Dec 19, 2008

Lobsterspine = the Real Steven Hamilton?

The video below, reportedly edited by Steven Hamilton himself, has been viewed almost eight thousand times since its internet debut two days ago. Responses to the video on bmxboard, the Come Up, and T.V.O.'s Life? were split, tending either towards strong disappointment or strong enthusiasm. The comparisons to mid-90's LSD-influenced video producer Ells Bells seem absolutely appropriate.

There are eight more Hamilton-related videos from the same Youtube user, Lobsterspine, some of which are measurably easier to watch, and none with more than eighty views to date. These include parts one through four of some project called Inception 2. If I understand correctly, Inception was the name of Hamilton's high school video project.

Inception 2, part two. Trails down a fricken' gully like nothing I've ever seen! Where is this? I guess it goes without saying that footage of Ted Van Orman is always great.

Parenthetically, here's the only evidence of Inception 1's existence that I'm aware of:

It would appear that Lobsterspine is Hamilton's personal account, or that of someone close to him. I can't think of another pro whose mind is better suited to Youtube as a creative medium.


Related: The Complete Steven Hamilton Youtube Discography

Dec 14, 2008


Cool post from the hard-working boys at Street Phire, detailing a clever, low-budget radio slave mod. A satisfying read, even though I've never shot with off-camera flashes. When user ingenuity trumps planned obsolescence, I always smile.

Also recommended: the Street Phire "My Bag" galleries, which document the contents of camera bags of different bike riding photographers and videographers. I like how Robin Hunter's particularly exhaustive bag check even mentions which items have Nikon or LowePro printed on them.

Reviewed: Four Corners by No Bikes

The No Bikes crew released Four Corners almost a year ago, and they're well into production of their next video, so it's fair to say this review comes a little late. Four Corners was already out of print when I first contacted Aaron, but he sent me a burned copy with a No Bikes sticker and a cover collaged from tourism brochures. Awesome.

Two trailers for Four Corners:

The trailers represent the video fairly well: solid riding from kids you've never heard of, riding spots you've never seen, peppered with the occasional pro throwing down burly moves at some familiar skatepark. For the record, that shot of Travis Sexmith's table air is one of my favorite clips from any video ever.

It's tastefully edited and well filmed and paints a fantastic portrait of the riding scene in Alaska. Good vibes. No bike throwing. I want to go there.

There's a ton of great trails footage, which kind of feels like the heart of the video and the scene, but nobody has brakes, and the dirt footage is balanced by equal parts street riding and park. (Way too much park footage, in my opinion, perhaps the result of trying to get a clip from every single rider in Alaska.) The highlight of the video for me was Matt Lindsey's part, self-filmed via tripod in what appears to be Russia or China or perhaps Hawaii??? It left me pleasantly baffled, seeing all the incredible communist architecture so unlike anything in the states, including axle-high ledges that might rouse Joe Tiseo from his grave.

Alaska bears no resemblance to California or NYC or any place in my mental catalog of bmx images, and yet there are kids there putting in work, and that's what I love about this dvd. Check this ancient Youtube gem. A comically rickety portable ramp, set in places that seem absolutely arbitrary, but not (apparently) as any sort of joke. I'm just so happy that it's all real.

Four Corners is chock full of this stuff. Watch the No Bikes blog for progress on their next video, which I have been told will document some of their wilderness riding excursions, which gets me really, really psyched. I invite you to hassle Aaron for a copy of Four Corners with a custom cover. I don't know if he'll say yes.


December 19 edit: updated with an excerpt from Aaron's response to this review:

One of the things I try to do with all my videos is be as inclusive as possible. Scene videos, to me, aren’t just putting together the best tricks from the best riders in town. Back in the day we always had local contests to bring people together; since video is the new medium that we “measure” people’s riding by, I think the scene video is often missed as a scene building tool. Videos give everyone something to work together on; I try to shoot with as many people as I can and get anyone involved in production who is interested in that kind of stuff. This year I got to plan three awesome trips to shoot for this video, and got to know more Alaskan bmxers, there’s really nothing else I could ask for from the process. So yeah, I was trying to film everyone in Alaska, glad you noticed….

We are very happy that Alaska is as unique as it is. There is plenty of stuff to ride up here, and even more to see and experience (where else can you ride trails after midnight). I wish more people would be curious enough to come up here. Rooftop and the Samurai guys had the right idea, but I don’t think they really found any of our spots. I would never want to come up here again if one quarter of the spots I rode was the Wasilla skatepark.

I made a trailer for the next video, but have to add some audio clips in with Steve before it’ll go online. Look for it in the next couple weeks. Ryan Hiebert has been working hard on the team video as well, so get pumped for that (if you haven’t been reading this blog for long, there will be a documentary about riding in Alaska and a team video featuring all of our friends from her, BC and anywhere else).


