Skateboarding's dark genius reveals the inner workings of his disenchanted mind, and why he swapped the American Dream for the solitary life of a writer in France.
It’s not easy to sum up the man that is Scott Bourne. He’s a maker, a man of great action and a man of even greater words. He’s a writer, a novelist, a poet, a thinker, a fearless believer in oneself and above all, an artist. His refusal to compromise has led him on a path that is as much self-reliant as it is absolutely free. Yet lingering somewhere behind these many incarnations, Scott is also a professional skateboarder. Unlike most pros, Scott has always chosen to use his voice to speak about more than what is essentially riding a wooden toy – firmly stating his beliefs in hopes of inspiring a fresh take on the world.
Four years ago, Scott fled to France from his long-time residence in San Francisco, seeking solace from an inescapable disenchantment surrounding him in the States. It was in France that Scott continued to skate and write extensively. Spending much of his time in utter seclusion, he went on to complete a novel and a collection of poetry, the latter being recently published by one of Scott’s sponsors, Carhartt.
As I corresponded with Scott via phone and e-mail, he was in the process of banging away at a 1930’s typewriter, well on his way to the completion of his second novel. These are his words, laid bare.
HUCK: Where did you grow up?
Scott Bourne: A small town called Plantation in Florida. I was two when my family left for Virginia, then I believe five when we moved to Carolina… North! That’s where I was raised up in a Southern light.
What was your upbringing like?
My father was a minister, stern and strong, a truly wonderful human being. To this day he is the only true holy man I have ever known. Even though I do not believe in the god he loved and cherished, I have no doubt that my father is in his heaven now. The human mind is that strong. My mother was a Tennessee girl with deep Southern roots. She needed tall trees, open fields, a garden, fresh food, a rocking chair, her children, her man, and a cold beer on the porch in the evening. My father bought her the small family farm where I was raised and my mama raised up his sons.
When did you move to California? Was it strictly to pursue skateboarding? How long were you there?
I think I was twenty when I went and finally stayed. I never went to California with that kind of dream. I went to escape my history. I was partially embarrassed to be a farm boy and when I left I ran as far as I could get. I felt dirty and I was trying to outrun it. Southern and unforgivably so. Born of bad blood, dirty blood. Some sort of internalised sensation that one is dirty and no matter what he does with himself he will always have this dirty sensation associated with these deep Southern roots. That accent and those half words of which I have worked so hard to dilute, erase, escape, that place, its ways, my homeland… The South! I was raised on ghosts, phantoms, superstition, folklore, moonlight and moonshine… this is what it means to be raised Southern, an un-natural connection with the natural ways of the spirit within and around. To know things you don’t necessarily wanna know, to make up words and give them meaning. A religious howl, a Bible belt, a small Southern church, just a white box below a crucifix. Smashed glass on railroad tracks and a train whistle to take us away.
How long have you lived in France?
It’s been a little over four years. I lived in the French countryside for a solid year. Then moved into Paris about three years ago. I constantly travel throughout the world, but now I return to France instead of the US.
What brought you to France?
A series of epochs starting with a break-up with a young woman I was very much in love with. I know now that much of that break-up was based around all kinds of world experiences I was having and could not relate to her. I began to fall out of love with America and the one person that I had always been able to relate to was not relating anymore. I took a lot of this out on her in many different ways. As a result… she left me. Good girl, it was well deserved. We had other issues as well but the bottom line was without her there was little to tie me to the States. I packed my bags and left.
You mentioned that you were once a very patriotic American. What led you to abandon that sentiment and leave the country completely?
