Skateboarding became a more playful, quirky, and irreverent place thanks to Dave Carnie. He was the editor-in-chief at the infamous Big Brother and made his name by pushing the limits of what we could consider “skate coverage.” He’s someone who has and always will embody the spirit of skateboarding wherever he goes, which is fun, bold, but maybe most importantly, kind of dumb.
I don’t mean that Dave is an idiot. I think he knows when things are meant to be taken seriously, but also when it’s better to make fun of them, and it’s safe to say he’ll always take the chance to poke fun if it presents itself. To some, that may come off as numbskulled, but to me, it’s actually kind of brave.
That’s why when I found out that Dave is working for a music magazine now, I was a bit taken aback. Music “journalism” is usually extremely safe and doesn’t leave much room for that playful approach we love about skateboarding “journalism.” It’s also filled with so much fluff, promotional, and congratulatory BS that I prefer to stay away from it. (Like with everything, there are obviously exceptions.)
I wanted to know what the hell Dave was doing at CREEM, find out what he even knows about music, and on a less combative note, pick his brain about his career and past experiences working in skateboarding and publishing.
So you’re working at CREEM, which for those who don’t know is an old music mag from the 70s. Why would they want you?
I don’t know, you’d have to ask them [laughs]. But yeah, I helped a little with the relaunch last year.
Were you a fan growing up?
I make collages, so I collect and hoard a lot of magazines and books and whatnot, and in this one particular dumpster there were hundreds of copies of this CREEM Magazine and I was like “Oooh!” I grabbed a copy and brought it home and read it and I was like, “Wow, cool this is kinda like a music version of Big Brother.”
A few months later, my friend John Martin (CEO of CREEM), who worked at Vice for a long time, called me up and was like “Hey, you want to come do some stuff for CREEM? We could use your help.” I thought it was a very weird synchronistic series of events the universe threw at me and it seemed stupid to say no.
CREEM was sort of like an early ancestor to Big Brother in that it was a fuck you to the music industry. Humor, irony, and sarcasm are a big part of it. John being from Vice also sort of has that—taste? I don’t even know how to describe it, but Jenkem has it too. I think they wanted to bring more of that dumb, stupid attitude and perspective to a music magazine and John thought I might be able to help in that regard.
What was the conversation you guys had around the state of music coverage and media?
CREEM started in Detroit in 1969, but they didn’t feel that their music scene was being represented in mainstream music magazines which they found to be kind of lame and didn’t speak to them. They weren’t showcasing the music that they were listening to, like MC5 and The Stooges, so they were like, “Fuck it, let’s make our own magazine.” That’s exactly what Steve Rocco did when he started Big Brother. He tried to put an ad in Transworld, but Transworld being a Christian magazine was like nope, too violent, so Rocco went “Fuck it, I’m going to make my own magazine.”
I don’t follow music media that closely, but the landscape is very similar to skateboarding. It’s very safe, everyone’s very nice and complementary, and ultimately kind of boring. Music is supposed to be fun, but most music media is way too serious, and so the music industry needs something like a CREEM, just like skateboarding needs a Jenkem.
Actually. Correction: I don’t think there is a need for any magazine. Magazines are kind of dumb. The world wouldn’t be a worse place if there weren’t magazines, but magazines like CREEM and Jenkem certainly shake things up and make things entertaining.
“Musicians are cocksuckers. They’re arrogant and full of themselves.
And why wouldn’t they be?”
Both musicians and skaters are very precious about the personas that they present. Are there other similarities you’ve noticed between writing about skateboarding and music?
Oh yeah. Lester Bangs, the legendary CREEM writer, famously said “Musicians and rock stars are not your friends,” and that was always our approach at Big Brother. We had a rule that essentially said the same thing: “If you like the artist, you’re not allowed to interview them.” That’s not to say that we conducted interviews in a mean-spirited way, or went into them like we were going into battle, but we definitely weren’t giving our subjects rimjobs or anything. There’s nothing worse than a sycophantic interview.
