Sunday, May 03, 2009

DBZ.

The man known as DBZ must be one of the oldest non-professional bike riders on the internet. His disturbingly dark sense of humor rarely fails to offend, and every detail of his fascinating life story seems to have a sordid, bmx-related edge. These things, coupled with a relentless penchant for self-deprecation, have made DBZ a cult hero for a certain group of riders.

DBZ's North London Cockney is faint but noticable; he smokes, on average, a pack of Newports a day; he is featured in Dig issue 3 feebling a ledge; he owns an AK-47 and rides a Hoffman Taj; and he was once a habitual crack user.

Meet bmxboard's most beloved curmudgeon.

Your chances of happening upon this scene, shot on the back steps of MFP, are actually pretty good, since Portland has now banned smoking inside bars. Scroll to the end if you don't already get what this photo is referencing. Shot by Caleb Ruecker

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What's up with the handle "DBZ"? Why don't you use your real name online? How many of your online acquaintences know your real name?

DBZ was my tag as a shitty teenage graffiti writer. It's an abbreviation of one of my aliases, and it pre-dates Dragonball Z by a couple of decades. It's short and easy to remember--as good a name to use online as anything else. Plenty of people know me as DBZ in everyday life as well, even when they know my given name.

But I remember buying a stem from you online some years ago--you wouldn't even give me your name to write you a check. I had to make it payable to your lesbian roommate. Why all the secrecy?

I didn't have a bank account, man. I talk about a lot of potentially criminal or felonious shit online, and we live in a climate of fear and finks. I've had the Department of Homeland Security at my house before, and it's not a good feeling to be on the end of the hook.

Age? Years riding? List the places you've lived, and what you did there.

I'm pretty old. I've been riding BMX on and off for about 27 years at this point--ever since I saw "E.T." I grew up in north London and Bristol in England, had a pretty stock dysfunctional childhood punctuated by a few years in catholic boarding school, then spent a long time on welfare and seriously getting into amphetamines and street riding.

After visiting a friend in Bethlehem, PA, in 1997, I decided to move to the States to escape the welfare mentality I felt I was becoming part of in Britain; "Dole culture". I was also pretty close to schizophrenic at the time, doing a lot of drugs and getting jumped on a regular basis in my neighborhood. I was just over it, and still am. I moved to Portland in early 1999 on account of having met a few people from here in London; I'd also heard of the Burnside skatepark, and was really into the whole Kill Rock Stars/post-Riot Grrrl bands that were around at the time. I met Rich Hirsch at a bike store downtown, got a job as a janitor at a diner and ordered my first T-1 Barcode from Trend, having sold my old Holmes to get my ticket. Moved into a really sketchy house in southeast, started drinking whiskey in the daytime whilst watching Jerry Springer, then riding high speed lines on 82nd Avenue. Had sex with a lot of weird women and started using heroin because, well, everybody else did and it didn't seem like a big deal. Never enough to get a habit, but a lot. All kinds of awful stuff went down in that house, "The Horror Hotel" ...I started to write a book about it, but got right over the idea once I started reading it back to myself.

Things fell apart after that, so I went back to London for a few months, fucking hated it, came back to Portland and got married. Settled down for a few years working as a cook and waiter, then became a raging crackhead. The straight life just didn't agree with me, and unfortunately that's how it manifested. A bunch of bad shit happened all at once, culminating in the death of my father, getting divorced, and ending up in the psych ward after taking an overdose. Went back to London again, hated it again, and flew back to New York. Made my way down to Asheville, North Carolina, then Austin, and bounced around between those two for a couple of years. Drugs, sex and BMX. Finally got sick of selling plasma to buy a fifth of Old Crow, living in sketchy punk houses, eating at homeless missions and sleeping on couches, so I packed up and followed a friend back out to Portland. Got a job at a bike shop, rented a big house in St John's, and started leading a slightly more stable life.

It's startling to hear about an older rider that never raced or jumped dirt. Who were the riders of influence in your formative days?

Stuart Dawkins and Ian Morris doing handrails in old British skateboard and early BMX magazines like BMX Now!, Read And Destroy, and the first issues of Ride UK blew my mind. I'd always wanted to skate, but have never been able to manage even an ollie on a skateboard. The combination of the two set off something inside me, and I lost all interest in school, work, going to the acid house parties of the time, or anything much beyond collecting welfare, eating potatoes, living in squalor, and buying bike parts from Stu's mail order shop, Backyard.

