Not too long ago the much celebrated documentary "All This Mayhem" was released, a powerful insight into the story of the Pappas brothers, two of the most talented vert riders in the history of skateboarding.
Skateboarding, as with anything, has had its share of villains and heroes, of half-truths, tall tales and blatant lies, tragedy and violence, but the saga of what became of the Pappas brothers is unique in a sense because it allows us to gaze into, and even make sense of, the most extreme circumstances of the human condition without making excuses. It manages to help one see and understand that which you would think was impossible to understand...and it's done with a brutal, forthright honesty.
My recent review of the film, and even the trailer itself, doesn't do All This Mayhem justice. It is a heart wrenching story of two inseparable brothers who managed to escape the mean streets and childhood trauma of Melbourne's St Albans area through the sheer talent and determination which would propel them to the summit faster than most could have ever imagined.
That alone would be enough for the history books, but as is the nature of the skateboarding industry, once the sponsors disappeared, the shocking headlines passed, and the competition victories faded into memory, the Pappas brothers were seemingly forgotten until one day Tas, the elder of the two, received a devastating phone call from his father...a phone call which would accelerate his journey down the dark, haunted path he was already on, a path which lead to isolation, loss, and an ever more fervent self-destruction.
Even with close friends thinking Tas was too far gone to ever came back, even with his own personal demons clawing away at his conscience, even with the world condemning his brother in unsympathetic black and white terms...the tough as nails, no bullshit, ass kicking "Barnes" survived.
All This Mayhem is as much about Tas Pappas unconquerable will as it is about the gentle spirit of his brother being corrupted by addiction to the point where he did the absolutely unthinkable.
Recently, just a few days after the AACTAs where the documentary won several coveted awards, I had the opportunity to talk with Tas. I am very honored that he took the time between work and family to have a few words with me.
ThrashHead: How did All This Mayhem exactly come into being?
Tas: Well, there was this other guy who was going to do a documentary on Ben and he came to me and said I could be in it if I wanted to, I was pissed! I didn't know anything about it, what they were going to do, I didn't have any input in it, I wasn't able to see the cuts or anything, I had no idea and I didn't want Ben to be portrayed as some kind of animal. I wanted it to be stopped any way possible. I was offered fifty thousand and I said no, I wanted the truth to be told.
Then Eddie Martin came in and was able to get it shut down. It was tough, it was hard for me to trust... I find that difficult you know what I mean? I just had to hope the story would be told as it should be, the truth. Eddie kept me in the loop during the whole process.
ThrashHead: Incredible news on the Australian Academy Cinema Television Arts awards that All This Mayhem took home "best direction", "best editing" and "Best original music" for documentaries, congratulations! It must have been a completely surreal moment for you to be there.
Tas: Yeah, it was amazing, I was nervous, never thought I would be there, that I even deserved to be there...
ThrashHead: Well, if there was someone who deserved it, it was you...
Tas: For what? What have I done? I wasted away my talent, opportunities, I partied, I didn't do what I should have, I lost my children, father and brother...but even so, God keeps giving me these blessings. I'm not a perfect person, I've had a couple setbacks...Christmas was especially tough, it's always tough because of my father and Ben, and then I get people reopening old wounds, there are times when I feel really down still.
ThrashHead: But, with everything that's happened, you walking through hellfire and being at this point, maybe there's something bigger at play here.
Tas: I suppose, I just have to thank God, that with all I've done, and the way I am, he still gives me more and more blessings. I'm not sure why, I can only say "Right, here I am" and just put everything in his hands...
ThrashHead: You know, few people truly realize the enormity of what you and Ben achieved, it was very unique in skateboarding history, it wasn't just an Aussie who took the world by storm, it was two brothers and they both ended up at the very top together... do you think perhaps these AACTA awards were sort of Australia's way of welcoming Tas home again? I mean, after You and Ben became the top two skaters in the world, you both returned in very difficult legal circumstances. Australia has always been a nation which has viewed its sportsmen/women as national heroes with great pride...
Tas: (Pauses for a moment) I don't know, I've never thought of it that way, maybe. The feedback for the film has been really positive...a lot of support from the public, I'm humbled, it's such a blessing you know.
ThrashHead: It seems that both you and Ben began the really serious spiral downwards when you were both separated...do you think it wasn't just a matter of either of you not having a brother there to have your back, but rather you two were more like one person split in two?
Tas: Yeah, I guess, it was hard...Ben was really angry with me for not being there, we'd talk and he felt I had abandoned him, I couldn't leave the states I was stuck there... I should have been there, but I couldn't leave. He'd call me and, by that time he was on heroin, I could hear it in his voice, he thought I turned my back on him, and he was doing other stuff as well, methadone, Xanax...
ThrashHead: We know that pharmaceuticals are incredibly dangerous, in some instances even more so than street drugs. Do you think Ben's prescribed medication for his depression was as much at fault as anything else...that the help he really needed wasn't in some pill and he was denied that by the individuals who prescribed it?
Tas: Absolutely! The prescription drugs can be worse than the hard drugs; you take a few xanax and you become like a zombie, not even remember what you did the next day. Sometimes you may think of something and just act on it, you know, like there's none of that control, not even realize you're doing anything. You think something and it happens and the next day not even remember.
