Several decades ago, Andrew Brown dropped out of high school in Northern Virginia. While he briefly attended T.C. Williams, the school whose integrated football team became the inspiration for the film Remember the Titans, he didn’t play football. Instead he says that Herman Boone, the coach immortalized by Denzel Washington in the movie, was once his driving instructor, although that wasn't enough to make him stick around in class...
Tempted by the bright lights of New York, Brown carved out a successful lane for himself as a club DJ under the moniker "Roctakon". Here he divided his time between gigs at now-defunct nightspots like the Canal Room, and shooting the shit on early Internet culture hubs like Diplo’s Hollerboard.
In between shows, Brown earned a following by writing for club kids whose burgeoning Internet habits included sites like Turntable Lab and Mad Decent. For a time he even delved into the blog game with Boys Life — a Tumblr stream-of-consciousness that blended rich, vivid writing with sordid sexual tales and the bittersweet kick of dating and failed relationships in the big city.
After a period of hiatus from the writing game, last May Brown returned to the literary world with an unlikely project launched via a Kickstarter. His first novel, None of the Bad Ones, is a self-described work of “erotic skate fiction” — a previously non-existent genre that he hopes to take to the world.
The campaign caught the attention of the blogosphere partly due to its interesting premise (what the hell is “erotic skate fiction?” anyway) but also its savvy selection of donor gifts that included a collaborative T-shirt with Alex Olson's Bianca Chandon-offshoot Call Me 917, and an iPhone cover printed with the image of a Blackberry Curve. The campaign was a success, and Brown finally self-published his novel via his own company, ESF Books.
Now based in Los Angeles, we caught up with the 37-year-old author to talk about his literary work, the symbolism of the Blackberry, and ten years of Quartersnacks (the seminal New York skate culture blog that just released a book, TF At 1: 10 Years of Quartersnacks, for which Brown wrote an essay).
What was the inspiration behind None of the Bad Ones?
It’s sort of a long story. I used to be a nightclub DJ, and in ’08-’09 I kind of had a meltdown and was trying to find a way out of that world. I decided to work as little as possible and just hang out, skate, and hopefully life would give me some answers.
I was hanging out in the city, working enough to get by — I was blogging — I had this blog called Boys Life NYC. I was posting short fiction on it. It was anonymous. It wasn’t about being an Internet personality; it was a creative outlet for me. I wasn’t marketing an image; I was vomiting onto the Internet. I had a career as a fuckin’ DJ, I didn’t need the attention!
Why did you start writing? What made you realize this was your calling?
I was limited by DJing and unhappy with where it had gone, and it just happened by accident. It was spontaneous. I used to write music reviews for Turntable Lab, and people were like “Hey, you have bad grammar and can’t spell—but you’re good at this!” For whatever reason, I was connecting with people.
The Blackberry iPhone case stood out as part of the campaign’s gifts, and was originally suggested as a possible book cover. What’s its significance?
The book is set around 2010. It’s just before the iPhone 4 comes out, I think. Most of the characters are on their Blackberries, and the Blackberry was central to life back then. It was pre-apps, pre-iPhone, and for a lot of my friends, the Blackberry is a symbol of this era. It’s the last moment before the new digital era: the iPhone era. It was only texting, that’s all you did—BBM. There was a little bit of Twitter, but it was mostly texting. I think there’s a lot of people in that age range where the Blackberry symbolizes that: the loss of innocence, the last time we were still engaging with the world in the “old way.”
Did you have a Sidekick though?
The Sidekick was a little bit before. That’s sort of 2004-2007, but the Sidekick lost somehow. It got too associated with “The Hills” culture, that whole Hollywood culture. I think everyone, even kids, were like: “Oh, the Sidekick’s for children. We have to have the adult thing.” And that’s the Blackberry.
Right, and now the adult thing and kid thing are the same thing: the iPhone.
Everyone has an iPhone now. I’m not one of those people that’s like, “The iPhone is bad.” It just "is." Technology is, and people do with it what they choose to and make of it what they will. It’s not evil. I have good friends in my life that I’ve met on fucking message boards. I’m a firm believer that technology can bring people together…or tear people apart.
Where did the title None of the Bad Ones come from?
You have to read it! It’s in the book.
Can you tell me about the the cover photo?