My friend Tim Goldie was a huge influence--he had always been really into street riding, not to mention a lot of the esoteric shit I was into, like Einsturzende Neubauten, William Burroughs, Mark Rothko, and Skyway TAs, so we started writing to each other a lot. We sent some really odd shit in the mail, and it didn't always get delivered. He encouraged my getting into veganism and the ALF too, which lasted almost fifteen years. I've still got some of the shirts he used to make, a surreal blend of graf designs and abstract expressionist art that he called Ceramic Rabbit. He showed me a copy of a BMX video called "Smart People In A Car Crash" by an old Southbank BMXer named Dave Slade, and I realized there was a tangible form of expression in street riding for how I perceived the city in my own existence.

I met Sandy Carson through Tim as well; it was kind of demoralizing riding with Sandy, because he's always been really fucking good--the motherfucker just jumps like a flea. He dubbed me a VHS copy of a bunch of old S&M and Homeless videos at the time, so I'll tack on Dave Clymer, Keith Treanor, Chase Gouin, Mike Griffin, James Shepherd, Ed Koenning and Chris Moeller.

Describe your bmx tattoos.

I got a T-1 logo tattooed on my arm by a friend in '98 because I was so into that whole deal at the time when the company started. I got the Empire crown tattooed inside my right wrist recently, because Tom and Tina have always treated me so well that I wanted something to show my respect and appreciation for them. Apart from that, I've got *B*M*X* on one arm to offset the negativity of having *F*T*W* on the other. I'd be covered in tattoos if I had the money for them, but my disposable income usually goes towards cigarettes, bike stuff, and bar tab.

I recall a description of a Drinky Crow neck tattoo you had designed for yourself. Are you still planning to follow through on that one?

The tattoo's going to say, "Do Not Resuscitate.” It's the last part of my three point plan to become a modern Portland BMXer: cellphone, slammed seat, neck tat. I'm totally getting it, as soon as I move into my new apartment.

You have a cellphone now?

Yeah, a thirty dollar pre-pay from Fred Meyer. I already kind of hate it.

Despite your online reputation, you're actually quite charming and approachable in person. How real is DBZ?

Everybody has dark shit in their life, I just find it interesting to openly talk about it instead of pretending it doesn't exist. I guess I am pretty fucked up by most people's standards though, so I do try to be a decent human being on a day-to-day basis. Once I'm deep enough into a binge or a blackout, however, I can be an awful, horrible, destructive black hole of a person.

When we talked at MFP a couple months ago, you'd quit drinking. How'd that go? How would you describe your relationship with drugs? How much do you smoke?

I just quit for a month to get my tolerance back down, and because I'd started blacking out a lot. A break is never a bad idea; "Moderation in all things--especially moderation". I'd describe my relationship with drugs as amicable... apart from crack. That shit will fuck you up. I smoke a pack of Newports a day and I drink like a fish--two relatively manageable vices.

I was expecting you to say something a little more critical of drugs there.

Well, shit. Drugs will fuck your life up if you let them. I did, and it was my choice. I don't believe in the 12 Step model of addiction that absolves you from responsibility, or the current medical establishment's idea that addiction is a disease. It's a fucking choice. Every time I put a crack pipe to my lips, I had the thought that I could not do it, but I did anyway. Most drugs are used because they're an easy answer to a problem, whether it's self-medicating for some problem in your life or just relieving boredom. Easy answers are never good answers in my experience... but I enjoy getting fucked up way too much to ever completely abstain; an easy way of making it feel like something profound and life-affirming is happening, consequences be damned.

Ever been arrested?

In London, a lot. I've been taken to the sobering station at Hooper here in Portland by the police a few times, but never arrested--I don't really fuck around with anybody packing heat if I can help it.

I just learned today that you're "homeless" for a month. I presume you'll be sleeping on couches, not camping in the park in the middle of winter, right?

Yeah. Some Beaverton asshole bought the house I was living in and jacked the rent up by $300, so I'm waiting for an apartment above the bar to get renovated. It may be a while, but I've got plenty of friends to stay with, and I've become pretty fucking good at couch surfing over the years. Do the dishes, play by their rules, and don't stay anywhere longer than ten days.

I'm really psyched on living closer to downtown again, because it means I'll be able to get a lot more stuff done and tend to a lot of neglected friendships. St Johns is a long fucking way from the rest of Portland if you don't have a car.

Yeah, it'll be nice to have you living farther South, but I can't fathom what will be the effect of living directly over your favorite bar.