Americans will buy whatever you sell them. They need no sales pitch. You tell them that George W Bush is president and they say, ‘OK, George W Bush is president’. I mean, come on! The problem is not that George W Bush is the president; the problem is that everyone knows that the elections were rigged and no one protested. ‘The greatest country in the world’ and no one stood up and said, ‘Hey, man! This is criminal!’ They just went back to work. Kept the machine rollin’. They have got you sedated! I have totally lost faith in the Americans. America is headed for a crash. It’s Machiavellian. It can’t go on. No country can be conquered unless it wants to be conquered. The Americans really look as if they want to be conquered. I have never been against oppressors. The strong survive and flourish, while the weak starve and perish. It’s natural in any species. What I am against and dreadfully against are those who let themselves be oppressed. Those who can’t stand up, won’t stand up or just don’t. Those who are scared to fight, scared to believe, scared to have any meaning worth dieing for… for me it seems natural that these people be oppressed. To me, it’s as if someone were simply taking care of them… giving them orders they could not give themselves. These are the followers and I have always been against followers. Men who have no ideas of their own! Followers are the most dangerous men in the world!. Before I experienced other parts of the world I was defiantly patriotic. I had nothing to compare America to. For years I kept a folded flag on my pillow at home. I had seen forty-eight out of fifty states by the time I was twenty-one. I love that land, its desert planes and smoky mountain peaks, but the land is not the country. The land is the Earth, now I am her citizen, and when I hear the word ‘America’ I do not think of the land, the country, the Earth I love. I think of a violent government that is doing serious harm to the land, the country and the Earth.
What’s your take on the environment?
Nature is supreme! Tampering with it is where man will find out just how small he really is. The environment as far as man is concerned is reaching apocalyptic proportions. It can’t hold out. The one thing that is stunning to me is that there is actually a hole in the ozone layer, and no one seems to care. The one thing that we know separates us from every other planet in the known universe, and we have knocked a cancerous hole in it. At present there is a toxic black hole of plastic in the middle of the ocean that is killing it. No ocean, no life anywhere on Earth, and for what? Coca-cola bottles? Humans baffle me! What do they think is going to happen when nature is done with our abuse? It’s going to expel the disease, which is humanity.
Is it true that you didn’t learn to read until you were nearly ten years old?
I was extremely dyslexic as a child. The school system was bad and I was simply stuck in the ‘special’ classes until my sixth grade year when my mother threatened to pull me out of school if they didn’t admit me into normal classes. She had seen me fire a rifle by sighting with my left eye (yes, I had a gun in my hands at that age). This was abnormal. I fired off my right shoulder so I should have sighted with my right eye. I naturally chose the stronger eye to sight with much like when one first steps on a skateboard he naturally chooses whether he is goofy or regular. My mother realised that something was wrong with my eyes and took me to see a specialist. They began to help me with my condition, but it was my mother who single-handedly taught me how to read by sounding words out. I later found out this was called phonics and is still how I read and approach words I have never seen before. I owe my mother everything! Without her I may have been forced into being ‘special’ all my life.
What are you doing now to make up for those years of academic learning lost?
Everything! I never read anything throughout high school or at least very little. I did what I had to do to get by. It was hard for me to read and I read very slowly. I lived in constant fear that I would be called on to read aloud in class. That all the other kids would find out I couldn’t read, laugh at me and I would end up back in the ‘special’ classes. I became a master con man. I was on the honour role all through my high school years but read very little. Now I am going back and reading all the literature I missed out on in school. I’ve read just about all ‘the greats’, and a lot of what I would call ‘the underdogs’. I’ve read the Bible, Saroyan, Kazantzakis, Finnegan, Durrell, Mirabeau, Buten, Barbusse, Hamsom, Hoffer and Pirandello. I’ve started The Decline of the West so many times I can’t count, and one day I will struggle through that one too but for a long time I was turned off to anything that I had been assigned to read in school.
What did you hope to find in France?
Escape… that’s all. I had to get away from all the chatter around me; all the mindless babble you hear every day. In France I did not know the language so it was easy to not be disappointed in my fellow man. As I have said before, I do not hate the Americans, I am one of them. I spent thirty wonderful years in America and I hope to get thirty years out of France or Europe but the truth is at the moment it’s no better here. Now France has Sarkozy, and my French is good enough to know that the common people are common wherever you go. People talk about nothing, people pour great concern into nothing, their powers and strengths are greatly misdirected. They are kept hypnotised by the media and the Internet. They walk these beautiful streets locked into a cell phone conversation about nothing at all… and all the while these beautiful buildings look down on them in laughter. Our generations have become invisible and we are leaving nothing of value behind.
