llǝɥ & uǝʌɐǝɥ ɟo sǝɔıls
words. David Deery
And they all lived happily ever after.
That’s what everyone wants to hear. That’s what sells the sequel. Those are the stories we love so much. Lie to us. Please. It’s so hard to swallow reality, which is stranger and way more twisted than fiction could ever be. It takes a special person to tell the truth, and it takes a special person to listen to the truth and swallow it, like a horse pill without water.
The great photographer Dennis McGrath is a special person, and with his book, his photos become the medium to one of the realest, most tragic stories that 1990s skateboarding has to offer.
We love the success stories of skateboarding. Drunks get sober and grow up. The underdog, made man, gets it together and appreciates living the dream. But what about the dreams gone sour? For every Stevie Williams “gets saved” by Josh Kalis, there’s a Lennie Kirk. Once a staple in the history books of 1990s skateboarding folklore, Lennie’s life took a slam, literally, so terrible, he never recovered. His dreams of skateboarding success were run over, and replaced with a mix of fundamental religion, possible mental health issues, and violent crime, leading him to where he is today, serving time in prison. As much as I believe that skateboarding can save lifes, there’s always the few that get away, and Lennie was certainly one of those souls that skateboarding wishes it could have back.
Like myself, Dennis McGrath was right there, living in San Francisco when the Lennie Kirk story started to take shape, but unlike me, Dennis had a camera.
Lennie’s story is sad. But it’s certainly worth telling.
You're telling a story in pictures, but if you had to tell the story, at least in a slightly edited for a magazine interview way, in words, how would it go?
Lennie came from a small town on the coast of North Carolina, started skateboarding at a young age, left home at 14 to move to California to skate. A few years later he got sponsored and his future looked bright! In 1996 Lennie had two life threatening accidents, the first was a slam skating a dumpster where he fell back off the top of the dumpster and hit his head badly. About a week later he was literally run over by a van skating in downtown SF and got up and walked away. That night he called my house preaching about God and the Bible. From then on Lennie was "born again"... his skateboarding career was taking off at this time. He turned pro and in 1997 he had a groundbreaking video part in Alien Workshop's Timecode. His belief in God was very intense at this point and eventually ended up distracting him from skating and was having a negative effect on his marketability. Lennie's belief in God was so intense he would try to save everyone who crossed his path. If you weren't interested he would call you a sinner and tell you that you were going to Hell! Once Lennie lost his sponsors and the checks stopped coming in he ended up on the streets robbing people in SF with a sawn-off shotgun. In 2002 he went to jail in SF fighting robbery cases then was sentenced to 3-5 years in San Quentin... he was transferred to Avenel State Prison in central California where he served until 2006. He was out for a few years and seemed to be doing okay but then got into trouble with a girlfriend and went back to jail in 2008. In 2010 he was out on bail but got into more trouble and ended up getting sentenced to 13 years in California state prison in April of 2013.
Do you believe in destiny?
Yes and I think you can create your own destiny in the same kind of way you can create your own luck.
There is some kind of connection happening in this book, because this story is kind of bigger than just Lennie, right?
Well yes, I mean it's really about being human and how it's not easy. It's even harder for some of us. Ever since I started working on this project I always thought of it as a story about the human condition more than a story about, skateboarding, say. While it's based on Lennie's situation I think people can interpret it on their own terms...
When did you notice that things were going wrong for Lennie?
Once he went off the deep end with the Christianity and got distracted from his path as a pro skateboarder things started getting sketchy. Lennie had been getting paid to be a skateboarder since he was a teenager so he never had a real job. Once he was faced with that reality life wasn't so easy anymore.....
Is Lennie down for this book and did you have to/ want to clear everything with him?
Yes he is into it. I got a deal with DC Shoes to do a small collection of shoes, t-shirts, etc. to go along with the book so I could get him some money. I have tried to be transparent with him about everything. I am not trying to make him look bad, if anything it celebrates his life in ways but then there's that harsh reality of it all as well (being in prison).
Do you have any type of moral issue putting out a book like this, kind of shining a spotlight on someone’s misfortune?
Good question, I have thought about this quite a bit. No, I don't feel as if I am exploiting him since I am not really making money off of this. At the same time how else do you say something real?
What should we take away from this story? Has Lennie taught you anything?
As I said before I feel like people can interpret this story on their own terms. Stay out of trouble.