Yeah, it’s funny because I really didn’t wanna use that photo. I think it’s a great photo — it’s Jonathan Mehring, he’s a skate photographer who just had a book come out with National Geographic called Skate the World — he’s an awesome photographer, and also from Virginia. But I didn’t want to use it because I didn’t want people to think I was trading in the currency of Andrew Allen (he’s one of the skateboarders in the photo, along with Tino Razo).
They’re all respected, cool guys, and I didn’t want people to think I was trading on their cachet, do you know what I mean? But I looked, and looked, and looked for the photo that I had in my head, and I couldn’t find it.
Then a friend of mine said: “Dude, this isn’t about the amount of people who are gonna know who these guys are and think you’re trying to be cool; it’s about the person in the bookstore that doesn’t know anything — and this captures everything that you want a cover photo to capture. You absolutely have to use it.”
You describe the Quartersnacks book as “the perfect accompaniment to None of the Bad Ones” on your site, why is that?
The part of my life I was drawing on to create the world in this novel really plays out in the Quartersnacks book. There are pictures of me in that book from that era, going out, partying, and skating a lot. The time of my life that I wrote the book from was the time I was hanging out with those guys the most, and had the most free time to live that lifestyle — living in New York, not having many bills to pay, and skating.
In a way, parts of the Quartersnacks book are a visual companion to None of the Bad Ones. It would be like if you were to look at a photo book from Kerouac’s era…not to compare myself to Kerouac! But he used the people around him in his fiction, and his fiction was about his life. And part of that Quartersnacks book captures the same era that I'm talking about in my book. You can even see a broken Blackberry on the cover! So there’s a lot of parallels — and I also have an essay in that book that I’m proud of.
What’s the essay about?
It closes out the book. It’s sort of a summary of Quartersnacks and my time hanging out with those guys.
And now it’s become a pillar of Internet skate culture in its own right. Do you think it’s good or bad that it has blown up more?
In my essay I talk about the inclusivity of Quartersnacks. Some people think it’s this snobby New York thing, but it’s actually really inclusive, and I think that’s in the site if you read into it the right way. The way the culture’s opened up — it’s kind of for everyone now — that’s in there. That ’90s-tough-skate posture is insecurity and fear manifested as a front and aggression. That’s what it is; everyone grows up and tries to be a normal person, and you realize the fucking asshole you were at 19 was just this afraid person.
Let’s bring it back to “erotic skate fiction.” Did you read that New York magazine article on “The Enduring Appeal of a Skater Boi?”
Oh yeah! I thought that was good! I actually tweeted at the author to see if she wanted a copy of the book, but she didn’t tweet me back.
Maybe you’re out of her age range…
Haha yeah…the older girls, they love a young skater. I saw many a young guy grow sexually experienced in those sort of scenarios, coming back to Tompkins with stories of “the 33-year-old.”
Are skaters like, the anti-jocks? They’re definitely athletic, but it’s a different kind of machismo.
Skaters are the athletes for the girl who doesn’t like athletes. At their core, everyone wants someone that’s athletic. Women want a provider, and that athlete’s gonna be a provider in that instinctual way. They’re like the athletes for alternative girls.
I heard a woman in her 30s talking about younger guys, and I think it definitely applies to skaters, that a guy in his 30s or 40s has all his tricks down. He knows what he’s doing, and he has his little moves, his plans, his tongue twists. But a guy who’s young and inexperienced has all this energy and passion, and doesn’t have a plan — it’s just raw and animalistic, and that’s what she found so attractive about it. She wasn’t getting these pre-planned moves and seduction, it was just raw.
Is that reflective of the sex scenes in the novel?
The character in the book is closer to my age, and he’d be the opposite of that. The moves are more rehearsed. He’s more methodical — almost to a fault. I mean, it’s a novel, there’s sex in it. I just think that the “erotic skate fiction” thing had a great ring to it. I thought it was a great way to bring people in.
Galen DeKemper of Dollar Stories is the guy who coined that term while I was writing the Boys Life NYC stuff, and it just stuck. It’s funny and intriguing, and has the potential to be all these different things — high literature, smut, it’s open to interpretation. So I’ve just been running with it.
None Of The Bad Ones is available to purchase now, via ESF Books.