How do you feel about our generation’s growing reliance on technology?
When I walk the streets of this city I am forced to admire the beauty of what our forefathers left behind, and, to tell you the truth, I have also become embarrassed by what our generation will leave behind. But then I realised that we would leave nothing behind. Nothing that is digital is stable. All that bad music in the iTunes Store will one day disappear. All this goofy digital photography and art will one day too. That photo you carry of your child in your cell phone will vanish. One day you may not have a single picture of your infant son. In 2008 paper is still the longest lasting way to store data. Vinyl is second. Bob Dylan will outlast us all. We are systematically erasing our history via e-mail and digital file! I recently saw Carolyn Burke speak about the biography she did on Lee Miller. At the end of the question and answer she urged everyone to write letters. She said as of recent there is a real threat that in the future biographers will not be able to find any information regarding their subjects. She said almost all of what she found out about Lee came from letters that Lee wrote to her editor at Vogue. The same will be true of photography. We are disappearing! Your parents sent love letters, you send text and e-mails. Which means that one day your daughter will never stumble through a box and find the long-lost letters where you confess your love to her mother. She may never know of that love or the story of her parents. She may never know what she looked like as an infant! This is the world our generation is up against. Tic, toc, tic, toc, tic, toc!
How do you think this will affect our world in the future?
The backlash will be catastrophic. Because of the Internet we don’t even need education any more. All one needs is the ability to use an iPhone and navigate the web. Education ‘as we know it’ may one day become extinct. Universities abandoned like old factories or simply a luxury for the super elite. It’s already started to happen. You have derelicts like myself running large companies. The plus is that anyone with a curious mind can find the information, but do they retain it? You can find something on the Internet in seconds that it took me hours, sometimes days to find in a library, but as a result I retain most of what I search for and much I did not search for. We value things we have to work for. With the Internet we do not have to exercise our minds so we no longer retain the information. It has no value. We are becoming inhuman by design. Technology erases memory. You don’t even know a single number in your cell phone, but if you are from my generation I am sure you still remember your very first telephone number. A number you probably have not used in years.
Could you talk a bit about your book? Do you think that it will surprise people who think they know what you’re about?
The book had been burning a hole in my head for close to a decade. I was making money from skateboarding at the time as well as travelling the world. So the writing took a back seat, but I continued to write down ideas I had and ideas I wanted to explore until I finally reached the pinnacle that caused me to leave America. When I finally sat down to hammer it out, it took me almost two years. The book is not a memoir at all. You will never read the book and see my skateboarding career, and if you do, you are a very clever reader because it is hidden within. As for any ‘fans’ reading the book, yeah, I pretty much think that everyone who thinks they know me or know what I am about will have their idea altered greatly.
You mentioned that you feel lonely and bored around people but when you’re at home, secluded, you feel content. Why is that?
It’s just that people bore me and I am never bored when I’m alone. It took me a long time to understand this and cope with it, because the truth is that I really do want to be around people but in the end I just end up disappointed with not being able to connect with them. In my own company I do not have to entertain other people. This is something I am done with. I am constantly reading, writing, thinking, or in some sort of study or adventure with the world. I have too much to do and I know that one day I must die. I do not want to waste time ‘hanging out’. I have things in my head and heart that I want to make tangible as well as understandable. In order to do that I cannot spend time around other people that do not add to this process. This doesn’t mean that I do not enjoy life; it simply means that I really enjoy life, that I love it too much to let it slip away in the company of people that I do not value and admire. I want to surround myself with stellar people and I hope that the people that invite me into their lives feel the same about me.
