HUCK travels to West Chester, Pennsylvania, to get up-close and personal with Bam Margera, skating’s most recognisable star.
Getting punched in the face fucking sucks. It’s not how it is in the movies at all, when a character gets popped super hard and is back on his feet trading punches with the enemy moments later. Real-life punching is a crippling, horrific experience epitomised by four knuckles – and maybe even a ring – connecting with someone’s soon-to-be-swollen, bleeding and agonising-in-pain face.
For this reason alone I became utterly shocked and a bit horrified when I first witnessed two individuals clock each other in the face – not maliciously, but willfully. The two lunatics I’m talking about were Bam Margera and his friend, Brandon DiCamillo, and the video was Toy Machine’s Jump Off A Building. The array of Jackass-style buffoonery interspersed throughout Bam’s skate part would introduce the world to his demented body-destroying humour. The casual violence executed and endured by Bam and buddies made me feel stunned, appalled and intrigued. I suddenly looked at Bam, not just as an outrageously talented skater, but as completely out of his mind.
A staple in the East Coast skate scene since he was a tike, Bam made his mark in a late H-Street video doing a blunt to fakie on a giant vert wall. In time, he would make a series of appearances in mags and videos, establishing himself as a hungry amateur. But it wasn’t until Bam started riding for Toy Machine that his obsession with filming himself and his buddies acting like maniacs became televised to the public. His antics soon evolved into a series of videos dedicated almost exclusively to Bam’s signature fuck-around, hurt-yourself footage in a succession of colourful productions. The infamous Landspeed Wheels video, Landspeed: CKY, evolved into the CKY franchise, which in turn spawned MTV hit shows Jackass, Viva La Bam and, most recently, Bam’s Unholy Union.
A lot has changed since Bam’s early days as a kid known strictly in the core-skate world. He’s pretty much a household name now, has millions in the bank, his own production company, record label, tons of high-profile sponsors, a Sirius radio show, and a character in Tony Hawk’s video game. He has produced, directed, and acted, and he’s even fallen prey to the paparazzi, thanks to widespread rumours that he hooked up with Jessica Simpson.
There are a million things that could be triggered by the thought of Bam and his career, but for some reason, just one particular thought always hits me. When I think of Bam, I regularly recount the voiceover from the Viva La Bam intro going, “What will he do next?” and Bam responding, “Whatever The ‘Beep’ I Want.” I don’t know why I keep thinking of this succession of words. Maybe it’s because Bam Margera, at twenty-eight years of age, can in fact do pretty much whatever the fuck he wants.
It’s a warm Saturday morning as I embark on a mission to Bam’s house, aka Bamland, to see just what goes down in the real life of the skating world’s most famous masochistic celebrity. His home is a good three and a half hours away from New York City in the absolute bumble-fuck sticks of West Chester, Pennsylvania.
As the rental speeds through an infinite cattle-grazing landscape, my mind turns to an interview I did with Bam a few months ago. At the time, he was in the throes of locking himself within his in-home editing suite to cut his new film, Minghags, which he co-wrote, starred in, directed and completely funded. “Yeah, I’ve spent about $230,000 so far, but I own all of the equipment already so I don’t have any camera rental fees,” he told me then. The script had been sitting around for two years, but Bam was far too busy filming Viva La Bam and then Bam’s Unholy Union to work on it. “As soon as I finished nine episodes of Bam’s Unholy Union I was like, ‘Fuck it, I don’t give a shit. I’m reserving, like, three months of my life for this movie and I’m getting it done before I commit to any other project.’” The film’s now in the bag and ready for release. With any luck, I might get a sneak peek during my visit.