Nov 30, 2008

The dvd gets its first review. (And I respond.)

A million thanks to the NoBikes blog for their kind review of our video. Please go there and read it. Since someone has now finally voiced a public response to the video, I feel comfortable saying something about my own creative intentions.

St Louis, 2006. Photo by Atika Piff. The sub rail has since vanished.

My main goal with the project was to create a video with an authentic vibe that would not give the viewer a chance to get bored. From watching a million bike videos over the years (and a million skate, snowboard, inline, and motocross vids, too), I'd come to the conclusion that the videos with the most lasting appeal were not necessarily those with the most advanced riding and definitely not those that portrayed riders as thrillseeking rockstars.

My personal favorites showcase the personalities of the riders and what they put into their riding, not just their tricks set to music. Sometimes a rider's strong personality seems to be revealed through his riding, as with Steven Hamilton, Ralph Sinisi, Mike Aitken, Troy McMurray, Ian Schwartz, Jim Cielincki, Bob Scerbo, Vic Ayala, Jeremy Davis, Jimmy Levan, Lino, Charlie Crumlish, the Enns, or Taj, to name but a few. (It's no coincidence that these are all guys I feel I could get along with outside of bike riding.)

Other times, it's achieved through the tasteful choices of filmers and editors. I can't, for the life of me, fathom why, in 2008, a producer would choose to include footage of a rider flipping off the camera. It's not merely lame--it's a fake gesture that, in my opinion, reveals the rider's discomfort in front of the camera. And I think those moments make the viewer uncomfortable and ruin the possibility of a good vibe. (More rambling thoughts on flipping the bird in this old blog post from 2006.) That Aaron would say our video has an "excellent vibe" means the world to me.

Chris Jones chain hop. Clayton, Missouri, 2006. Photo by TJ Henderson.

Beyond the simple goal of good vibes, I also had an editing/directorial/format concept in my head that I'd been waiting forever to see used in a mainstream video. I finally realized I'd have to create it myself if I ever wanted to see it. As Aaron wrote in an email to me, "I really liked how the music kind of took a back seat to the riding/background noise in a lot of that; not sure if that was your intention but it was definitely rad."

The sound was very intentional, and I'm psyched that Aaron noticed.

I recall watching some snowboard movie that was all shot on 16mm film. The cinematography was beautiful, but the only audio was the musical soundtrack. Then there would be a couple of 3ccd video clips mixed in, and those shots would have sound, and I would get a sudden surge of adrenaline at how comparatively real those moments felt.

Another time, Terry Gross was interviewing the director of The Bourne Ultimatum, and he talked about the work of the sound engineer. He described how important it was for the different international shooting locations to have their own distinct atmospheric sound character: how does a gunshot sound different, say, reverberating through crisp, empty, arctic air, versus through muggy jungle tropics, versus through angular, concrete cityscape? Sort of like thinking about the warm and cold tones that you have to deal with when color-correcting.

Those two experiences (the snowboard video and the interview) altered my awareness of sound, and when I started editing the video, I was thrilled by the raw aural textures of our bike riding footage. For a time, I even fantasized about making a video with no music whatsoever. But I figured that kind of conceptual art project would require a professional level of riding and some serious video-making clout in order to make sense. I think All Day did something similar for its intro--an extended montage of night-time lines, one clip from each of the Animal team riders. Really great, really well done. Not available on Youtube, that I'm aware of...

Since I didn't think I could pull off a video without music, I opted for tracks that were mostly pretty mellow, mostly without words--more like a film score than a music video, maybe. And I'm satisfied with the result.

So, when Aaron of NoBikes describes bmx is cute as "different," I hope people don't take it as a euphamism for "weak." And I don't believe in trying to be different for the sake of being different. We just made the video we wanted to make, a video that (I hope) represents bike riding authentically.

Thanks, Aaron. Glad you found it worthwhile.

the humble bmx is cute trailer:

Nov 21, 2008

Low-fashion skate kicks inspired by He Who Walked On Water. Yours for the price of shipping.

'Tis the season, I guess.

I acquired this pair of skate shoes from my cousin Connor, who inherited them from our cousin Mike, who purchased them in the spirit of irony from the now defunct, circa 2003 as I recall. Mike (not a skater or bike rider) wore them around on occasion. Connor never did. I intended to use them for riding, but there's just no way I can swing a size thirteen. So they've sat in my closet for a year, and now I'd rather have the space.

If any bike rider would like to have these, just paypal me the shipping cost, and they're yours. Email me to sort out the details.

