No matter what your actual theological beliefs are — devout Catholic, reborn Baptist, contemplative Buddhist, or staunch atheist — I’m arguing in this post that the Gods of Rollerblading are dead.
They’re dead, and each of us had a hand in killing them. There was a sort of metaphorical war waged against the cosmos of rollerblading, and it’s finally over. I think it was actually over quite a while ago, but almost no one knew it at the time.
What we see and experience in rollerblading now is, quite plainly, the aftermath of that war.
Personally, I would argue that the first salvo in the war to destroy our own gods was launched by Jason Marshall with a single trick way back in VG4, but before you go demonizing the good Mr. Marshall, let me tell you what I mean by that ostentatious claim.
If you’ll remember back to a little over a month ago, I got a few quotes from Dave Paine (editor and videographer of the VG series) on the topic of “disasters” to run in the June 10th Second Place post. During my interview with him, Dave told me about several obscure details from the bygone era, including his own take on what some of the VG titles meant. Specifically he told me that VG 3 (titled Not a Word) was meant to suggest to skaters to put their money where their mouth is; to talk less and spend more time letting the skating speak for itself.
Not long after that, he released VG 4, titled Puppets of Destiny—which he explained to me was meant as an encouraging nudge to rollerbladers to take their destiny into their own hands: to cut the puppet strings; to strike out alone, free from the meddling influence of a largely unimpassioned, non-skater-owned industry.
He was asking us to kill the things that were causing order in our rolling universe, to find our own way, and make our own order. In a single phrase: to make chaos of cosmos.
I’ve also heard that same sentiment called “exquisite mayhem” by a few people. Whatever the wording, it seems Dave Paine (with VG 4) was asking this murderous revolution of us, and in a way, predicting it.
I can’t imagine a more prophetic statement has been uttered in rollerblading since, because our rolling universe — now — is laden with all kinds of contradictions, problems, injustices, and scarcities — the order is gone from rollerblading.
But at least rollerblading is ours.
Say what you will about who’s pro and what’s good or bad. Say whatever you want. Personally, I prefer a world where rollerbladers are at the helm of rollerblading — not some clean and tidy system of order that imposes sanctions on our lives from the outside.
And I guess that’s what I mean by “god” in this case. Something external that gives order and reason to rollerblading. (More on this later).
So, to me anyway, this encouragement to fend for ourselves and embrace chaos over order is what makes Dave a kind of mythical Cassandra character — who was given the gift of prophecy, but cursed by a jilted Apollo so that no one would ever believe her statements.
Now, here is where the plot begins to thicken: in addition to the little pocket zine that accompanied VG 4, the video also included an exceptional profile of the young Jason Marshall (Senate, K2), who, as I said before, launched the first salvo in the war to destroy the Gods of Rollerblading in that very section.
Here’s the section:
The trick that I mentioned above (that first salvo, if you will) occurs at 0:17 seconds in and lasts only about two or three seconds. It’s what most of us would recognize (now) as an alley-oop topside soul.
It was a very big deal.
In fact, it was such a big deal (again, foresight by Dave Paine) that Dave included the trick very prominently (on page 4) in the little booklet that accompanied VG 4.
As you can see above, the trick gets recorded for posterity and named in the booklet as a “Blind 270 Farside Ally oop to rewind.”
It was revolutionary. In more ways than one.
Until that trick, no one had done an alley-oop farside (or topside) anything. Certainly nothing covered so prominently by our fledgling media. I was amazed when I saw it, and I know that most other rollerbladers were too.
Dave premiered VG 4 in what used to be called “The Swamp” at the Pennsylvania Woodward Camp. The Swamp was a large, carpeted room that had a VCR and a giant big screen TV—cutting edge shit at the time.
In the room watching Jason’s trick, some people cheered in amazement — remember, nothing like trick that had ever happened before — while others just sat there with gaping mouths, or they sat there quietly contemplating what the trick would mean for and do to rollerblading.
It was really too late though. The trick had been filmed months before that, and people in-the-know were already catching up and pushing things ever farther.
The sword of progress cuts through us.
Here’s where things get interesting.
For a start, if you’ll notice, the head noun of the fully expressed trick name is “Ally oop” (the name of the GRIND). Up until then, an “ally-oop” was a spin trick performed on a quarter-pipe, and it had to do with drifting your jump in the opposite direction of the spin. In the earliest days, “alley-oop” was the whole name for an alley-oop 180, but the “180” part wasn’t said as part of the manuever. After that, it dislodged from its grammatical class as a noun and transformed into an adjective. That means that you would say, for instance, that you did an “ally-oop 360” on a ramp. In that phrase, the trick (the head noun) is a 360. So the first thing we need to note here is that “ally-oop” changed its word class twice — from noun to adjective — but it also changed semantically from a jumping trick to a grinding trick.
