The Artful Music/Skateboarding Synergy
When skateboarding icon Tony Alva is honored alongside Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington at the MusiCares MAP Fund benefit concert on May 30 in Los Angeles, he will take the stage. But he won't be skating; he'll be performing with his band, Chicken Noodle Project.
"The band that I'm performing with that night is an instrumental trio and we do basically guitar riffs and we've got a really nice drummer that's got some jazz experience from since he was a young pup, this guy named Matt Rainwater, and Ray Barbee, [who is] a professional skateboarder as well, so that's kind of how we got thrown together," Alva says.
That Alva is in a band with another skateboarding stalwart should come as no surprise. The list of professional skateboarders who also play music is long, including Tommy Guerrero, who has fronted bands such as Free Beer and Jet Black Crayon, in addition to garnering a mention in Rolling Stone magazine for his work as a solo artist; Steve Caballero, who has been a member of several punk bands, including the Faction, Odd Man Out, Shovelhead, and Soda; and Duane Peters, vocalist for U.S. Bombs, a Southern California punk band formed in 1993. Other notable skateboarders/musicians include Steve Alba, Ethan Fowler, Shed's Sam Hitz and Darren Navarette, Karen Jones, and Mike Vallely, among others.
Alva will be honored with the MusiCares From the Heart award in recognition of his unconditional friendship and dedication to the MusiCares MAP Fund. The award will be presented by Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, who was an avid skateboarder growing up. Indeed, skateboarding has proved an exciting hobby for many high-profile artists, including Ben Harper, Dhani Harrison, Incubus' Brandon Boyd, Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, Lil Jon, and Lil Wayne, who has his own skateboard clothing line, Trukfit.
That skateboarding and music go hand in hand is obvious to anyone who has watched ESPN's X Games, where boarders fly through the air to a range of music that spans Linkin Park to Calvin Harris, both of whom have performed live at extreme sports events. And the worlds have been known to merge for a good cause: in 2012 GRAMMY winner Harper partnered with legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk for Boards & Bands, an initiative that raised funds for at-risk youth via an auction of personally ridden skateboards featuring handwritten lyrics by artists such as Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Cliff, and Metallica's James Hetfield, among others. These unique skateboards were on display at the GRAMMY Museum in downtown Los Angeles in December 2012.
As someone who has made a name for himself in both worlds, Alva sees the symmetry between skateboarding and music.
"There's a spectrum of colors and that's what music is to me. It's like a broad rainbow of different flavors and if you're not open to that you're missing half of the goodness that music can really give you and skateboarding is the same way," he says. "There are no rules, you can do whatever you feel like doing on any given day, therefore it becomes like jazz."
The jazz analogy is an apt one for Alva, who has seen his own musical tastes evolve as he's gotten older.
"[My taste] started off more as an aggressive, hardcore kind of angry sound with the old-school heavy metal music and then basically turning into the underground scene that involved a lot of the angst and youth frustration punk rock came from. And skateboarding has always [gone] hand in hand with that kind of music because of the aggression it involves," says Alva. "I'm open to a lot more than ever before and it's because I'm a skateboarder [and] a surfer. I've had my mind open to things I never would've accepted when I was young, to go from being into the Sex Pistols and the Germs all the way to being into John Coltrane now."
Of course, skateboarding has evolved over the years as well. With ties stretching back to the late '40s, skateboarding originated in California when surfers wanted something to surf when faced with flat waves. Trick skating came into vogue in the '70s with the invention of acrobatic maneuvers such as the kickflip and the ollie. The sport attained massive popularity in the '80s, spurred by vertical ramp skateboarding and other improvisational moves such as the grabbed aerial, patented by skateboarders such as Alva and George Orton. This period was also fueled by skateboard companies that were run by actual skateboarders. Alva was ahead of the game, however. In 1977, at age 19, he became a trendsetter in forming Alva Skates, the first company ever run and owned by a skateboarder.
Just as the jazz analogy is a fitting one for the improvisational nature of skateboarding, the fact that Kiedis, a previous MusiCares MAP Fund recipient of the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award, is presenting Alva his honor seems as perfect as a skateboarder's ascent into a 540-degree turn off a ramp. Alva admits he sees a great deal of similarities between artists such as Kiedis, whose own hard living was documented in his 2004 autobiography Scar Tissue, and his own past.
"I looked up to and idolized a lot of the rock stars and not only the ones that died at a very young age, but the ones that just had instant huge power and fame through being idolized by the youth," he says. "And for me it was a good thing in a way because what it did — it's like the saying, everything I did back then is what got me here. I've done a lot of things that were similar to living a rock star lifestyle."
Now having found his sobriety, Alva has a deeper appreciation for the music in his life.
"The universal language of music is that anyone can understand it as long as you can just have an open mind and an open heart and you can feel what's going on. And doing this thing for MusiCares, for me that's kind of about that same thing. It's coming down to [having] an open heart [and] an open mind because what we're trying to do is give back instead of just take and I am involved in this event because it's something benevolent."
(Steve Baltin has written about music for Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, MOJO, Chicago Tribune, AOL, LA Weekly, Philadelphia Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and dozens more publications.)