It’s the same in the music industry. Musicians are cocksuckers. They’re arrogant and full of themselves. And why wouldn’t they be? They’re on stage, strutting around in front of hundreds of thousands of people screaming how much they love them, it’s no wonder they feel like they can do no wrong. So when someone like us comes around and asks them ridiculous questions like, “Have you ever stuck your dick in a jar of peanut butter?” they’re a little taken aback.
From my experience, there are two reactions musicians have to that style of interviewing: the first doesn’t understand what’s going on, they’ve never been treated like this, they want to talk about their music—their ART!—how dare you talk to me like that! and they are completely unprepared for the type of nonsense we’re asking them. Those are fun because those are the cocksuckers that usually need their hubris taken down a notch. The second type gets what’s going on and are kind of excited by it because no one has ever spoken to them like that before. They get asked the same generic music journalist questions day in and day out, “What are your influences?” blah, blah, blah, so they enjoy the novelty of talking about relationships with jars of peanut butter.
Why do you think that’s more prevalent in music than skating?
Because they really do expect to be on a pedestal. Skateboarders are dirtbags and we don’t make any money. Tony Hawk’s wealth, while surely impressive, doesn’t hold a candle to what U2 or the Rolling Stones or Kanye are bringing in. The music industry affects culture a lot more than skateboarding does, and they know it. They’re ROCK STARS, whereas skateboarders are merely rock stars (lowercase) at best. The pedestal in music is much, much, much higher and bigger than it is in skateboarding.
How closely do you actually follow new music?
I don’t know anything, and it’s actually been a lot of fun that way. The CREEM staff is super knowledgeable about music and they introduced me to all kinds of new music and I love it.
I heard you used to be a teacher at some point. Is that true?
I was. I graduated college around ’93 and I moved back to San Francisco. My first job out of college, I was a teacher, and while I wasn’t a proper accredited public school teacher, I feel like I got at least as much, if not more, training than any teacher today gets when they get thrown into a classroom. I was part of a really weird school called the Institute of Reading Development. It was like an English/reading/literature school. It wasn’t a remedial class, but there was a mix of bad kids in the classes that weren’t doing well in school, and also a lot of nerds who wanted to learn how to read faster and study better. Teaching little kids to read and getting excited about books was the best part.
“James Joyce was on it because he’s still my favorite writer to this day”
Apparently, you had a skater reading list that you put together.
Do you remember what was on it?
Oh yeah. It should be amended, but I’m sure James Joyce was on it because he’s still my favorite writer to this day, and Samuel Beckett.
I feel sort of embarrassed because it seems like more of a boast than anything. Bertrand Russel once said: “There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.” That was definitely younger Dave making a reading list. To me it’s so childish. It reads like someone trying to cosplay as an intellectual. I imagine I will still stand by the recommendations, but the way it was delivered—I was not at my best on that one.
Do you feel threatened by AI or ChatGPT in terms of it affecting your career?
[Laughs] Um, no, not at all. In fact, I think it’s kind of cool. Obviously, there’s a frightening element to it, but I don’t feel threatened by it and I’m interested to see what happens.
I mean, the oldest surviving writing samples are approximately 5,000 years old, and while there have been many systems, countless improvements, and technological innovations for delivering text in the millennia since, it has remained essentially unchanged: marks on a surface. It was only about ten years ago that people were shitting their pants about whether print could survive in the digital age, “OMG will print—indeed WRITING—survive in the digital age?” To which I will only say, again: the written word has survived for over 5,000 years.
After you left Big Brother and started at The Skateboard Mag, was there a learning curve or adjustment period? Did you ever get in trouble?
Oh yes, I got in trouble. There was a sizable difference in sensitivity. There’s two funny trouble stories I can think of. I hope I don’t get in trouble again.
I interviewed Duane Peters for a feature. This was TSM’s idea, I was just the one assigned to interview him. Me and Duane drove out to Palm Springs to skate that park out there. During the drive, he would use the N-word sort of like the word “fuck.” He drives this shitty old van and he kept trying to put his stupid punk rock tapes in the cassette deck, he’d fumble with them, drop them between the seats, and be like, “N-word!”