As a creator, do you think it’s valuable to use personal experience and first-hand interaction with people to bring your words closer to real life?
It’s essential if you want your story to be believable. Your experience is what makes the characters credible, brings them to life and gives them colour. I can put you on the back of a freight train, in a fist fight or convince you that making love is like pressing wine. That’s experience!
As a person with very strong beliefs, do you think you can come across as threatening? Most don’t take well to opinions that aren’t the norm. Do you find you need to be cautious in your interactions with people?
No way, not anymore. Do I look cautious? I used to feel that way, but if I do not say it, who will? I don’t mind if I offend people. It’s my personal belief that if someone should dislike what I say then that’s his or her right. I also reserve that right and I am offended by a lot of things that I am subjected to that people accept as the norm without so much as a single question. Look at what Orwell was writing in 1949. Many thought he was a fool! Now we are living in his nightmare. He wasn’t an author as much as a prophet. We are the proof. He writes about ‘Telescreens’ in every home that watch us. Now everyone has a computer with a camera in it. They watch you as much as you watch your friends and loved ones. If you’re on Myspace or Facebook, they look at everything you post, your interests and your friends’ interests. You buy on the Internet and they know what you consume. You post pictures and they know where you vacation. When you pull up your e-mail you get an ad for something in your buying criteria… and you consume again! It’s 1984! You are being watched and the funny thing is, you love it. You paid to have this eye in your life watching your every move. Do I sound paranoid? No! These companies openly admit to watching you and justify it by ‘giving you what you want’. This is how they fluctuate the economy that began with credit cards, the first way to watch what you consume. This isn’t rocket science and yeah, I am bummed that my generation has bought into it. I’m bummed that anyone would think I’m the crazy one, that my thoughts and reactions to such things are not ‘normal’!
You also mentioned that you no longer identify yourself as a skateboarder. What, if anything, do you identify yourself as being at moment?
I do not know if I ever identified myself as a ‘skateboarder’. It’s just that at one time that word most accurately described my person. Skateboarders are a very closed circle and often shut out anyone or anything that is not part of that circle. I just can’t identify myself with that circle anymore. I am wide open to the world and as a result ‘skateboarders’ have called me just about everything imaginable. Conservative, Preacher, Idealist, Elitist, I have even been called a Yuppie and a Snob… it’s incredible! Me… the tattooed farm boy runaway… a Yuppie? Who would have ever thought it? Well, if having a clean hair cut, putting on a tie from time to time and enjoying the use of manners makes me a Conservative… then I’m a Conservative. If sharing my experiences makes me a Preacher… so be it. If I am an Elitist because I do not have time to waste ‘hanging out’ with people who do not stimulate me, then fine, I’m an Elitist. If someone wants to call me a Snob or a Yuppie because I have developed a taste for finer things… be it food, wine, or theatre, then yes, I am a Yuppie. I have paid dearly for all these privileges that I now enjoy, and yes, I do consider them privileges, privileges well paid for. I have been very fortunate in my life. What experiences I have had I have taken the most I could possibly get from them. These experiences have made me a ‘man’, and that is the group that I would like to be a part of now… humanity. Much of the common man’s perspective is born of jealousy, and lack of experience or education. I don’t go for it anymore. I don’t care what they call me. I have friends in very, very high circles; I also have friends in the lowest of low. When I use the term friend I do not use it lightly. There are many wonderful and different people in my life, and I take whatever opportunities to learn from them that they present. I have learned much from skateboarders, but skateboarding is just a small sub-culture of mankind that does not want to have contact with the outside world. I am trying to make contact… real contact. Are you out there?
Being that your dad was a preacher, what’s your take on organised religion? Do you believe in an almighty creator?
