned that I must have thrown away all the original paste-up boards for the zines, presumably during one of my many moves in the San Fernando Valley. As I got further and further away from the "4130 chromoly" scene over the years, Aggro Rag went from underground to not-far-enough underground. I became more interested in poetry, literature and music.

I've always been curious about the convenient merging of the Plywood Hoods. The riders were innovative and groundbreaking, and this came to be paired with perhaps the first multimedia documentation of a scene in BMX, through Aggro Rag and the "Dorkin in York" series. Was this purely just a lucky coincidence or planned?
Coincidence. As I wrote in the interview that I recently did with Ryan Sher for Subrosa: "Plywood Hoods Trick Team was no different than the group of riders anyone reading this had enjoyed riding with -- or hopefully rides with right now." One's closest friends usually seem rooted in the lucky coincidence of geography and shared interests. Making zines and distributing them through the mail was a fun way for so many of us to share creativity and make connections. Pennsylvania resident Alex Greenblatt was one of my all-time favorite pen pals. I remember corresponding with Alex after I had graduated from high school and went off to college at Lock Haven University to study journalism.

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Aggro Rag/Plywoods Hoods hooded zip-up sweatshirts can be ordered alongside the book via the Aggro rag website.

Alex wrote to me last week: "Everyone had their own little riding world, but a big part of yours was about sharing it. I was a textbook case of how you guys influenced everyone else. I'll never forget how hard we rode after first watching Dorkin' 1, wishing we could do such dizzying tricks. The fact that you were a budding writer and happened to hangout with the best, most progressive riders in the world, was a perfect storm of talents. I always tell people that, along with [Mat] Hoffman, Kevin [Jones] was the most highly regarded, if less known, figure in the sport. He deserves his place alongside Mat, [Tony] Hawk, and [Travis] Pastrana as the best of the best in extreme sports. I spotted Kevin at a flatland comp in York last summer, and later saw him ride in some video taken that weekend. Man, he still rages!"

I was always taken in by the honesty conveyed in Aggro Rag's interviews. I learned about ideas like industry drama behind sponsor changes from interviews such as Jason Parkes, where he blatantly just puts out what really happened with him leaving Schwinn. How did you get riders to put it all out there? Do you think that's an innate talent?
Mark Eaton gets all the credit for the Jason Parkes interview. I just transcribed the tape! Thank you for the compliment. For almost six years now, I've been working in technical support and customer service for a very fast-paced media company. Working in a call center environment has definitely helped hone my skills in talking with people, acknowledging what they're saying, asking probing questions and being as courteous and efficient as possible.

Tell me about Mark Eaton's role in the Plywood Hoods. Everyone always points to Kevin as the innovator, but I think back on Eaton's riding and I'm consistently baffled by how creative it was.
It was always mandatory for Mark to make up his own tricks. His innovations in flatland included steamroller, ankledeath, backwards whiplash, half-lash to forward upside-down rolling (rope-a-roni), E-squeaks (cross-footed kick-scuffs on the front tire), "scrambled leg" turn-around, lung spin (lawnmower spin) and the bar hop scuff-squeaker. He perfected many of these moves while riding in his basement. Kevin and I once "strowled" (spied) on him and witnessed him pulling his tricks and waving, as if to contest judges or a crowd. On street, Mark did whiplash down stairs, peg grind to half-lash, tail tap on benches to decade and peg stall to barspin.

What's funny is recalling Mark's reluctance to stop breakdancing. He wanted the Cardboard Lords crew to keep breakin' after they had won the "Cable 4 York Talent Show" in February '85. First prize was a VCR that he later used to make Dorkin' in York in May '88, then Dorkin' II six months after that. He'd ride out on the street in front of his house as the videos recorded. In Spring '85, with the Cardboard Lords at the height of their notoriety in York, Harrisburg, Baltimore and Philly, the last thing Mark wanted to see was Kevin Jones doing a cherrypicker on the GT Performer that Kevin got from Rockville BMX. Kevin hopped and called attention to what he was doing, but Mark refused to look at him. Mark had sold his white P.K. Ripper for a reason: to buy rolls of linoleum and shag carpeting for underneath it, and DJ equipment. He had no intentions of returning to BMX -- freestyle or no freestyle. Lungmustard (as I called him in Aggro Rag) held out as long as he could.

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The release of the Aggro Rag book coincides with a limited edition double top tube frame from Subrosa: the first book/BMX frame collaboration to date within BMX.

