Skate Idol?

Besides the few minutes a week I spend talking about circus arts and unicorns, most of my free time is spent talking and thinking about my two favorite subjects, sports and music. And much of the time, I find myself rapping with my musician friends about sports and my sports friends about music. Everyone knows the joke that all musicians wish they were athletes and all athletes wish they were musicians, and while that’s more joke than truth (in reality, it’s the rest of us who wish we were either of them!) those two groups of folks have so much in common. Much of the time, they speak the same language without an awareness they’re even doing so.

A few weeks ago, I read a quote from Dave Grohl’s upcoming documentary “Sound City” that struck me as so spot-on and far reaching that I copied it and saved it in a word file. He was speaking about what shows like American Idol are doing to the mindsets and work ethic of young aspiring musicians, but he could have been talking about the current state of writing or sports or really, the current state of work in general. Young aspiring anythings (writers, musicians, athletes, artists … ) don’t want to do it. They want a shortcut to fame and money and success. (Six-pack abs in 4 minutes a day! A six-figure record deal in 4 easy steps!) They believe it’s possible because they see it happening to kids on TV.

But when you take a shortcut, you miss all the wonderful experiences you gain by taking the scenic route.  You miss the journey. Personally, I hate shortcuts.

I remember the first time I walked into the ESPN The Magazine offices as a 25-year-old freelancer fresh off a two-year stint at a cheerleading magazine and thought, “If someone offers me a chance, I will do anything they ask.” Transcribe tapes? Dream! Assist on interviews? Write 200-word blurbs? Clean the toilets? Yes! Yes! And Yes! I felt privileged to work. As a kid, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote bad fiction until it became less-bad fiction. I wrote my high school essays five different ways and turned them all in, just for the feedback. I even did that with my first few Mag stories, until I was informed that editors do not have time for that and encouraged to please get a hobby.

A few years later, I was put in charge of my own intern at ESPN. It took two weeks for him to ask me when he was going to write a feature for the magazine. And any chance it would be on the cover? “Also,” he said, “When do I get to stop working on these stupid action sports and get to work with the NBA guys?” He was still in college.

Anyway, that’s a long way to sharing Grohl’s quote with you. A week after saving that quote, I was in Florianopolis, Brazil, interviewing Pedro Barros, one of the best bowl skaters in the world and the two-time X Games skateboard park gold medalist. I asked him what he thought training facilities like Woodward and shows like the X Games were doing to his sport. You could transpose his answer over Grohl’s. He is 18. He hates shortcuts, too.

Dave Grohl, 44, former drummer for Nirvana; Foo Fighters founder, lead vocalist and guitarist 

“[American Idol] is destroying the next generation of musicians. Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy an old fucking drum set and get in the garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck too. And then they’ll fucking start playing and they’ll have the best time of their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys who had some shitty old instruments and starting playing some noisy ass shit and they became the biggest band in the world.”

Pedro Barros, 18, bowl skater and two-time X Games Skateboard Park gold medalist

“Kids see on TV that 540s are wining contests, so that’s all they work on. They don’t learn the other side of skating, what makes you a true skater. You see 6-year-old kids who can do 720s but can’t do a backside Smith grind and can’t even grind at all. When I was a kid, if my friends saw I knew how to do airs but couldn’t 50-50, they would say, ‘You did an air and bailed on a 50-50. What skater are you?’ They would be so harsh and it was good because I saw that was the real side of skating. With Mega, kids are going to Woodward and practicing so much to do certain things, but they can’t blend into other situations and skate anything. Guys who have been skating their whole lives, they will shred any place. That’s what I like seeing, people who can really skate.”

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