Big Brother – Cliver and Carnie interview

Big Brother - Sean Cliver and Dave Carnie interview

Last week DC Shoes laid on an exhibition in Paris in order to celebrate their collaboration with the much missed Big Brother Magazine – a publication birthed in the early 90s World Industries camp, before coalescing into the gleefully offensive and piss-taking skate journal which would change the face of skateboard culture and bend plenty of noses out of shape before eventually being closed down in 2004 by Larry Flynt himself.

Also bound for the exhibition were former BB editors Sean Cliver and Dave Carnie, which is where I came in – to sit down with the two and obtain as much information as I could relating to the mag, its impact and the most diplomatic way to compare Jake Phelps to Saddam Hussein… 

The list of questions I arrived with contained queries about everything from whether or not Rick Kosick was actually born in John Wayne Gacy’s house, to the current whereabouts of Sal Rocco but unfortunately our time with the duo was too limited to lurch headlong into the minutiae as I’d intended. Nonetheless, the interview below threw up several amusing anecdotes from the most out of order skateboard magazine in history and it was a genuine delight to speak to Carnie and Cliver between getting caught up in a protest and tear gassed at La Republique and drinking cognac for breakfast at Jim Morrison’s grave.

Big thanks to them both and to DC for organising it – hope you enjoy it too.

Jono Coote

So we’re here at the DC X Big Brother exhibition in Paris, with it being over ten years since the magazine closed its doors – how did this collaboration come about originally?

Dave Carnie: Well we’ve always been really good friends with DC, I share the initials with DC. They just approached Jeff (Tremaine) about doing these throwback collabs I guess, which frankly I thought was a dumb idea – nobody fucking knows what BB is anymore – but apparently people do and they wanted to do the shoe, then another shoe, then the coffee table book. We never really had a funeral or memorial for BB either as it disappeared overnight basically, so we’re really excited about the coffee table book, we’re stoked to be able to do that and have it collected all in one place like that. DC’s always been a great friend of the mag and of us so yeah, it’s perfect.

How did you guys all meet and who was in charge of putting the original team together?

Sean Cliver: Well Steve Rocco was the originator of it all; from there it just kind of came together. He hired Jeff Tremaine to be the editorial and art director with issue 2 of Big Brother. Mark McKee and I were already working in the art department at World and started moonlighting on the magazine for fun, and Earl Parker washed up on the doorstep from the Midwest, out of nowhere. That’s kind of how it came together. Then Rick Kosick came along two issues later…

DC: It was a perfect storm of stupid – a perfect group of shitheads came together and it just worked.

SC: It’s not how you’d normally start a magazine (laughs). Normally with a skateboard magazine, you’d focus on the skateboarding…

The mag started under World Industries, which basically augmented the shift from vert skating and the big three companies, to street skating and a huge number smaller companies. Did Rocco set an agenda of any kind, or did things kind of happen in reaction to wider shifts in skate culture?

SC: I think it just kind of happened. Rocco was having trouble getting coverage for his riders in Thrasher and Transworld because they each had their own camps – Tracker, Indy, you know. Rocco was stuck in LA and Transworld were turning down these ads he wanted to run and he just wanted a forum where he could present his riders and his ideas. But he also hired a bunch of retard…goddammit!

DC: (Laughs), I can’t stop saying it either! We’re trying to stop saying faggot or retard. So it was a bunch of retards…

SC: Yeah, Rocco started the magazine and then just kind of let us continue, despite the fact it wasn’t making any money.

DC: So the question also is that World Industries had the next generation of skateboarding, right? That was skateboarding where it is today; those people like Guy Mariano, Daniel Castillo, Danny Way, we had access to them. They rode for World so that was who we covered, while Transworld and Thrasher had one foot in the 80s. That’s what’s funny about BB, is that we were at the forefront of skateboarding coverage at the very beginning of that era, but by the end it was completely the opposite. We were actually in front of those two with skateboard coverage, but then when they realised what the fuck was going on they quickly surpassed us…we had no production values (laughs).

SC: And we were more concerned about doing other stuff…


I guess you guys always had a lean toward lesser-known skateboarders – publishing unknowns on the cover, tours to the middle of nowhere. Was that a conscious decision? With John Lee Countee, Joey Boy and people like that?

DC: Nothing we did was really conscious; there was no philosophy, nothing like ‘this is why we’re doing this’. We just did what we wanted to do, and we liked…I’m going to have to use the word ‘retard’ again; we liked retards. We liked people that were like us. Not to get deep about it, but skateboarding was the home of outcasts, idiots and misfits and we gravitated towards those people in skateboarding. People who rode their skateboards for themselves. You mentioned John Lee Countee? I mean wow, what a perfect example of ridiculousness. It was amazing, he just skated his driveway. Didn’t he send his sponsor me tape to Prime?

SC: Yep.

DC: That’s how we found out about him, so we went and visited him. I mean he was a little touched mentally. He lived kind of by watch towers…

SC: Proper South Central LA.