In my article, I included that as sort of an example of his character: this is Duane Peters, he’s a strange fellow. He’s a legend in skateboarding, but this dude’s also kind of a moron, and that was part of my evidence that he is a moron. He’s sooo punk rock that no cuss words even work for him anymore! He has to go for the fucking N-word, because that’s that’s how punk he is! He’s so punk!
I even wrote it in a mocking tone, like, look at this dummy, to show that we’re not condoning this N-word stuff. But it still really, really upset the TSM staff. Kevin Wilkins (who was an editor and my main contact) called me and said, “Dude, I get it, but you gotta take this out. Everyone’s pissed off at you here.”
I was like, “Who’s pissed off? They realize I’m not saying the N-word, right? It was Duane saying it in the article, not me. I’m just illustrating the way Duane talks. Who’s pissed off?”
It was the Jefferson brothers. Atiba especially.
So I was like, okay, fuck this, I need to call Atiba. This is how I always operated at Big Brother too. There’s a problem? Call that person immediately. Let’s squash this.
At first Atiba was like, “Dave, dude. I thought you were cool…”
And I was like, “Well, first of all, I’ve never been cool, so sorry to deceive you, but you realize I didn’t say that? That was a quote from Duane.”
I wasn’t really able to placate Atiba and, needless to say, that passage didn’t make it into the printed article. Which was fine, I get it. Atiba didn’t want that word in his magazine and it’s probably best to not print that word anywhere. But that level of sensitivity was new to me at the time because, you know, those guys, especially Atiba, they’re out there with the coolest kids in skateboarding. They’re in touch with the best skaters in the world, so they weren’t interested in that kind of controversy or polarization in their magazine. That was unusual to me. I didn’t know, okay?
At Big Brother, that never would have been an issue. We were very jaded and callous. We would have been like, “…So did he say anything worse? No? Okay, guess that’s the worst we got.”
[Laughs] Now I wanna know what could be worse than that.
The second TSM incident was their fault, but I put my foot in my mouth.
My articles kept getting changed. When I’d read them in the magazine, there would be errors inserted into them—like actual spelling errors. I’d go back and look at the original document I sent, see that it was correct, and ask who the fuck is fucking with my shit? Wilkins would be like “Oh, it’s our new copy editor. She’s getting with it.”
But she wasn’t getting with it because it kept happening month after month, issue after issue, and I finally wrote an email to the whole staff that said something like, “Who the fuck is this fucking copy editor, and which one of you is fucking her? Because she is so fucking bad at her job that’s the only explanation I can imagine why she is still working there.”
Grant [Brittain] was on that email and he replied, “It’s my wife.”
WOOPS! But I recovered quickly.
“Well, at least now I know who’s fucking her,” was my response.
Those are the two most memorable instances, but I had a really good time with TSM. That was a fucking fantastic magazine and it was a lot of fun to work for something that was so much more respected in the skateboard community. The quality of everything—especially the level of skateboarding, the photos (no offense to Kosick)—was so much higher. Big Brother was way more fun, of course, but it was interesting to work for a major league magazine, I guess.
I just want to add my apologies to Atiba and Grant and his wife. They are two of the nicest dudes in the world. I didn’t mean to offend them. But those stories describe the transition from working at Big Brother and then working in the real world. Having gone from that environment to working at another magazine, or any other job actually, was a bit of a culture shock for me.
Nowadays it’s a lot more difficult to get away with stuff like that. How do you keep that same spirit without crossing the lines today?
I don’t. I don’t try. I’m kidding, I do try. Sorta. A little. But you also have to keep in mind that while “the line” has crept a little closer in recent years, it wasn’t okay to say that shit back then either and we were often told that we had crossed a line.
There was actually one other story that I heard about you pissing off John Cardiel that resulted in Vans deciding not to advertise with Big Brother anymore.
Oh that was horrible.
What happened there?
I’ve been asked, “Is there anything you regret?” No. I don’t regret anything I’ve done. I think it’s all experience and stuff that you learn from, but if there were anything I did regret it would be that Cardiel incident [laughs].
