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Mike Daily: Writing is the Solvent

12 March 2013 No Comment

I remember the first Aggro Rag I ever got. It was the thickest zine I’d ever seen. Its sixty pages weren’t folded as much as they were just curved in the middle, struggling against their own bulk. The product of one Mike Daily, Aggro Rag was the premier BMX zine. Heavy on the goings-on of The Plywood Hoods out of York, Pennsylvania, their tricks and travels, and the national BMX scene of the time, Daily’s rag rivaled the national glossies for writing and relevance.

For life. [reppin' at Nemo HQ; photo by Jared Souney]

For life. [reppin’ at Nemo HQ; photo by Jared Souney]

Daily came to visit me a couple of times when I lived in San Diego the first time. This was early in the millennium and he lived just up the 5 in L.A. At the time, Daily was easing out of the BMX scene having worked at both Go: The Rider’s Manual and BMX Plus! during the 1990s. All of this is significant because I’ve been in touch with Daily since the mid 1980s through Aggro Rag and The Plywood Hoods’ Dorkin’ in York videos. For those spinning outside the orbit of freestyle BMX for the past thirty years, more background will be needed here.

The Plywood Hoods were like an indie-BMX Bones Brigade, like the Bulls with Jordan: a tight-knit crew of innovators who fidged high-tech, flatland maneuvers that it took the rest of the sport years to catch up to. It’s no hyperbole to say that Kevin Jones, Mark Eaton, Brett Downs, Mike Daily, Dale Mitzel, Jamie McKulick, John Huddleston, John Doenut, Jym Dellavalle, and various others utterly revolutionized flatland BMX. The rest of us only knew about this because two members of the crew were also budding media-heads. Mark Eaton made the legendary Dorkin’ in York videos that made the Hoods legends themselves, and Mike Daily made Aggro Rag Freestyle Mag. In the pre-web underground BMX network, those were the go-to sites.

Aggro Rag Freestyle Mag! The Complete CollectionAggro Rag documented Hood hijinks from 1984 to 1989 the went on hiatus until last year’s reunion Hip-hop issue (to which I was proud to have contributed an interview with Aesop Rock). Now, like Garry Scot Davis’s Skate Fate, all the old ones have been collected into one, bright pink anthology of underground 1980s BMX freestyle history. As Mark Lewman put it to me: “If you want to know how it felt to be a 16-year-old freestyle fanatic in the mid-1980s, this is your manual re: how to roll. Those who recognize the name Aggro Rag, this book is already on your want list.” Oh, and it’s not just the zines bound up all pretty, there’s a bunch of new content as well, including exclusive new interviews with Kevin Jones and Dave Mirra, a foreword by Andy Jenkins, and an introduction by Mark Lewman.

As if that weren’t enough, Daily teamed up with Sub Rosa to put together a limited edition, Aggro Rag frame. It’s a new version of their already limited Pandora DTT (double top-tubes, holmes) frame, an updated version the very one I currently ride. Along with Daily, Chip Riggs (whom some of you might know from later issues of Aggro Rag) did the graphics on this thing, and he had this to say:

The main goal with the project from Sub Rosa’s end was to pay tribute to what Mike had done with Aggro Rag and the Plywood Hoods to contribute to the sport and culture of Freestyle. We certainly wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for what Mike and the rest of the Hoods did. In regards to the frame we were trying to put together something that had a direct connection with the zine and that time period while still making something that was modern and ridable by today’s standards. I feel like we achieved everything we set out to do with the project and I hope people are as stoked with the outcome as we all are.

In keeping with other zine-like ephemera, Sub Rosa only made 43 of these things.

The Sub Rosa x Aggro Rag Pandora DTT frame

More than just a highly motivated, well connected, BMX media-maker, Mike Daily is a man of letters, a one-man creative spigot constantly spewing out inspiring solvents. During our time in Southern California, Daily released a collection of poetry and artwork (Stovepiper with contributions from Charles Bukowski, Bill Shields, Hugh Gallagher, Andy Jenkins, Greg Higgins, and many others) and wrote not one but two novels (Valley and Alarm). I used the release of the Aggro Rag collection as an opportunity to get dirty with Daily.

Roy Christopher: Let’s go all the way back: What prompted you to start Aggro Rag in the first place? I didn’t start a zine until I saw them in Freestylin’. What gave you the initiative to get one going?