DC: Yeah it was fucked up, two white dorks going into South Central to meet up with John Lee Countee. Those were a couple of interesting experiences. But that dude was so genuine…

SC: We’ve always just been attracted to those sorts of people and they make for better interviews you know? They’re more interesting. I always liked people like Josh Kasper and Chad Fernandez, people who were hated. Like we did the kook issue…

DC: Except it wasn’t called the kook issue, because we called people going, “Hey, you wanna be in the kook issue?” and no one liked that. While if you called it, ‘hated and misunderstood’ – we made that change up real quick – then everyone liked it. To be hated is kind of cool, it can make you feel good, while everyone feels misunderstood. That’s just kind of, whether it’s a reflection of us or not, what we gravitated towards.

SC: We always enjoyed the reading aspect of the magazine and the personalities made for better reading than the jocks.

What were the source of the quotes in the mag, the George Powell and Kevin Thatcher disses etc.? Were they made up or real?

SC: All the quotes were 100% real! You’d either hear them in person or a reliable source would give them to you.

DC: That’s one of the things I miss about BB, that I don’t have a quotes section anymore. Now I hear someone say something and I’m like fuck, that would have been…

SC: I’ll still write it down, if I hear someone say something like that. I used to do it all the time when Rick would talk. But yeah, it just came from skating.

DC: When you’re out there, people say ridiculous shit.

One of the longest running characters in BB is Goofy Boy, who still regularly pops up on the Internet as a negative representation of the whole ‘BPSW’ era. Who was that?

DC: He got fucked up!

SC: Yeah we might have scarred him for life. Not intentionally, but he became the poster child for that misstep in skateboard fashion.

DC: And he paid a huge price! The poor kid, I mean I never met him…who shot him, Rick?

SC: It was Earl. Just one contest, Earl shot four photos of him and those photos…(laughs).

DC: And that kid got harassed, beaten up and everything in school. We really fucked his life up.

SC: Within the last couple of years someone actually tried to track him down and wanted to film a short documentary about him now and I heard he declined, he wanted nothing to do with it.

DC: He had a bad time…we thought it was funny, he didn’t think it was funny.

The Samoan Fuct trademark threat incident and Nieratko having a gun pointed at him by Big Pun are both mentioned in the book, were those kind of incidents rare? Or were there other direct physical consequences for things printed in the mag?

DC: (Laughs) Yes! And I’ll pass that on to Sean…

SC: I had the good fortune of running into the business end of Sean Sheffey…it wasn’t anything that I personally did but I was kind of blamed for it. So I walked into work one day and he walked towards me, takes my glasses and threw them away then palmed my face and put my head on a table. I just played dead fish…

DC: Possum mode! Sheffey didn’t know what to do.

SC: I didn’t struggle or fight back, so what do you do?

DC: And we were just talking last night, this story just popped into my head. We were talking to Andrew, whatever his fucking name was, I don’t remember – this vert skater in Australia. We were on the Gallaz tour and I was wearing a dress the entire trip, so I was at a bar in a dress. I was very popular that night, people were coming up to me, and then this dude comes up and starts yelling at me. I’m like, “Yeah man, what do you want me to sign?” You know, being an asshole to him, but apparently I fucked his girlfriend. He just really wanted to fight and kept spitting in my face, talking too loud, and I finally went, “Are you gunna keep spitting in my fucking face, or are you gunna fight?” That was the wrong thing to do, because he actually did choose to fight and I got my ass kicked. He got kicked out, I was a hero, and we found out later that it was actually Chris Pontius that fucked his girlfriend. Another case of mistaken identity.

That happened a lot actually, we always took care of it though. My own way was to call people immediately – like if I heard through the grapevine, ‘Oh, the Muska’s mad at you” [mimes holding a phone] “What? What the fuck is wrong with you?” I would just yell at people. There was Jake Phelps – I wrote a whole story about attacking the Thrasher office, a pre-emptive strike. You know, George Bush had to attack Iraq so we had to attack them, I was saying that Thrasher was trying to destroy skateboarding and we need to strike them, Jake was essentially Saddam Hussein. I knew it would cause that much trouble that I called them ahead of time to tell them that this was coming out. I emailed it to him because I knew he would freak out, then I have to have a really long call with Jake. Damage control could go on our business cards as our titles, there was a lot to do…

So the exodus of World Industries riders to Girl happened while Sean was in the office. How was that, was Rocco raging?

SC: It was a weird time for sure, I mean all those guys left without really saying they left and turned up at the San Francisco contests with the Girl logo on their shirts. Rocco had no idea; this was all totally blind side. I was away a couple of months; during that time his brother Sal started Bitch Skateboards in reaction, which caused more grief (laughs).

DC: Bitch is kind of like this shoe [Dave holds up his one off DC shoes, with ‘Fuck’ and ‘You’ written across the toes and bright pink penises adorning the sides]. If that company had actually gone into production and gone full on, it probably would have been very successful.