I don’t remember when it happened, but in the early 00s skaters had started getting agents because advertising agencies had, for whatever reason, decided that skateboarding was “cool” so skateboarding became a marketing device and everybody started using skateboarders in their commercials because it was shorthand for, “We’re a cool, young company!”
There’s a lot of money in these commercial spots so everyone was getting headshots to cash in on it. We got ahold of around a dozen of these 8×10 headshots, like Bob Burnquist and Andy MacDonald and so many fucking pros that had them, and they were hilarious. “Hi I’m Andy MacDonald. Put me in your McDonald’s commercial,” or whatever.
Naturally we decided to review all these headshots in the magazine. Cardiel had one, which seemed really out of place, given the whole Antihero vibe and everything. Cardiel looked kind of stoned in his photo. Pat Canale, who wrote the article (I didn’t even write it), wrote something to the effect that John looked like a burnout that worked at a gas station and the fire had gone out of his eyes. Something like that.
But at the time—we weren’t even aware of this—the dudes up at Deluxe were having issues with Cardiel’s career, I guess? There were people who were saying Cardiel was over the hill and he wasn’t putting out the parts that he had before or something. That wasn’t our opinion. I’m friends with John and the entire staff are all huge fans. We were just making fun of this fucking headshot photo, but everyone in Northern California read it as “the fire is out in Cardiel’s eyes” and that he’s a washed-up old pro skater. That is not what it said at all. They totally misinterpreted what Pat wrote and went apeshit on us. They wanted to kill us.
“They totally misinterpreted what Pat wrote and went apeshit on us.
They wanted to kill us.”
How did that affect you guys down the line?
The ripple effect was that Big Brother put a sour taste in John’s mouth and he had a lot to say about what went on at Vans and where the marketing and creative direction went. From that point forward, he was like, “No Big Brother. Fuck that magazine.” It was also at that time that they got Greco, and those dudes also did not like Big Brother at all. Essentially the entire team at Vans was like, “Fuck Big Brother [laughs].”
We already had advertising troubles because of our content, but Vans was very generous and helped support us. So when Vans basically cut all of their ads at that point, that was a huge amount of revenue that we lost. It could be said that was the beginning of the end of the magazine.
Many people consider you one of the best skate writers of all time. Who would you put on that list?
Well, thank you—skate writer? Does that make me the International World Champion of Skate Writers? What an honor. But there are more deserving people like some of my fellow Big Brother staff members, like Sean Cliver, Pontius, Earl Parker, Mark McKee, Nieratko, Dimitry—I’m just going to stop right there because that list goes way too long and I’ll surely forget someone.
Personally, I always liked GSD [Gary Scott Davis] and Neil Blender. I thought they had a really interesting take on writing. I think Blender’s column was “Aggro Zone” and GSD did “Street Sheet” or something? They had their own little pages where they could do a zine sort of thing, where they would show some art or some weird photos and have a weird story.
Do you remember any specific pieces that stood out?
I think it was GSD who wrote a whole article that was self-reflexive. It was an article that was essentially about itself. Like, “Here I am writing this sentence.” I remember one of the lines was, “Well, I better wrap this up quick because the ending of this article is coming up right about now,” and it ended right there. I was young, like 14 years old, so very impressionable and there was just something about the frivolity of it—it was sort of like a magazine article mocking magazine articles. They were writing about writing itself and that really influenced the way I made my zine and the way I approached skateboarding.
Usually, a magazine takes itself so seriously and tries to create some sort of reverence for its subject or whatever, whereas there was no subject in that piece except itself, which is sort of like skateboarding. Skateboarding is about itself. There’s no way to really define skateboarding. It’s kind of like trying to define the color red. The only way to really describe it is with an ostensive definition. You can only point at it. “That’s skateboarding.”
So you guys were trying to go more in that direction with Big Brother?