You grew up and rode with Kevin Jones, the creator of modern day flatland riding. Jones is not the most media-friendly rider to interview. Yet, you managed to get what could arguably be called the most comprehensive, honest (and footnoted) interview ever done with Kevin Jones. How?
Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate you saying that. I worked hard on "Kevin Jones: The Man. The Interview." It was only 25 years in the making! We spent a lot of time together, whether we were riding, purchasing junk food ("goop"), seeing movies like My Stepmother Is An Alien, or going sneaker-shopping at the mall. He'd "fidge" non-stop: say the silliest, off-the-cuff stuff that had some "inside joke" significance, ideally at my expense. Good times. On several occasions while he was driving his orange Gremlin (or the big blue American-made car that he owned), I tried using my mini-cassette recorder to interview him. Without fail, he'd catch on. My questions would veer into "making up tricks" territory and it was Game Over. I'd have to turn off the recorder. Or pretend to.

I strove to make the interviews the best they could be. I was very thorough. I had made lists of each rider's trick accomplishments and random quirks.

-- Mike Daily

Please solve this mystery for me: Do you know why Kevin Jones left GT?
I didn't ask him in our interview for the book--maybe because I know the basic story behind it, and hadn't thought to ask him about it "for the record." A few months after Skyway dropped its team following the Screamin' Summer '88 tour, GT signed Kevin. Kevin had been semi-riding for Trend Bike Source, receiving parts and gear while deriving some income from the Dorkin' videos that he and Mark had co-created. Kevin's sponsorship with GT Bicycles lasted from January '89 through July '89, when he missed a booked flight to do shows. It only seemed like he rode for GT longer because Dorkin' III was released in June '89. I wrote in my intro to "Kevin Jones: The Man. The Interview.": "GT got its money's worth out of him, considering that Dorkin' III contained Kevin's hardest, most accomplished riding to date: hitchhiker, backpacker, cross-footed hitchhiker to backwards backpacker, backwards forward side glide, etc. After riding for 2-Hip/Wilkerson Airlines for nine months, Kevin actually returned to riding GT/Dyno products without being paid or flowed to do so in Dorkin' IV (October '90)."

You also managed to get Dave Mirra to say some things that BMX might not be ready to hear. Knowing where Dave is now, and what he accomplished in BMX, can you describe what it was like for the Hoods to take in such a young kid and basically serve as his foundation for becoming one of the top BMX pros to have ever ridden a bike?
In the interview that we did for the book, Dave said riding with the Plywood Hoods motivated him. "It was a huge, big push," he said. "I was part of a scene outside of my scene. [&] It was amazing that I was so young [14] and part of a group that I read about in the magazines. Mark and Kevin with all the rolling tricks, they were the guys doin' it. They were the ones that were changin' the whole sport. All of you guys, but they were the ones in the magazines, doin' rolling tricks."

Dave rode with Kevin as much as he could when he went to York for a week in Summer '88. It was an intense week of rolling tricks and bike maintenance, to say the least. "Little Buddy" would be working on his bike each morning, wide awake before sunrise. Dave was in York to ride ground, not ramps. It's a good thing he wasn't there for the ramps. There weren't many around at the time. "Psyched" is a fitting description for Dave Mirra. Whatever Dave does, he does with effortless intensity. It's a level of excellence attained by hours of practice, and practice, and practice.

Dave told me: "I know that anything in your foundation that you do -- whatever you've done in your life -- it works out some way down the line. It never hurts to be better in a lot of things, and great at one thing. You can try several, several things, and then you can be great at one because of all the things you've done; things you've learned."

Package deals and pre-orders of Aggro Rag Freestyle Mag! Plywoods Hoods Zines '84 - '89: The Complete Collection are available directly from the Aggro Rag website. Readers can choose packages that include the book, the book plus a t-shirt, the book plus an Aggro Rag/Plywood Hoods zip-up sweatshirt, and the book plus Aggro Rag t-shirt and Aggro Rag/Plywood Hoods zip-up sweatshirt. Package deals are being accepted through March 13 and are expected to ship by April 3, 2013.

Two versions of the limited edition Subrosa x Aggro rag double top tube (DTT) frame are available direct from the Subrosa Corner web store. Limited to a quantity of 43 frames, you can choose from street geometry (21" double top tube, 13.75" chainstays) or flatland geometry (19" double top tube, 13" chainstays). Featuring graphics lifted straight from the pages of Aggro Rag and an iconic double top tube design which harkens back to a simpler time in BMX, the Subrosa x Aggro Rag DTT frame features modern geometry, integrated chain tensioners and T5 Deathproof heat-treated dropouts and bottom bracket.