I have more respect for my father than I could ever convey with words in an interview. He was a rock, a mighty man in every respect. He taught me about The Lord, and read to me from the bible… but he also taught me about myself. Taught me that every man had his own path, and not to be scared to go down it. Mine is away from myths, away from godly punishments and test. Mine is away from the systematic separation and destruction of the human spirit through organised religion. A process that puts the world in constant war over fictitious beliefs that no one shall ever be able to substantiate. My sin is my experience. I live and learn. As for my god, I will simply call her nature, the cosmos, the unexplainable of which I need no explanation to admire! In order to believe in the god that religion has given us one must perceive the world as a work of infinitely less beauty than it actually is. There is no god here and the idea that no one has stopped man from acting like a god is only further proof of that.
What about the cross on the cover?
That’s simple! Jesus is my favourite character in literature. On top of that, he is the most influential man in human history. Whether he is real or not is irrelevant to this fact. If you have not read his story, I urge you to. He is the world you live in. The reason things are as they are.
Tell me about the two-hundred-year-old French castle you recently stayed in, and how it sparked notions about the fall of humanity?
Everything there is beautiful, made with human hands, and has value and meaning. Hand-woven wallpaper, marble stairs and mantle pieces. Elaborately carved chairs, tables and banisters. Do you realise that two-hundred years from now nothing we have done will be considered an antique? Nothing will last that long, nor will it have meaning. Erased again! Will anyone want a disposable Ikea coffee table two-hundred years from now? No! And it will not last that long. The slow decline of humanity is coming to a head in our generation. We really have to stop creating and buying things that are destined for the landfill.
Where did your interest in philosophy stem from? Has the philosophy that you’ve read over the years influenced your outlook on life?
I have ideas and, as a result, I was naturally drawn to other thinking men. The play of ideas is far more important than the answers. The play is mind exercise of which modern man is no longer getting. He Googles everything at any given time. He’s no longer exercising his mind. Philosophy is nothing more than the use of the mind. Reading or speaking with other thinking minds has certainly affected me. It has allowed me to see things from a different standpoint that I did not previously have. From that standpoint I have been able to fill in the blanks in other ideas I have had. I am filling in blanks right now – hopefully someone else is as well.
Your first book of poetry is about to be released. How did the book come about?
I’m not a poet and these things are not poems. For lack of a better name, we have called it poetry. These are all short ideas I have had that actually had no home. Which basically means that they were motherless, fatherless, bastardised pieces that were relevant in some way or another but did not fit into any of the larger things I have been writing. The book itself is 1,000 limited copies, all the poems are actual scans of the original poems as they were written, bad spelling, mistakes, scribbled… the works. I wanted people to see the imperfections. The message is just to write. Take on your own voice and nail down your thoughts. I hate that the idea of being a writer is about perfection. Some of the greatest authors in human history were drunkards, or uneducated men, low life’s that had real things on their minds. Editors and publishers cleaned them up and helped them with the protocol. I try to publish as much unedited stuff as I can. I believe a writer’s truest voice lies in his mistakes. Bad sentence structure can be poetry. I reserve the right to build things my way. In this book I have been allowed an unedited voice. This is rare in any piece of published writing and I’m excited to see how people take it. The subject matter itself is very strong, sensual, sexual as well as controversial.
What does the future hold for Scott Bourne?
Work! Work is freedom and I mean that in a very literal sense. When you work on something that you love and believe in then all things fall into a natural place. Winning by all means necessary has gone out of me. I have long ago beat the odds and I beat the shit out of them. Now I just want my work. I have always said that a job is what you do for money and work is what you do for yourself. For me that’s study as well as writing. At present I am editing my first novel, and working on a second. I have written a ballet and have been asked to work with a friend on an opera. I am still skating professionally and keep up a monthly column in a French publication called //SOMA//. I have two complete books of poetry sitting on my desk; just started a third and the first will soon be out. There will also be two other book projects in the near future that I have worked on with Carhartt, one of which will have all my journal entries from our trip through the Balkans. I am designing a line of optical frames for Hoven and have just begun to do some modelling here in Paris. There is much on my plate. I feel /free/ and that is work.
Any last words?
Follow no one!