I don’t know if we were trying to go in any direction, but we were definitely influenced by zine culture. What Tod Swank was doing, Andy Jenkins, Neil Blender, O, Mark Waters, GSD, Chris Johanson—way too many names. Everybody was just trying to out-weird each other in zine culture. You could do whatever the fuck you wanted. It was kind of like skateboarding. Your zine didn’t have to have a title. You didn’t have to have articles in it if you didn’t want to. You could handwrite your stories, you could draw dicks on your pictures, you could do whatever the fuck you wanted. I think most of the Big Brother staff was drawn to that artsy side of skateboarding, but if there was any kind of direction we embodied at Big Brother, it was no direction.
That’s how Earl [Parker] got hired. He was just making his zine [Polyurethane Monthly] in Kansas, and it was really weird, very different, so Rocco [Publisher of Big Brother] flew him out to El Segundo and made him a staff member at Big Brother.
I think we’re in an era where print is coming back, mostly in photo format, but there aren’t many articles or long form stories within these new mags. What do you think about that?
You know, I love looking at skate photography, but at the same time I find it a little lazy and kind of boring to fill an entire issue with just photos.
When Transworld did their photo annuals, I always saw that as just fucking lazy, just them taking the month off. “Just gonna fucking run a bunch of photos in the magazine!” I wish I could, that sounds fun, and so easy—you could layout a TWS photo annual in probably a couple hours—but there’s no fucking way I’m going to put out a magazine that’s just a bunch of pictures.
I mean, we kinda did. Every skate magazine has its random photo section: it looks pretty, big pictures and everything, it also acts as an accordion section in the mag in case you have to add or subtract pages, but I want stories. I want some meaning. I want to know more about what’s going on. It’s fun to flip through pictures, but that’s like Instagram. We already got that.
Do you think it’s important that someone who writes about skateboarding actively participates in skateboarding? Do you think that someone could be a great skateboard writer never having stepped on a board?
The answer to your first question is yes. To answer the second question, probably not.
I broke my leg in 2001. I got hit by a car riding my bicycle and broke my leg in seven places. I basically lost my front leg and my skating changed drastically. I lost all kinds of tricks, I could barely ollie up a curb, and it was really frustrating and it brought up that question, “Am I allowed to still write about skateboarding or work for a skateboard magazine when I can’t skate at the level that I used to be able to?”
Ever since, it’s grown more and more frustrating because the less you skate, the less you can do. But [skate photographer and Transworld editor] Miki Vukovich once said, skateboarding is a state of mind. There have been so many people throughout the history of skateboarding who don’t really skate, or that you’ve never seen skate, but you don’t question whether they’re skateboarders or not.
Like Fausto [Vitello], the dude who started Thrasher and Independent Trucks, did that dude skate? I’ve seen a couple of photos of him on a skateboard, he wasn’t really SKATING in them, but I don’t know how you could say Fausto wasn’t a skater? There are so many photographers and videographers in skateboarding that you never see skate also, but they’re household names in skateboarding. So yeah, that’s a difficult question. I think it has to be taken on a case by case basis. You can’t make this blanket statement, “Dude doesn’t skate, therefore can’t write about skateboarding.” But if someone doesn’t have that skateboard state of mind, then yeah, they shouldn’t be.
Are you talking about anybody specifically? Because we could talk about that person specifically…
No. Maybe myself? I don’t skate as much as I’d like to [laughs].
You know, one time I interviewed Ken Block at his ski chalet in Utah. Ken ran one of the biggest and most influential skateboard companies of all time, DC Shoes. One of my questions for him was, “So what’s it like being the CEO of one of the biggest companies in skateboarding and not skating?” Ken had a really interesting answer.
He was like, “I did. I grew up skating, but as I started Droors, started DC, I became more and more excited about business.” He enjoyed business, that thrilled him, and running his company required all of his time, so he started skating less and less and his skills got worse and worse. He said, “Skateboarding is frustrating to me because I like to be the best at everything I do and I am definitely not at my best on a skateboard now.”