(Some of the old guys reading this may recall when “alley-oop” was used to described a “forward pornstar” — yes, this happened. More on this in a moment).
The next thing has to do with naming.
It is customary in rollerblading culture that the first person to do a new trick gets to name it. To be specific, the first person to do the trick and have it circulated in media gets to name it.
The only exception to that seems to be that tricks are sometimes named after the person DOING the trick first (for instance, the “Makio” is named for Japanese skater Makio Miyazaki, and the “Fishbrain,” is stiled after Australian Tom Fry — whose nickname was “Fishbrain”). Around the same time as US skaters became aware of Tom Fry’s “Fishbrain” trick, an American named Phil Riley coined the trick “porn star” — which was “invented” in it’s backwards-grinding incarnation. Since “alley-oop” did not yet have a stable meaning, some skaters took “alley-oop” to mean something like “the opposite direction” and so, briefly, an “alley-oop pornstar” was what we all might NOW think of as a “forward pornstar.” But despite any confusion the naming convention was causing, it was still widely observed and respected by rollerbladers worldwide.
So anyway, when Jason Marshall did the first “alley-oop topsoul,” he wanted, rightfully so, to name it.
I spoke with Jason about this matter recently, and he told me that he wanted to call the trick a “soulless” (or to quote him directly a “soul-less”).
Stick with me here, his conceptualization is fascinating.
Jason explained his reasoning to me, saying that he understood that, given the spelling of “soul” as S-O-U-L and not S-O-L-E, the trick name was meant to be a pun, double entendre, or conflation of “having a soul” rather than referring to the SOLE (position) of a foot in a grinding stance. Grinding (in that stance) in the opposite direction could therefore be conceptualized as having the opposite semantic content. In this case, the opposite of “having a soul” would simply be “NOT having a soul.” Hence, the “soulless.”
Since this goes along with my theme of killing off our own god(s), I should point out the strange coincidence that this trick is what set it all in motion. The first trick to challenge the conceptual system — and to be largely ignored by the systematic (albeit confusing) naming convention was Jason Marshall’s “soulless” trick. Surely that’s only a coincidence, but it’s nonetheless an intriguing one.
Now, I said before that I’d come back to what it means to kill off your own god. This is what I mean by that: A common thread through the history of religions is the worship of certain deities, the purpose of which is to give order and purpose to the human experience. When your experience ceases to have order and purpose, you have to look at what you’ve done to get there.
In our case, it was pushing the limits of the “old order” to the point of breakage. When Jason Marshall did that first “soulless,” it was quite simply beyond the scope of our language and conceptual structure.
Essentially, no one knew what to make of it, and no one knew what to call it. Jason took a swing at naming it, but his description didn’t stick. Dave Paine took a swing at naming it, and his attempt fared no better.
We couldn’t just call it a “Marshall soul,” because Jason’s trick was more than simply a new variation of familiar trick — it was conceptually different, and more than that, it was an entire sequence: it was an approach, a spin, an orientation, a grinding position, and a dismount.
At that time, no entire sequence had a singular name. Tricks were described piecemeal in the fashion I just described: one part at a time, in the chronological order in which the trick proceeded.
Let me say a few more words about that.
What I said before about a “god” or “gods” that give order and purpose to our chosen activity is really what’s on the line here. The old conceptual system relied on tricks being fairly binary, and that was reflected in the language we used. Tricks were, for the most part, forward facing and either frontside or backside. Backwards-facing tricks (or what some of now think of as “alley-oop” tricks) were only just beginning to happen (like Phil Riley’s “porn star”).
The last thing on anybody’s mind was combining a blind spin with an alley-oop (spin) AND a backwards-grinding trick. If the language and conceptual system couldn’t support or explain the tricks, where was the order?
What was the purpose of skating if we couldn’t even explain what it was we were doing? Our gods were slipping away, and we were all pushing forward, ever further, ever faster toward a destination unknown.
When we abandoned the safe and orderly world of tricks simply happening either frontside or backside, we launched a war on the rollerblading gods, who were rapidly becoming the “gods of old” — gods that were out of touch, gods that were lacking in sophistication and sufficient capacity to provide purpose and order.