Mike Daily: You’re talking with a guy who had Max Leg Gaiters. Remember when some Pro BMX racers sported “gaiters” on the lower legs of their leathers? I know Clint Miller wore them when he was sponsored by Torker. So did Mike Miranda and Billy Griggs when they were on CW. Gaiters kind of made sense for motorcycle motocross racers because they kept high-velocity mud splatter out of the insides of their MX boots. The fad didn’t last long in BMX, though. How could it? Leg Gaiters were basically ventilated-mesh/nylon bell bottoms. (And the ‘70s were over.) The extra space to display company logos wasn’t worth the hazard of getting your pant-legs caught in the chain/sprocket. Pro Guard plastic chain covers failed for the same reason. However, Toby Henderson did make Pro Guards look cool when he was on Hutch.

Terry Cables

Terrycables were a different story. I loved Terrycables: the dual rubber hoods for both the brake lever and the barrel adjuster on the caliper, the rectangular checkerboard logo silver foil stickers, the black and white patches for the jerseys. Terrycables were expensive, but I thought they were worth it because of how totally trick they looked. I took my first Terrycable (which I had mail-ordered direct from the California manufacturer) to Brian Peters’ house and asked Brian’s dad if he could install it for me. Terrycables were an MX-influenced aftermarket BMX product, and Brian’s dad Rich was handy with motorcycles. Mr. Peters removed the Terrycable from the bag, selected a wire-cutter from his wall of tools, and in one fluid motion–with absolutely no wasted energy–he clipped the metal cylinder off the end. I knew enough to know that the part he’d just cut off was the cylinder head made to fit inside the brake lever. Mr. Peters read the directions from the cardboard packaging, and confirmed. He apologized and began setting up soldering equipment. Two hours later, installation was complete. Brake-pull was crunchier than a rusted-out hand-grip exerciser, but damn did that Terrycable look trick on my Supergoose. T-rick…

Accessories. I went all-out on the BMX accessories: Haro lightning bolt number plate, SST Dirt Skirt, JT Racing wet weather gloves and Flite donuts to protect your thumbs from the grip flanges. Taking cues from Deric Garcia and “Chicken George” Seevers, I stacked multiple donuts on my grips to get maximum power-pull from the ends of the handlebars. My friend Dan Ahearn took donut-stacking to the next-level: his MXL-gloved hands barely fit onto his Oakley B-1B grips that were mounted on Galindo bars that already had bar end extenders inserted in them. I lived and breathed BMX, as they say—as so many of us did. My zeal for BMX accessorizing carried over into freestyle when I got more into “trick riding” in 1984. The GT that I’m riding in the photo taken at the first performance of the Plywood Hoods—one of the photos introducing Aggro Rag #4 (March ’85) in Aggro Rag Freestyle Mag: Plywood Hoods Zines ’84-’89: The Complete Collection—had been my dialed-to-the-max race bike. I’d added grip tape to the top tube and installed Skyway Tuff Wheels with Tioga Comp ST (stadium) tires, Skyway thread-on “axle extenders,” GT bolt-on fork standers, a front brake with Potts Mod and, of course, a Dyno D2 brake guard. I’d also replaced the three-digit number on my Haro number plate with “PLYWOOD HOODS” and added an abundance of stickers including Michigan J. Frog, which I got for a quarter from a gumball machine. I was 16 years old in that photo.

Aggro Rag Freestyle Mag!

Printed matter, I found—ZINES–could be “tricked out” very much like a bicycle. It was such great fun accessorizing the pages with photos, stories, drawings, random clip art and ransom note-style lettering techniques, then immediately photocopying them “on the cheap” in an array of colors. Not too many different colors, though: Zines needed to be reproduced with enough black and white inside to give them the proper lo-fi look, and readability.

RC: I totally agree. There was a while there where you purposefully drifted away from BMX. What caused your turning more toward the cultural marginalia?

ValleyMD: “Purposefully”—I like that. The astounding heat of the San Fernando Valley where I lived from 1992-2001 would seem to be the main contributing factor in my drifting away from BMX over the years. Laziness was really the root cause. Isolation. Reluctance to put myself in more danger than I might’ve been able to handle at the time. In ’96, I broke my ribs on a shopping carts-railing at a Safeway on Reseda, for instance. I found that as I got older, I preferred to lounge about in air conditioning, read books or listen to music. I focused on writing a sustained work, which became my first novel, Valley. Andy Jenkins helped me edit the work-in-progress and later accepted Valley for publication. Andy designed the book and released it on his imprint Bend Press, “The Smallest Book Company,” in November 1998. Andy organized a book release party for me at L.A.’s The Garage, and Flogging Molly played at the event. When he was Editor and Art Director of Freestylin’, Andy had occasionally taken time to correspond with me by mail—often enclosing stickers. He’d always encouraged me since I was a teenager living in York, PA. Here’s the summary that Andy wrote about Valley:

Valley is a humorously visual story narrated by main character, writer/student, Mick O’Grady, as he ambles through his days in a sort of haze attempting to make sense of the numerous mysteries unraveling before him—from the odd-ball people he meets and associates with (a giant poet, drunken ex-linebacker, lost master journalist [Earl Parker], wired meth-head, etc.), to the margin scribblings, receipts and photos he happens upon in used books by his favorite authors. O’Grady’s literary inclinations result in curious overanalyzation—a practically itemized account of everything around him, the ordinary included. At one point he notes that a vending machine in the lobby has no “Q” button on it. Not 26, but 25 letters. Lost in his wonderment after buying the drink, he forgets it on top of the machine…

A.J. and Mark “Lew” Lewman are endless inspirations. Everyone who grew up reading their stories and enjoying their unique contributions to Freestylin’, Homeboy, GO: The Rider’s Manual, DIRT and Grand Royal shares the same feeling: gratitude.

I got more into poetry, fiction and music while I was finishing college at California State University of Northridge from 1993-1998, that’s for sure. Poetry: Kenneth Patchen, Jack Kerouac, Lew Welch, Steve Richmond. Fiction: Ronald Sukenick, Richard Brautigan, Kevin Sampsell, Mark Leyner. Music: Jawbreaker, Giants Chair, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees/Mark Lanegan, Elliott Smith. I know that reading an article you wrote and published in your zine Front Wheel Drive, Roy Christopher, got me to go out and find CDs by Shiner, a Kansas City band I listened to and liked quite a lot. Thanks for that blue and white Shiner sticker you sent me in 1995. I still haven’t stuck it.

RC: Nice! Tell me more about your spoken performances. I only caught one of them in 2007 when we both lived in Portland. I remember someone making fun of me because I knew all the words.

MD: You knew all the words to “Drum Machines,” I remember that! Thanks Roy. The words to “Drum Machines” (recited from my second novel, Alarm) are:

I wish there was a radio station that just played drum machines. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Eureka! Eureka. I just thought of something. I seem to have just thought of something. It’s like a comic. A four-panel comic. In the first frame one guy says to another guy, ‘Who’s your drummer?’ In the second frame it’s just a close-up of the other guy and he says, ‘Electricity. He goes by electricity.’ In the third frame the first guy says to the other guy, ‘Where’s he live?’ In the last frame is another close-up of the second guy and he says, ‘In a hole in the wall.’ And he’s looking at the reader. Whoa. I’m not paying attention. I’m swervedriving. I feel like crying. It’s raining. I exit the freeway and pull into a Krispy Kreme. I drive up to the window. I find my lucky two-dollar bill that I got in tips when I got on the mike at open mike and didn’t care if I messed up. And I didn’t mess up. A guy in a red, white and blue tracksuit said I tore shit up. I’m not making this up. I unwedge a nickel from the dash for the difference. ‘Two-oh-five out of two-oh-five. Here’s your three glazed originals and one extra one just for coming to Krispy Kreme! Have a nice night, sir!’ I drive off. I wish there was a radio station that just played drum machines. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Here’s a clip of that very piece [runtime: 6:59]:

The spoken-word performances resulted from wanting to “talk” my writing without having to read it from a book or printed-out pages. I got my start doing spoken words in the late ‘90s when I worked behind the counter at an all-ages coffee house called Cobalt Café. Rick Lupert still runs an open mike night there. After I moved up to Portland, OR, at the beginning of 2002, I sought out local venues offering open mike and I participated. I ended up meeting Alarmindividuals who remain some of my closest friends to this day, like Pecos B. Portland author and friend Kevin Sampsell inspired me the most to move here. After I bought his great book How to Lose Your Mind with the Lights On (Future Tense, 1994) at a Tower Records in Northridge, CA, I read the short story/poems collection cover to cover in one sitting. Straight away, I wrote to Kevin to order as more of his books. Since the early ‘90s, Kevin had been publishing chapbooks of his work and writing by others. Chapbooks are cheaply printed publications that are often self-produced by the author or poet. These “cheap penny books” originated in Great Britain in the 19th Century and were geared more toward the lower end of the market (the masses). In almost all cases, chapbooks were read for recreation and then discarded. I documented my deep appreciation for Kevin Sampsell’s work in Alarm, the novel and double CD that I put out myself in 2007.

RC: So what brought you back to BMX so fervently?