I think it's actually going to massively improve my quality of life. I'm pretty sure that at the very least I'll get laid more often.

Describe your personal riding style and bike setup. What happened to the green Hoffman Taj? How much do you ride these days?

When I did ride a lot, I'd just pedal at shit and fucking jump. Sandy Carson always said I only ride in straight lines, which about sums it up. I like going fast. Dirt and trails weird me out for some reason, but I love mobbing around broken down industrial areas and finding sketchy gaps to haul ass at. I love grinding shit as well, but still haven't managed a handrail; I fucked my face up on a park rail fifteen years ago and have been phobic ever since.

To be honest, I barely ride any more. I rode a few days this last summer, but I'm really out of shape: my lower back is really fucked up, inflexible and constantly in pain, and I get out of breath pretty easily. Regardless, bike set-up is something I'm completely anal about: shoulder-width bars, tall front end, strongest chain money can buy, usually a Gyro even though I can't do barspins or tailwhips, a chainstay brake so dialed it feels like a hydraulic disc brake, over 100psi in the tires and thick-ass chromoly steel pegs. I just got another Barcode frame, and I'm calling it my retirement bike--the frame I'll be riding until I can't ride any more, which will probably be pretty soon if my back keeps on getting worse.


The green bike, the Green Bastard™, was partially a pre-SPRFLS "fuck you" to what I didn't like about the way bikes had become in the past five years, but also just how I'd wanted to set up a dream bike ten years ago. It was a fucking tank, but tracked in a straight line like a bulldozer. The only decent ride I ever had on it was tripping out on mushrooms at Pier Park last summer, doing corner pocket airs and alley-oops and just rallying it around the middle bowl. I've still got the frame, and I'm in the process of building it up again right now. The Holmes frame didn't work out too well, and the Green Bastard™ is too infamous to not have around. I sliced my knuckle open on the sprocket teeth today whilst installing the bottom bracket, so I smeared my own blood on the words "HATE" and "DIE" on the downtube. I'm really fucking excited about riding it again.

You got a Barcode? What year is it?

I bought a 2008 from a guy on BMXboard who broke his leg. He asked me if I wanted it because he got FBM to move the mounts from the seatstays to the chainstays, and he even got it powdercoated black for me. I still need to send him a fifth of rum and some other crap to express my gratitude--it's fucking rad. Caleb Ruecker gave me some old EBCO bars for it which I'm really stoked on as well. It was originally called the DEATH HAMMER when it was built up with a Moody/Hickerson, but I think the new frame warrants a new name. All my bikes seem to suggest their own names after a few weeks of riding them.

What are your goals for life, short-term and long-term?

I really don't fucking know. I haven't allowed myself the luxury of long term goals since I got out of the psych ward four years ago--I'm trying to concentrate on making the present work out as well as it can. The stability of living in the same place for a few years has helped, but I find it hard to really believe that I can do much more than try to steer my fate, rather than dictate it.

I want a Fuck You—That's Why shirt. Are they still available?


No. That was a Rusticle-only project, limited to 52 shirts numbered with death cards.

Russ B.

You designed a similarly-inspired shirt for Fremont, and I recall a creepy My Little Pony graphic of yours, which was posted on the Odyssey blog, and I know you do a lot of other art-fag stuff. Did you go to art school?


I studied Graphic Design for four years in London, and another few years at community college in Portland. I've always been into typography, calligraphy, design, and image manipulation because the tools to do it were always around--my father was a photographer. I made a Jimi Hendrix cassette inlay with felt tip pens, magazine clippings and a light box when I was about eleven that I still have to this day... I just never enjoyed even the thought of using those skills to make a living. It's what I do for fun and for personal satisfaction.

The My Little Pony unicorn three-way was a tattoo design I drew for myself--I'd call it mildly pornographic more than creepy. It came out really shitty, and that tattoo artist was a fucking chump. I've got plenty of great designs that turned out badly as tattoos though, so I'm not too bothered.


The Fremont shirt came out of my obsession with the movie Apocalypse Now, and lifts a graphic from an old Death Cult 12" EP and text from Michael Herr's book Dispatches. Herr wrote most of Willard's narrative for the movie. I've had a morbid fascination with the insanity and horror of the Vietnam war ever since I first saw photos by my father's friends Don McCullen and Tim Page... probably at the age of ten or eleven.


Any creative projects in the works currently?


Yes. Once I have my own apartment again, I'll be doing a shitload of graphics for BSD, building a jungle gym for my cat, figuring out what weird shit to paint on the downtube of my new Barcode and a couple of other projects that I don't want to curse by talking about too early.

