Words by Anthony Pappalardo
Marc Johnson has proved that a professional skateboarder can continue to progress technically, but also in vision.
Being so resolute about that vision often puts him under the magnifying glass. Something as simple as a 3-minute video for his recent adidas Matchcourt Mid colorway became a flashpoint. Since signing on with the adidas Skateboarding program, Johnson’s fans have been waiting for new footage, so when the 1980s sitcom pastiche On Your Marc dropped some asked, “Where’s the skating?”
Based on his track record, there’s no reason to think that Marc Johnson won’t deliver more, but for now he’s got a new shoe, a new video, and a wealth of ideas. A lot of ideas.
I was reading an interview with Bret Easton Ellis where he talks about how the internet has democratized Hollywood in a negative sense. In skating, it seems to have done the opposite.
I agree with Bret Easton and I also agree with what you’re saying. What technology has given us, is everything tangible. It’s removed a lot of work, it’s taken away a lot of self-reliance. That’s so crazy that we’re having this conversation right now because I just watched two Banksy movies last night back to back. I watched Exit Through the Gift Shop and Banksy Does New York.
I got into this conversation after Banksy Does New York was over. The question came up, ‘Do you think Banksy should reveal his identity?’ I said that I don’t think he needs to. If he did reveal his identity, it would steal something away from his mystique. Then that just naturally flowed into me saying that that’s what social media has done to our heroes. It has robbed us of our heroes.
When I started skating, you had two magazines a month that were really small and you had maybe two videos a year. You only got to see your favorite skaters periodically and everything was left to the imagination. You built up this thing about these people and you picked your favorites and there was such a gnarly gap. There was a divide between you and your hero.
I laid that point out and I was like, now, you can follow a musician or a celebrity or a skateboarder on social media and you can see what they had for breakfast and you can see what it looked like coming out the other end after dinner.
Caring so much about your output in skating, how does that impact how you approach projects such as this video for the adidas MJ Matchcourt Mid?
The way it works for me, these things—call it creativity or call it whatever—I feel like we are these walking filters for little streams of the cosmic soup to trickle down and filter through us and we express these ideas however they come to us. Depending on the size of that stream that flows through, for me that thing is always on.
I am constantly writing things down in books and making notes for myself and taping things to walls. I live my life by these notes. I have stacks and stacks of books that just have ideas in them. For a project like this video, the very basic idea of these shoes following me around kind of pouting like puppy dogs—that came into my brain like a little movie. All I did was open the book and I wrote down what happens in the scene that I saw my head and then that was it.
The opportunity to do a little commercial for this shoe came up and that was one of the first things. I was talking to Matt Irving the director and I said, “Hey dude, I have got this weird idea for this commercial.” I told him the idea and kind of gave him a few camera shots—it’s like me talking to the shoes in the cereal aisle, pulling the box of cereal and then the shoes are hiding behind the thing and you think they’re chasing me around. They literally will not leave me alone. He loved it and I was like, “That’s just this random idea, these shoes want to be skated so bad that they’re just following me around.”
Does constantly cataloguing ideas get exhausting?
Yeah, it does. This is something I’ve never talked about before. Periodically, I have to take time off and when I say take time off, I literally turn off, where there’s nothing. It’s like my brain stops working. I’m on for a while and then I know that I have to turn off. I have to. It gets mentally exhausting and after you reach a breaking point mentally, then physically you start to break down too.
I don’t want to pick your brain like, ‘Dude, what board company would you want to ride for?’ But in choosing sponsors, what gets you excited?
I get stoked when things are authentic. Blind Video Days is widely hailed as the best skateboard video of all time and you listen to those dudes talk about filming that video, they weren’t filming a video. They were just going and skating while Spike (Jonze) was pointing a camera at them. It was one of the purest expressions of documented skateboarding that has ever existed and will ever exist. I don’t think it can be like that anymore.
I’ve been a part of quite a few things that were premeditated and relied on the magic of editing to convey a feel that was total bullshit. I’ve been a part of those huge projects. I know what those things are. I know how they feel. I know how they look. When you see something authentic and you know you’re like nope, that happens every day. That’s just how they live, that’s how they roll. That shit is real.
I know you were close with Dylan Rieder, what connected you with his skating?
I think I met him when he was really really young on Osiris or something. He took a little of this from here, but he just grew into his own person. When you see someone like that who is the real deal, you know it and you can appreciate it.
What’s crazy is if you lost your own way or lost sight of yourself, then you bump into someone like Dylan—which is like once every 10 years somebody like that comes along—just being around him puts a mirror up to your own thing. That’s what happened with me. I was like, “Damn. What the fuck am I even doing anymore? Why am I over here doing this bullshit with these people, when this dude’s over here doing rad shit?”
It’s so amazing to see someone like that. It’s really hard to put into words. It’s like I was intimidated by him on a certain level because he was like way younger than me… I don’t know if intimidated is the right word… enamored. Really enamored. Just amazed. He’s a treasure, a unicorn—there’s only one of those.
Meeting someone with that power doesn’t happen very often.
Yeah and there’s that word again, ‘authenticity’. That’s the crazy thing is that in skateboarding or even in mainstream culture that’s not encouraged. If you think authenticity is encouraged, open your eyes and look around. Conformity is encouraged.