SC: Well it was…

DC: In Japan!

SC: That got licensed out to Japan for, like, eight million dollars or something. We were shooting the Jackass movie in 2002, we were in Japan in this park, and this little old man walks past with a Bitch ballcap on. This dude is no less than 70 years old! But yeah, they made bikinis, boogie boards, all sorts of shit with the Bitch logo on it.

A Bitch boogie board would be a sight to see…

DC: It would look so weird on a wall of skateboards, then all of a sudden this giant boogie board.

So with all the other things that you guys got shit for – was there ever any backlash for the Andy Roy interview in issue 22?

SC: I don’t actually remember anything coming back from Andy Roy’s – Bill Weiss’ probably had the biggest…

DC: Someone just asked me who in skateboarding today I’d interview who’s like Andy Roy and I was like, “Do you know anyone in skateboarding today who’s addicted to heroin and whose nickname in prison was The Snuggle Bandit?” No, because Andy Roy is Andy Roy, and I love that guy.

SC: Apparently he’s playing a big part in the upcoming King of the Road.

DC: Well he’s sober now. He basically works in the warehouse at Deluxe, and he does skate classes, he’s a skate coach now. You can see videos of it and he’s still the same you know, “Just fucking go for it”; he’s like a little kid, just sober now. Deluxe did a great thing recently where he yanked a tooth out with a pair of pliers, put it in a box of Spitfires and if you got that box you won something like a year’s supply of Spitfires. That’s what skateboarding is!

Which article would you say you regret running the most – the Depends Diaper Olympics, the PLG street interview or the Snakeboard advert?

DC: Which one we regret most? Was there a street interview with PLG? He was street skating?

SC: That was after my time so I can’t comment on the PLG article, but the snakeboard ad – I’d completely forgotten about that until we went back to doing the book, seeing that was like “What the fuck?!” It’s blurry, it’s just crazy.

DC: I don’t remember that, but my comment on ads in general is this; there was a big uprising because Transworld suddenly became a telephone book. They had so much advertising and there were army ads, there were L’Oreal ads. Everyone was like, “fuck L’Oreal, fuck Transworld” and I was like, “I’d put that in my magazine, if L’Oreal wanted to advertise in BB” – I’d fucking take their money. The worse the ad was, the funnier it was to me. That was one of the only things I liked about getting the magazine back from the printers, because we didn’t get to see the ads being in editorial. I didn’t really see the ads until it came back from print and that was when we’d get to see, say, Natural Koncepts every month. That was always a surprise, “Let’s see what those fucking mushroom heads did this month…”

SC: In issue 12 we did scan an L’Oreal ad and gave it a page (laughs).

DC: Maybe that’s why they sent advertising to Transworld: they couldn’t remember what magazine they were in. The PLG street article, I’m guessing that’s the time when vert skaters weren’t making any money because all the money was in street skating so they all needed to show off some kind of street skills. I’m guessing there was something with PLG ollieing down some stairs or something…PLG was actually another damage control one. I said something, comparing the coolness in skateboarding and I said something like, “Would you rather have someone cool like the Muska or some dork like Pierre-Luc?” I let that go to print…I remember talking to PLG in a hotel lobby one time like, “Dude, I’m sorry”.

SC: I remember doing one of those BB reader surveys, “Which skater is your favourite shitbag or something”, then getting Weiss and Sheffey in my face at a tradeshow over that.

DC: They are shitbags though!

SC: But that’s not what they want to be known as.

DC: The thing about the PLG one was that, while I was apologising to him, I didn’t apologise exactly but I remember reasoning with him and trying to explain that he was a dork – “You get it right? You’re a vert skater, you’re a dork?” He was like, “Yeah, yeah, I guess so.” He’s great, it made me feel really bad because I do really like PLG.

People like Clyde Singleton, Wee Man and Billy Pepper are good examples of how people were pretty keen to get dressed up and not give a fuck in the mag, were there any ideas that went too far and were never agreed upon to go in there?

DC: They all went in.

SC: Yep. We never had a filter or a judgement…

DC: And that’s where we fucked up really. My life since BB has been trying to work with people who do have these filters, do have legal departments and overseers. We just did whatever the fuck we wanted, so no, nothing was filtered or censored. I wish there were worse ideas, I guess you saw the ‘Worst’ issue…

So to finish with, the BB videos made arguably as much of an impression as the mag itself. What impact do you think that the mag and videos had on the following generation of skateboarders?

DC: I guess we just did whatever the fuck we wanted, which is basically why it fucked us up. Everywhere I’ve worked since they’re concerned about what’s going on in the playground – what do the kids like, what do they care about? I don’t give a fuck! I want to do what I want to do; and that’s what we did at BB, what we wanted to do. Fortunately a handful of people also thought it was entertaining.

SC: A handful (laughs).

Shit – The Big Brother Book in association with DC Shoes is available now!

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