And so we killed them.
We made new tricks and new names, and, more importantly, new conceptualizations of what it was we were doing, and what it was we were doing it for.
See, one of the things that’s built-in to the old system, was some sense that the regular public — what I’ll call the ESPN public — had to understand what we were doing. When our tricks became beyond the scope of our language, it was only a matter of time before our public audience would fall off as well.
And there’s a special reason for that. It’s a fancy term that comes from Cognitive Psychology and it’s called “cognitive load.” A cognitive load has to do with what something means, and it pertains specifically to how complicated the thing is. To put that another way, the cognitive load of a word covers all the meanings that somebody can possibly pull out of a word without any other words in the phrase to help out.
Some words have a very small cognitive load, like the word “rabbit.” In normal usage, there is ordinarily only one thing that word specifies: the furry little animal that hops around and eats lettuce and carrots. But some skating words have a very high cognitive load.
If you go back and consider (as I did in my first *real post here on Second Place), what farside used to mean, what you have is a word that had to specify a skater’s path, approach, and orientation to a rail, along with the skater’s stance on the rail, and even further, it had to specify the SHAPE of the rail! (Round vs. Square).
That’s a huge difference in cognitive load compared to something like my “rabbit” example above.
So what we have is a situation in which we’d pushed the limits beyond what was previously thought of as something like “safe” and “orderly”, and we pushed past the conceptual foundation of our own language, beyond what even WE could describe, and we abandoned the idea of looking toward a public and corporate infrastructure (ESPN, ASA, NISS, etc.) to the point of no turning back.
So that’s what I meant when I said we killed our own gods. We abandoned the things that gave order and purpose to rollerblading because, quite simply, we wanted more. We wanted more and we were willing to hazard everything in our pursuit of ever more dangerous, ever more complicated forms of skating.
And so, as the title to this article implies, what we’re left with, here, alone on the world as isolated mortals, are conundrums like the Truespin verses Alley-oop debacle.
What you often get is a lot of short-sighted people who say things like, “You can’t TRUESPIN to an ALLEY-OOP! — TRUESPIN already implies alley-oop!”
The shortsightedness of people making those kinds of arguments and remarks comes from their inability to see that this world of rollerblading — the one we have now — is what a world without gods looks like.
We are mere mortals with no central authority or deity dictating what things are to be called, how our language should work, and what tricks are worth doing. We’re making it all up ourselves.
It’s exquisite chaos and we need no gods.
But with that leap (the leap we took back when Jason Marshall did that alley-oop topsoul) comes with both consequences and responsibilities.
One of the consequences is that our language is inconsistent. We have terms like truespin and alley-oop that, at times, contradict each other. In one sense, alley-oop is a trick; in another, it’s a spin; and in still another sense, it’s a modifier used to describe a skater’s approach to and orientation down the trajectory of a rail.
The problem is that sometimes, rollerbladers take the term truespin to already imply a forwards approach, coupled with a 270 (blind) spin as a “rail-mounting” technique. In that interpretation, it’s absolutely redundant to say something like “truespin alley-oop soul,” because you don’t technically need the “alley-oop” in there to make sense of it.
For my part, I still include the “alley-oop” in there because I think it adds clarity. Even though there are some grammatical redundancies, the trick being described is still conveyed unambiguously. And that, to me, is the whole point of rollerblading language: to put a picture in your head of what someone did, and do so in a way that identifies us all has having a shared culture — a culture in which we’ve all got a shared destiny, without guidance, without gods.
The bright ship Humana is well on its way, with grave determination and no destination.
I know that this has been a very long post compared to what I normally write, and so I want you to know that I’m very appreciative of you sticking with me this long.
I also want to say that if you’ve ever pushed the limits of skating, you’ve had a hand in the ways things are now. So it’s very important that we all take personal responsibility for the contributions we’ve made to the current state of rollerblading.
With that, I want to leave you with one final thought from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who was the first to announce to the world that humanity had destroyed god. Remember back at the start when I said we all had a hand in killing our god? That came from Nietzsche.
And in regards to the people who could not come to terms with their complicity in the act of killing of god, he said: “Diese Tat ist ihnen immer noch ferner, als die fernsten Gestirne, und doch haben sie dieselbe getan!”
That well-known German phrase translates into English as: “This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars — and yet they have done it themselves.”
To that much, at least, we can no longer claim ignorance.
Thanks for reading.
*This post was composed to an Electrelane song (on repeat) of that quote from Nietzsche just above. It’s worth a listen if you have time.