Ten Years Later, 'Lords of Dogtown' Remains a Monument to Teen Boy Bravado
The film and its soundtrack vividly capture a teenager's irrational sense of invincibility.
Photo courtesy of Columbia/Tristar Pictures
The summer of 2009 was the first time I watched Lords of Dogtown. Released in 2005, the biographical drama film, directed by Catherine Hardwicke and written by Stacy Peralta, tells the story of the iconic Zephyr Skateboard Team (or the Z-Boys) of the 70s. The team included many members, but the stars of the show were Jay Adams (played by Emile Hirsch), Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and the aforementioned Peralta (John Robinson). The trio starts out as teenagers wanting to surf and skate the streets of Venice Beach, but once Zephyr Team creator Skip Engblom (Heath Ledger) sees the money that can be made off of the boys, things get complicated. Other entrepreneurs swoop in to take Engblom’s three most talented skaters, which leads to a falling out. Ultimately, the three skaters reunite because their mutual friend Sid (Michael Angarano) falls mortally ill.
Although Lords of Dogtown was neither a commercial nor a critical success in its time—critics preferred the film’s documentary counterpart Dogtown and Z-Boys—the film has since gained a cult following for its touching story of three talented teens brought together, separated, and reunited by skateboarding. Also, the soundtrack is flames: a collection of classic rock standards that one typically becomes introduced to in high school. “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath, “Fire” and “Voodoo Chile” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, “Loose” by the Stooges, “Cat Scratch Fever” by Ted Nugent... The track selection was obvious, but it complimented the movie so well, capturing the mood and feel of its most memorable scenes, as well as embodying the essence of teenage camaraderie.
When I discovered the soundtrack as a 17-year-old skater kid trying to enjoy the summer with his bros, I thought it was the coolest ever. Times were easier. Summers were hot as hell, but we basked in freedom and youthful vigor, skating the El Paso streets in search of girls, cheap food, parties, and good times. Often we’d meet at a friend’s house—Andre’s or George’s—and skate to a nearby skate park where we'd run into friends from school and others. We watched each other fall, anxiously waiting for a sign that whoever went down was OK so we could laugh like assholes at one another's expense. We cheered each other's successes too, be it landing intricate tricks or just making it back inside the bowl without eating concrete. Lords of Dogtown's soundtrack is a collection of teen memories that are part of who I am. These songs are loved simply for being fun, loud and rebellious. Their sound transcends their place in history; they're forever being passed on to and rediscovered by new generations.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - “Voodoo Chile”
“The night I was born, I swear the moon turned a fire red,” croons Hendrix as the trio makes way for the Venice Beach pier. It sets the tone for the opening sequence, crescendoing into a roar of ferocious guitar and drums, Hendrix’s “Fly on” accompanying Alva as he dashes down a street unscathed -- at least until a fucking pebble appears. Hendrix redefined the idea of what a frontman and guitarist could be, creating a sound and technique that continues to influence. It’s fitting that this movie about a trio of skateboarders that redefined their own sport should begin with a song from a man who revolutionized his own.
Black Sabbath - “Iron Man”
The Z-Boys compete in their first ever skateboarding competition, crushing opponents and punching out some judges, too. But the best moment comes from Adams, whose performance is accompanied by heavy metal godfathers, Black Sabbath. The band stood out from its contemporaries because of their distinctively dissonant sound, Tony Iommi’s signature guitar tone playing a large part in that. Back then Black Sabbath scared people. They weren’t like anyone before them; they created something that would take some time to catch on. Like Sabbath, Adams was ahead of his time, his style misunderstood by many but ultimately admired and respected years later.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - “Fire”
A Hendrix staple, “Fire” has become something of a sex anthem despite its innocuous origin: Noel Redding, the Experience's bass player, invited Jimi to his mother’s house after a cold New Years Eve performance, and Hendrix asked Redding’s mother if he could stand next to her fireplace to warm himself. Even when heard in its proper context it’s easy to understand why that is: the song is lustful, sexy, dripping with swagger, and exuding a coolness that only Hendrix could. At this point in the movie the Z-Boys are as cool as they can be, getting recognized by entrepreneurs and, more importantly, girls, for their talents. The Z-Boys’ fire is spreading, and everyone wants a flame of their own.
Ted Nugent - “Cat Scratch Fever”
Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” is the quintessential 70s bro-dude anthem: Almost every movie I’ve watched that’s set in the 70s and is focused on a group of young guys, features it. Lyrically, it isn’t great, but it’s got a catchy chorus that owes itself to an even catchier riff. According to Nugent himself, “Cat Scratch Fever” is about “the disease of boys craving girls,” which is why the song fittingly appears at a moment where Alva pulls off an awesome move at a skateboarding competition, causing all the girls to run and surround him.
The Stooges - “Loose”
Self-destructive, unpredictable and wild, the Stooges are rightly described as proto-punk not only for their sound, but their aesthetic. With Iggy Pop you never knew what you were going to get. Would he roll in glass and cut himself? Would he smear peanut butter all over himself? Would he expose himself? The Stooges were a roaring train that almost always neatly skirted crashing. “Loose” begins and ends heavy: the drums and guitars are so loud and unbalanced you begin to wonder if it’s intentional. It's great, though, all of that unapologetic and unflinching rawness pummeling your ears.
Rise Against - “Nervous Breakdown” (Black Flag Cover)
“Nervous Breakdown” will make you feel like you’re having a nervous breakdown. The distorted and raw riffs of guitarist Greg Ginn; the howling, guttural roar of vocalist Keith Morris. It's anxious and volatile, with Morris declaring “I just wanna die” right before everything fades into silence. I like that the track appears shortly after the Z-Boys disband. Adams is with some friends and they come across a punk show where Rise Against is (inexplicably) performing “Nervous Breakdown," and an insane brawl breaks out. The scene captures teen angst so well, a confused and volatile Adams seeking catharsis from problems that are beyond his control.
Sparkehorse & Thom Yorke - “Wish You Were Here” (Pink Floyd Cover)
“Wish You Were Here” is so well done both lyrically and sonically. The original's twelve string guitar introduction is one of the most beautiful parts of a song I’ve ever heard. The way he doesn’t play too much, turning his solo into a memorable melody that you can hum, sing or whistle along to. Once the rest of the band appears, the song slowly ascends into this dynamic soundscape, so triumphant in its melancholy. “How I wish you were here,” sings Gilmour longingly. It’s a universal sentiment: the desire to be close to someone that means so much to us, but because of certain circumstances, they can’t be. I watched Lords of Dogtown for the first time in years and cried during the film’s ending where Adams, Alva, and Peralta share their final moments with Sid. Ending with “Wish You Were Here” is such a perfect choice. It’s a song of retrospection, reminding us to cherish what we have before it’s gone.
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