I was like, “That fucking makes sense.” But Ken retained that skateboarding state of mind as he did DC. He just brought that skater perspective to business. Keith Hufnagel said something similar once, too. As a skater you learn self discipline. There’s no one telling you what to do. There’s nobody pushing you to land a trick. Nothing happens if you don’t learn eggplants today. Nothing happens to you if you don’t make a kickflip down stairs. It doesn’t matter, but you push yourself to do it anyway. When you have that sort of mentality, that drive, you can take that into any other discipline, any other industry, any other culture, and succeed because you learned how to do that through skateboarding. Anyone who was a skateboarder or embodies that spirit of skateboarding will have that skateboarding state of mind for the rest of their life.
“I was very proud of my dildo so I brought it to work.”
So I know that you have a mold of your dick. I read that you apparently fuck yourself with it once a year. Are you still doing that?
Let’s just say for print, yes…
I made it for an article that I wrote for Hustler. There was an ad in the back of the mag that promised one could make a dildo out of their own dick. So I ordered the kit and made a dildo out of my dick (that’s a story in itself). I just saw my dildo recently because we were going to do some action figure stuff in CREEM so I got out all my old skate dolls. Sure enough, there was my dick. My dick in a box.
It was a character in the “Skate Doll Action Squad” comic at the end of the later issues of Big Brother. I named the character “Carnie Cock,” and I glued googly eyes on it and cut some of my long hair off and taped it to the top of the head—it actually looks a lot like you. I used to throw it at people in the office.
I was very proud of my dildo so I brought it to work. I would walk into someone’s office, start talking about something casual, like, “What should we get for lunch today?” and then just toss my cock at them. You know, you instinctively catch whatever is thrown at you, [mimics reaction to catching a dildo]. Yep. You just caught my dick in your hand. Take it. Give it a little kiss.
Do you feel that words have become less valuable in the recent past? I was reading your book and you had a line that said “GQ pays $7,000 for a feature.” I was like, no one’s paying $7,000 for a feature these days.
I don’t think so. I think my answer is, it’d be absurd for me to be upset or concerned about it. Language is going to go whatever direction it wants to go in, regardless of how the fuck I feel about it, whether I think words are important or not.
That’s very Wittgenstein of you.
[Laughs] True. Same with skateboarding. The kids are going to decide where skateboarding goes. I gave up giving a shit about that a long time ago too.
Reading and writing are a part of your education and open doors for you and make you smarter. So it would definitely make me sad if words were less valued. I’m more worried about the planet that the words are on. I mean, I don’t know if words are really going to make any difference if the planet’s not here in 20 years.
Yeah. So I was reading through your book yesterday.
I was cracking up in the office at certain excerpts.
Oh good, thanks.
Ian [Michna] and our other writer Wilson [Lucas] kept turning back at me like, “Dude, what the fuck is so funny?” I had to think about it, like, “What is making me have such a strong reaction?” I don’t mean this in a diminishing way, but I think I was just like, “This is so offensive and vulgar and you would never see this anywhere else. It’s so ridiculous.” How do you keep that up?
[Devious sounding chuckles] I don’t know. Although I will say that cancel culture has made being offensive a whole lot easier. “Kids these days got it easy, they can offend the whole world in one tweet!” But that’s a hard question to answer, just because I don’t really know how to explain what I do.
I heard an interview with Jack White recently. I think the question was on the subject of inspiration, like, “How do you keep doing this and what’s your process?” He essentially replied, “I don’t know, I don’t have anything to do with it. I’m just a conduit for the creativity that comes through me.”
There’s a sample at the beginning of that DJ Shadow song [“Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt“], he says, “It’s the music coming through me. It’s not really me playing the music. It’s the music coming through me.” I think that process probably manifests itself in different ways through every different artist, but there’s something to that with the way I work. I don’t really consciously think about what I’m doing.
I think that’s kind of how I go about it today. I don’t have any rules or patterns or a schedule or anything. If I can get away with something and be a little bit more funny, a little more obnoxious, then I’ll take it, you know? But again, that inspiration, those ideas come “a la minute,” to use a chef term. I’m just in the kitchen, cooking up whatever everybody wants whenever they want it and hoping it tastes good.
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