What's your connection to BSD? It's not a company that most American bike riders are thinking about, but you have seem to have a fanatical devotion to them.


I went to the King Of Concrete contest at Southsea in England with the whole Team Sano crew in 1993. They had a rental van they drove down from Scotland and picked me up with Tim Goldie, and it was basically a week of getting totally fucked up and riding a lot. The whole Standard Army was in country as well, so I got to meet Joe Rich and see him ride the vert ramp at the old Leigh-On-Sea skatepark--right before I knocked myself the fuck out on a mini, slipping out of an abubaca. I even did some filming for the "Sleezy Rider" video that Grant put together that year.

The whole Scottish crew were just a lot more fun than most English riders, and didn't mind that I was a speed-addled half-queer fuck-up with pink hair and a shitty bike. I've stayed in touch with Grant Smith ever since, and I'm always down to support anything that friends try to get going to continue the fun and freedom I've always gotten out of BMX.

Tell us about the shop where you work.

It's a bike shop. It's one of the bigger ones, but the only place that knows shit about BMX in Portland apart from Goods. I'm a service mechanic, and it's the easiest job I've ever had after spending most of my life in kitchens and the food service industry. It feels good to help out kids who might otherwise get ripped off or treated like a waste of time by other places. Whatever--it's a job, it's indoors, and I don't leave smelling like onions or squid.

You told me you used to feel uncomfortable supporting Goods' competition, but then Shad said not to worry about it. What's that story?

I just wanted to make sure that nothing my shop was doing with BMX was going to cut into his business, because Goods is clearly more beneficial to the scene than some big road and mountain bike shop that barely understands BMX in the first place. We just talked a little about what brands we were carrying, but it was pretty apparent that Shad isn't really worried about it. I support what he's doing 110%, even to the point of buying shit from him at retail rather than ordering it through my shop, but I think Goods has already carved out a unique niche in Portland that can only grow. Now with the Lotek store open in Old Town, I'm really excited about the scene here. We're going to start having a BMX movie night at the East End bar as well, showing old videos like ./Blueprint and hopefully stuff like the old Homeless and Infection videos. It'll pretty much be a VFW for all the grizzly old BMXers in town, as well as anyone else over the age of 21 who feels like putting up with a bunch of drunk dorks getting excited about other dorks wrecking themselves on bicycles originally intended for sidewalk use by pre-teen children.

East End Video Night poster, by DBZ.

This seems like a distinctly un-DBZ question, but can you describe your perfect day?

Hmmm. It'd have to be summer. Wake up at dawn, cook an enormous fried breakfast, drop acid, drink a shitload of coffee, ride Lincoln City skatepark until dark without getting kicked out, get drunk with all my bar friends at MFP, eat a cheeseburger and a bunch of ecstasy, play bass for Poison Idea or Turbonegro at a show downtown, have anonymous sex with a random attractive woman in the bathroom, then go home and fall asleep with my cat.

I like that your perfect day starts at dawn. Are you a morning person when you're not hung over?

Fuck no. I hate mornings.

Whom would you like to thank?

Everyone.

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Postscript/Update: The above Q&A took place this winter, just as DBZ had commenced the temporary couch-surfing venture, waiting to move into his new apartment. The landlord strung him along, renovated the apartment, and ultimately gave it to someone else. I was working to get this blog post off my hard drive and posted online, when DBZ sent this email today:

"I just got over a really bad case of pneumonia, which gave me cause to think about my current situation. The bank cut my credit to nothing a few months back, leaving me unable to cover a deposit on a place any time soon, and my job makes me tired and unhappy. That, on top of four months of homelessness, has led me to the decision to liquidate all my belongings besides what you see in the backpack picture, declare bankruptcy, and head for sunnier climes.

I'm going to spend the summer in Portland, then head down to Austin. Not much more of a plan than sleeping in the park, eating at the missions, and riding. Three days with a 104 degree fever made me realize that all I really care about is staying warm and riding BMX, and I'm sick of working, drinking, and drugging away the years I have left. It's always been a see-saw between stability and seeking an enjoyable life for me, with no success in the middle of the road."

Vagabonding, DBZ-style. Click to go big. Photo by Shad.


Clymer. Roots.

For the Love of Quad Rounds.

By my count, Ben is on Corolla #5.

I would say that 1980 represents a distinct aesthetic peak for headlight design.

Beautiful. Psyched. Way to go, Ben.