Upon arrival, I remember the instructions from Bam’s publicist: “Call Missy, Bam’s wife, when you get to the gate.” Bam mentioned he’d often be hounded by fans, many of whom would show up at the gate to shoot photos of themselves standing there – and then hang around for hours in the hope of getting a glimpse of him. This time, however, Bam’s pad is a groupie-free zone. I pull up and phone up Missy, who promptly gives me the code. I punch it in and it slowly opens. For some reason, I drive up Bam’s driveway cautiously. To my left a giant, plastic Santa Claus is strung to a tree like some kind of effigy. Next to it sits an official-looking sign that reads ‘Serious As Shitwater’. To my right, another sign reads ‘9 of Novak’s Dicks = 1 Of Frantz’s Dicks’. The driveway has a six-coloured rainbow overlooked by an assortment of huge, flamboyantly painted fibreglass animals. On its outskirts sit the famous cement banks that MTV paid for. They curve around a bend leading to a strip of three garage doors, each with a strange individual painting on it. One is of Osama Bin Laden wearing a 76’ers jersey and spinning a basketball on his finger. Another, of Lance Bass from N’ Sync in astronaut attire. And the last one is of Ronald Reagan. Next to the detailed portrait sit the words, ‘Fuck Reagan, he’s a fuck-ass’.
I suddenly get a strange feeling in my stomach. Where the hell am I?
While most success stories are comprised of a history of trial, error and coming into one’s own, it seems that Bam didn’t have to try all that much to get to where he’s at. “I basically did exactly what I wanted to do since day one,” he says. “As soon as I put my hands on a skateboard I knew that’s what I wanted to do and as soon as we got this haggard-ass VHS camera I was like, ‘Holy Shit! You can film yourself and watch it on TV, this is awesome!’ So I knew I wanted to be on TV.”
Wanting to focus on skating full-time, Bam dropped out of school on the first day of tenth grade. He considered going back when his first girlfriend’s dad convinced him that skating was a dead-end profession. “I was pretty much what you could call whipped and her dad almost talked me into going back to school. I was literally considering going to college and shit,” laughs Bam. “Three years after we broke up, I pulled up to Wa Wa’s, which is basically the East Coast’s 7-Eleven. Her dad and his wife had to watch me put gas in my Ferrari while they filled up their Chevrolet.” I suppose his ex’s dad never considered that a skater would ever make more money in a year than he could in a lifetime.
As I park and exit my rental, I take in the property. It is fucking enormous, fourteen acres in total. A friend of Bam’s lets me in and then leaves me to wait. The first floor of his home is dark and littered with pictures of Bam and his new wife, Missy, including a giant wedding photo of the two that hangs near the kitchen table.
I can’t help but wonder what Bam was thinking when he decided to tie the knot. After all, he did just recently go through a messy break up with his ex-fiancée and, to be honest, the guy can have sex with just about any girl he wants. “I just wasn’t into the last two years of my previous relationship. I hated it so bad,” Bam tells me about his ex, Jenn Rivell. “I just didn’t know how to end it ’cause I was scared that she would kick my Lamborghini in and break my computers and trash my house, which she did,” he says laughing. Fed up with the inconsistencies in his long-term relationship, Bam stepped aside and pretty much let his celebrity status work to his advantage. “I humped twenty-five girls behind my ex-girlfriend’s back and I don’t regret it one bit,” Bam proudly exclaims. “Anytime I would fly to California I would have a girlfriend there. I’d fly to Barcelona, I’d have a girlfriend there, Finland… I would just have all these secret numbers on lockdown. It was pretty fun actually.”
After spending some time single and raging harder than ever, Bam was reunited with Missy, whom he’d known since the eighth grade. Once they got together, she changed his life for the better. “When I look at Jackass Two, I’ll admit it – we were just shitbag wasted non-stop – whether it was booze or pills or whatever,” he says. Since getting married, he wakes up at a reasonable hour, doesn’t drink as much and at the end of the day is able to get more work done than he ever did before.
