It’s somewhere between 2001 and 2002, and my brother Dom and I are sitting cross-legged on the floor in the living room of my parent’s house, eyes fixed on a 12” box TV resting on a coffee table that sits crammed against the wall by the door that goes through to the kitchen.
“Shit,” Dom exclaims as Steve Caballero face plants into the concrete paving slabs at the bottom of the drop of death by the stair set near the start of the level. “You’re never gonna fucking land it… It’s not possible,” I retort as he flicks through the drop-down menu screen to restart the level. A snare drum roll kicks in, and Millencolin’s “No Cigar” blares out as Dom sidewinds towards the stair set, crouching the digital Caballero as he prepares to jump the rail in hope of achieving a 540 drop… “For fucks’ sake!!” – Menu, Down, Down, Down, Restart Level.
For as long as I can remember, music has been integral to me. From the blues and rock n’ roll my Dad span on vinyl and picked out on guitar when I was young, to the pomp and grandiosity of the Birmingham City Symphony Orchestra concerts I watched from the cheap seats on tickets handed out to city kids to try and spread a little culture through the sprawling urban mess that was Birmingham in the early to mid 90s. But it wasn’t until I acquired two cassettes, (Nirvana – Bleach/Nevermind and Green Day – Dookie/Insomniac) I felt I had something that I connected with. It’s strange to think about in the modern digital-streaming-spotify-itunes age, but at the time, alternative music was a hard commodity to come by, at least in the rural midlands where I lived after a city exit prior to starting high school. Every CD bought was a significant investment, with lyric books, artwork and thanks lists poured over for hours, songs played on repeat at home, then taped for swapping and sharing with friends.
Into this world of limited resources of internet that clicked/whirred/beeped for what seemed like eternity before letting you anywhere near MSN messenger, Ask Jeeves or Interpunk, crashed Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. “All hell… Can’t stop us now!!!” Zack De La Rocha screamed on Rage Against The Machine’s “Guerrilla Radio”. I flipped tricks with my custom-made skater in my custom-made skate park (SO many bowls, SO many spike pits) and thought about how much I hated pretty much everyone I knew.
“You” introduced me to Bad Religion, and with the help of Jeeves, the (poorly named) HMV metal section and Interpunk by the time Dom and I had managed to get a copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 we were deep into the Epitaph Records back catalogue. The new manual technique made it possible to link tricks for combo points for ridiculous amounts of time… We were stoked. Operating under a strict “one-run-then-swap” policy, track selection prior to starting each level had become a critical aspect of our game play. Surely I had more chance of grabbing all the nation flags in the airport with AFI on than with CKY? – SKIP TRACK.
By this point, it was obvious to me that I was utterly shit at skating in real life.
Dyspraxia doesn’t make for great spacial awareness, and apart from that one time I (drunkenly) ollied over a bin, any attempts I made to actually develop my skill set just lead to bruises, and another dose of humiliation my awkward teenage self really didn’t need. Fortunately, my digital counterpart (black shirt, black jeans, black hair…) didn’t have such problems. In fact the only issue in life HE had was trying to get the pirate ship to open on Skater Island (top tip – go grind the pirate flag). Back in real life, my Uncle had died, my Mom had undergone an operation, I had broken up with my first long-term(ish) girlfriend, developed a slight problem with weed, and STILL hated pretty much everyone I knew. But it was fine, I was learning guitar, planning to go to Reading Festival, Bodyjar’s “Not The Same” was on, and I was smashing through the foundry level for the millionth time.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater provided the soundtrack to my youth. It changed my language (I use SICK and BAIL on a daily basis) and provided me with somewhere better to go when things were too hard. You can keep your next-gen graphics, intricate character plots, head sets and gaming chairs….It’s still enough for me to sit on the carpet, and watch my brother nail a 540 off the stair set in the school, just make sure you turn the music up loud.