While I'm not fundamentally opposed to Christianity or organized religion (I'm a practicing Baha'i), I am amazed and amused by the bald-faced commercialization of sacred things. I'd like to meet whomever designed these shoes.

"So," I'd say. "You stamped the Lord's name on a product destined to be smeared with mud and dog shit. How reverent."

Sep 13, 2008


After September 7th's post, I never saw Grasshopper on my car again. Tonight, as I sat on my patio, exploiting the wireless signal from some unknown neighbor, drinking coffee and getting lost in the depths of Wikipedia, this little fellow happened upon my screen. I set the computer down gently, ran and got my camera, and snapped this.

He's still there, antennae twitching, as I write. Young guy, looks like.

Sep 7, 2008

I Admire Your Tenacity, Young Grasshoppa.

Snapped this on my commute home Friday.

Perhaps you're familiar with these grasshoppers that have an incredible bright green color when they're very young. The entire body--eyes, head, abdomen, legs, antennae--is the same unreal color, like a delicate toy cast in plastic. (Their blood is green, according to Wikipedia.) Well, I spotted one chilling on the trunk of our car last Wednesday, as we headed out for errands. When I saw what appeared to be the same grasshopper on Thursday morning, I assumed that it was one of the original's cousins, maybe just attracted to the warmth of a dark-colored car.

Driving home on Friday, I was shocked to see the same grasshopper again, this time clinging to my side-view mirror, safely out of the wind, and I concluded that this was no coincidence. I spent the entire drive fumbling with my camera's exposure and flash, hoping to get a decent shot before he was inevitably gone, voluntarily or involuntarily. He appeared (Could it be?) ever so slightly larger, and a slightly less vibrant shade of green. "Wow, he's growing up fast," I thought.

I shared the pictures with my wife and visiting in-laws at dinner, and we all found it an amusing story.

We didn't drive anywhere on Saturday, and I didn't see him or think of him when we were running errands this Sunday afternoon. But we went out again tonight, and my wife and I thought of him, theorized what it all could mean, thought how ridiculous it would be to see him again. Jaime asked where on the car I'd seen him at the different times, and I told her it didn't seem like he had a particular favorite spot.

Not thirty seconds later, I shrieked when I saw him clinging to the windshield, resisting the 40 mph headwind. I slowed to a manageable 35 mph, Jaime narrated his every move, and I tried to focus on driving safely.

"Oh no, he's facing the wrong way, the wind is pulling at his wings!" she said. "Okay, he's turned back around....He's licking all his feet."

"He's licking his feet?! He licked all six feet?"

"No, just four... He didn't lick the back two... Okay, he's licking the fifth one now, he just needs to get the last one... Okay, he's got the last one, are you going to pull over?"

"Yes, there's a pull-out just ahead."

"What are you going to do? You know you can't help him," Jaime said, guarding the integrity of the symbolism.

"I know, I know. I just want to get another picture of him."

We pulled off, got out of the car, and tried not to startle him. He was still for a minute while I fired off a dozen pictures, and then he made his way across the top of the car to the rear windshield, where he stayed put.

Feeling a little better about that location, and with nothing left to do, we shrugged our shoulders, got back in, and resumed our outing.

As you can see in the final picture, his color has definitely changed. The green is almost completely gone. Soon I expect the yellow to be replaced with the dull brown/gray of maturity.

I will be inspecting the car regularly now and updating the blog daily until I'm sure he has left for good.

This must be how Tony Soprano felt about the ducklings in his swimming pool.


Grasshopper was a nice catalyst for a blog post.

I haven't posted in over a month, for reasons that are, ostensibly, good. I found work as an editor for the handbook and internal documents of a local health care management organization. Soon after starting there, I landed the news internship I'd been praying for at a well regarded alt-weekly, here in Portland. So I'm writing a ton, and loving it, but it doesn't leave much mental energy (or time) to apply to the blog. Furthermore, I'm studying for the GRE's (September 28th is the big day!), researching PhD programs and the possibility of moving, and trying to be a better husband and father, in support of my wife pursuing her professional and personal goals, and in support my own desire to be a less selfish person.

From one angle, all that logistical stuff should be wrapped up in a couple of months, and I could be feeling freer, riding the little bike more, blogging more. From another, I know that life tends to get more complicated, and I may never really feel "less busy."

Anyone else familiar with this sensation? My wife and I talk about the concept of "motion" all the time. Our life seems to follow a pattern, where we periodically end up complacent or stuck, not sure which goals we are working towards. Then one little event happens to energize us, and all of the sudden, life is crazy and flying by. And it's not just "I need a different job," and I start looking. It's like, when the motion kicks in, every aspect of our lives--professional, educational, creative, spiritual, emotional, personal, family--starts changing and advancing.

Thanks for reading. More on grasshopper tomorrow.