As I make my way up the spiral staircase, I’m greeted by a giant, lit Heartagram, the logo of Finnish rock band HIM and centrepiece of this wooden gothic interior. On the next floor up, the walls are decorated with every pro board of Bam’s. Soon enough, Bam surfaces from bed alongside Missy and her mother. Missy mentions in passing that she wants to learn how to skate on Bam’s new ramp – the $120,000 mega-ramp that was built in his yard some seven months prior. With no sneakers to skate in, Missy and Bam decide to head to Fairman’s skate shop in town and trade in some product for sneakers. Bam’s mother-in-law is leaving hints at wanting to see Bam skate. “I’ve never even seen you skate, you know that!?” she says to Bam, wide-eyed, seemingly still star-struck by her own newly appointed son.
We head outside and Bam hops onto a four-wheeler, one of many he often rides on his backyard dirt track. As Missy and I follow on foot, the giant ramp soon becomes visible. It’s enormous – but the mere fact that his yard is the size of multiple football fields somehow makes it appear small. I survey the beautiful monstrosity that is Bam’s ramp as he warms up, taking a few runs. “I just have fun doing miller flips on the mini ramp and doing the longest tailslide I can. I don’t know how Andrew Reynolds does it. I see him jump down stair after stair after stair. If I do that I have to prepare to start an editing project for six days ‘cause I’m not gonna be walking,” says Bam about his laid-back approach to being a professional skateboarder these days. “I really have fun skating my ramp because the only people that come to skate it are the people that know the code, which is friends.”
Bam is an impressive skater and exciting to watch. His mother-in-law is here too, witnessing him make the most of his ramp as he manhandles the transition effortlessly. After dropping in on the massive two-storey, steep-ass roll-in, Bam carves around the giant gap that bridges a good eight-foot drop. It’s insane. After doing it, he tells me how his friend Brandon Novak broke both legs trying the very same thing, bailing in mid-carve and smashing into the corner of the oncoming transition. Did I mention that Bam pretty much just woke up?
“Which car do you want to take?” Missy asks as we exit through the front door, passing his massive editing room. “Let’s take the Hummer,” answers Bam. We pile in and take off. As we speed into town, I wonder if people in passing cars take notice of his celebrity. Bam points to a small body of water on our right and proudly exclaims, “I drove through that river the other night,” before giving me the blurry drunken details of the evening when his friend Ryan Gee bet him he couldn’t make it to the other side. Bam made it.
I bring up Jackass: Number Two and how I think it’s just so much gnarlier than the first. “I still have those bullet wounds in my stomach and there’s one on my hand,” says Bam about the violent rubber bullet scene. “That shit hurt so bad. But when I got branded on the ass it hurt pretty bad, too. I wore the same jeans for ten days straight with an open wound and it got so fuckin’ infected. The infection hurt 800 times worse than the actual brand,” he says, describing how he was rushed to hospital after his mum poured peroxide on his branded ass. “She said it wouldn’t hurt, and it stung so bad. I was screaming in pain for, like, fifteen minutes.” Unable to control my laughter, I ask why the fuck he’d want to destroy himself willingly? “I just do it ‘cause I want to one-up Jackass one and then I just want to make my friends laugh and my fans laugh as well and give ’em my best rather than a half-assed piece of shit.”
When we get back from town, Bam shows his fully padded wife how to cautiously roll up and down a small part of his ramp’s transition. After skating some more, he heads back to the house on the four-wheeler with Missy and two skateboards on the back. Once inside, I’m invited to watch a rough version of Minghags, which he had just finished cutting a few weeks earlier. As I watch intently, Bam comes and goes, sitting down in intervals, eating cookies, sometimes watching it with me. The movie is ridiculous, bizarre and funny. I thank Bam for the screening before deciding that I better leave if I want to survive the unlit maze of roads before nightfall.
As I make my way towards the freeway, I think about Bam’s life. He’s doing exactly what he always wanted to – and then some. And the truth is, if he hasn’t yet accomplished something, he now has the money, contacts, resources and balls to do it. That damned Viva La Bam intro pops into my head again and echoes repeatedly to my utter dismay. Just then I recall something Bam said some time earlier when we spoke on the phone: “I just want to make funny movies and keep skating and do music videos for bands. I would prefer it without all the fanfare, but I’ll deal with it, ’cause at the end of the day, I get to do what I want to do.”
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