MD: I’ve always owned at least one 20” bike. I haven’t always ridden the bikes, but I’ve never been without one. In 2009, I decided that I wanted to rebuild the ’85 CW California Freestyle set-up that I had ridden in 1987, when I was most into flatland. My inclination to complete The Build was the best thing I could have done for myself. It was a tremendous feeling cruising that ride down the street after Shad Johnson at Goods BMX dialed everything in for me. With friend and fellow zineguy (Jargon of Delinquents) Luke Strahota, I went to an old school BMX get-together that year to check out the vintage show bikes. By chance at the gathering, I met Lisa Grossman, who raced BMX for factory JMC in the early ‘80s. I’d forgotten that Lisa and I had been pen pals when we were both 13 years old (she lived in OR, I lived in PA). The following year, Luke and I attended some jams and began meeting new friends from our scene and others. “Full circle” may be a cliché, but it’s an apt description for the fervency.
Luke, by the way, is a talented drummer (currently bandleader for The Satin Chaps). A handful of times I’ve had the opportunity to perform my fiction to his live beats.

RC: Tell me more about Moon Babes of Bicycle City. We riffed a bit in 2010 on all the different types of bicycles being ridden these days, but I know nothing of the book’s premise.

MD: The first sentence of Moon Babes of Bicycle City is:

South of Roswell, north of Hope, east of an Apache reservation, west of Dexter and Lake Arthur lies Bicycle City, New Mexico.

Since I started working on the novel in 2010, I’ve filled numerous sketchbooks with research and riffs in anticipation. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Mead composition notebook, a perfect-bound blank book from Michael’s or a ‘70s-era Wonder Woman personal journal survivor with a 3D cover…my approach is to let myself get a little sketchy with the work—have fun with it–so “sketchbooks” is how I refer to them. Glue sticks and collages are involved, and so is acrylic paint. I prefer writing with pencils and using typewriters. After publishing Aggro Rag Freestyle Mag! “The Hip-Hop Issue” Number 13 zine in August 2012, I received a generous gift of files via U.S. mail from a fellow rider and enthusiast on the east coast. The shared digital library grants me full access to all the BMX and freestyle magazines I’d read so many times in my youth, I had memorized parts of them—including many issues I’d missed. I’ve been hesitant to insert the discs and see what’s on them. I can say this: I’m looking forward to it.


I had to shelve work on the novel in 2011 because I needed to get the Aggro Rag book done first. I couldn’t have completed Aggro Rag Freestyle Mag! Plywood Hoods Zines ’84-’89: The Complete Collection if it wasn’t for Bizarro novelist and friend Cameron Pierce, who initially had helped lay out most of the original 12 zines for the collection, and my friend Chip Riggs, whose contributions in graphic design and website development were extensive, to say the least. Cameron Pierce is my Tour Guide for Moon Babes—he’s my Editor and eventual publisher on his small press, Lazy Fascist. Read any one of his mad, inventive novels for insight to why Cameron has my utmost respect. Can I recommend one? Abortion Arcade. It’s a collection of three novellas published by Eraserhead Press (my favorite of the three is titled The Roadkill Quarterback of Heavy Metal High).

Moon Babes of Bicycle City is a book about the demented Moon family—Rod, Chatauqua and daughters named Suzue, Araya and Ukai—and their attempts to survive in a bike clubs-ravaged New Mexico town where cars have been outlawed and the terrain is a world like no other. The family members struggle in a run-down environment to survive deceit and loss, is more along the lines of what happens in the book.

One thing I learned from my own struggles is this: Problems are funny.

Conflicts, hardships, disappointments: They arise.

They’re funny in that regard.

RC: True. Anything else you want to mention here?

MD: I worked hard on Aggro Rag Freestyle Mag! Plywood Hoods Zines ’84-’89: The Complete Collection for over two-and-a-half years. I have a beautiful daughter and I work 40+ hours a week. It was my after-hours goal to get this collection done and get it done right so I can move on this year to finish my new book. Thanks Tons to everyone choosing to preorder a signed book direct from me with the package deals offered on aggrorag.com until Wednesday, March 13th, at 11:59pm PST. I’m expecting to ship all preorders worldwide from Oregon before the book’s official date of publication, 4.3.13.

Thank you, Roy Christopher, for the opportunity to give A’s to Q’s I hadn’t yet been asked. There’s sound reasoning behind why I chose to become one of your students by studying your work both in print and online. I knew there was some reason I hung out with you.


Thanks to Mike Daily, Jared Souney, Mark Lewman, Ronnie Bonner, and Chip Riggs for helping me get this piece together.