ThrashHead: So this doctor prescribed Ben these xanax...
Tas: Me too! The very same doctor Ben went to, even after everything that happened, would say to me "You remind me of your brother." I mean, what kind of doctor says that? After seeing what happened with the heroin, all the drugs, the xanax, he's saying I remind him of my brother!?!
ThrashHead: You're telling me that the same irresponsible doctor gave Ben these drugs knowing full well what was going on, knowing what these drugs do to a person!?! What the fuck was he thinking!?! I don't know about Australia, but I've been stateside again only for a couple of years and one of the things I notice is how big pharma pushes drugs on the television, the side effects are worse then what they are supposed to treat..."this drug may cause psychotic behavior, suicidal thoughts, death...just ask your physician if Fuckitol is right for you."...a lot of doctors get kickbacks for peddling this poison!
Tas: Yeah, Ben was worried, he had called the psych team on himself, saying that he was having a bad time, he was having some wild thoughts and they said he didn't need to worry...he called me and I said "Naw, you're alright.." (pauses) ...I feel it was my fault what happened.
ThrashHead: Wait, what? No man, it was the fault of the doctor and the psych team, I mean they are professionals, at least they are supposed to be, the doctor should have known what was happening, he didn't get Ben the help he needed, he didn't get him into a facility to get him clean and the counseling he needed. The psych team, who knows what their deal was, overloaded, lazy, who knows? But it was their responsibility to do their job...you're his brother, you were concerned, but you were also dealing with a whole world of pain yourself across the ocean...you didn't know what the combination would do, there's no way you should blame yourself for the horrendous mistakes by supposed trained professionals whose job it is to care for people who are ill.
Tas: Ben had all the symptoms you know, the suicidal thoughts, he felt something bad was going to happen and he tried to find help for it. And this doctor, even after all that, was giving me the same stuff and the next thing you know, I'm on a plane to Argentina.
ThrashHead: That's fucking insane!
Tas: Yeah, insane is right.
ThrashHead: There was recently an article in the Huffington Post called " The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think"
Tas: I saw that, the answer is happiness.
ThrashHead: Do you think then drugs should be decriminalized?
Tas: I'm not an expert, don't know if it would work...has it worked for other countries?
ThrashHead: Well, in that same article they talked of Portugal's decriminalizing of drugs and moving all the money spent on arrest and jailing towards reconnecting addicts with society which resulted in addiction rates plummeting.
Tas: There you go, maybe it would work. Yeah, I don't think addicts should be treated as criminals, they should be able to get help, not locked up.
ThrashHead: As a kid, skateboarding was for all intents and purposes illegal, it was a scene of guerrilla skating trying to outrun the police, it was all punk rock, metal, rebellion, being free, hanging with your buds... Now, with multi-million dollar deals, mega ramps, energy drinks, x games, street league, do you think skateboarding still represents the same things to kids today as it did for us?
Tas: Oh, no mate, it's all about the money now...the X-Games, you know when you do that, you have to sign everything over, the use of your image , you have no say, they have you sign and they own it all... we were to just show up and get a thousand dollars and that was it. They make huge amounts of money off of skateboarding, the skaters don't get shit.
We were going to form a union and boycott, everyone was into it, but Hawk and the Boom Boom crew, the day before, decided to go with the X-Games, then we had no choice because they would have just said, "right, we'll just get a bunch of second rate skaters, scabs, and that's that".
It was almost like he didn't want the skaters to have a happy ending to their careers, siding with the X-Games over us having our own union, which would have ...just a proper point system so outsiders had a chance to make it in without having to be down with the boom boom crew, I mean it's fucked up how it's all set up now. He just controls everything.
Naw, I don't think it's same as it was for us back then. In Australia, everyone were mates...
ThrashHead: You had that sense of being a part of a tribe.
Tas: Yes, people would just skate, I mean I can understand the image maybe, the family friendly thing, but, no it's not quite the same.
ThrashHead: I was talking to Allen Losi about that last summer, skaters are the only professional athletes, and there's no other definition for what they do, who don't have a pension, don't get health insurance, and at any second could be dropped from a team and off to a job they go, they could be completely broken, incapacitated from injuries, and can't make a living, just abandoned by those who got wealthy off of them.
Tas: I work hard, I'm living paycheck to paycheck, I'm blessed to have my wife, who puts up with me, and my son Billy, I've got people I need to take care of, but yeah, it's paycheck to paycheck now.
ThrashHead: In the documentary we first hear you begin by saying you'd like to be mates with everyone, but you gotta tell it like how it is...you say something which is now the quote of the year; "There's your story, my story and the truth."
If you could say something to Tony Hawk and Danny Way right now, what would it be?
Tas: Aw man, Danny Way is really cool, I've hung out with him since getting out, no, he's alright...but Hawk I would say he's a liar, he needs to tell the truth, in a video that came out...
ThrashHead: The Tony Hawk and Andrew Reynolds Buzz video?
Tas: Yeah exactly, that one... he said he had no intention of doing the 900 hundred and he had no say in me not being allowed into the best trick comp, he was going to do something else and just happens to do it?
ThrashHead: You think there's some damage control going on because of the documentary?
Tas: Oh fuck yes, absolutely, and that other video coming out about selling out, what's that? Yes, there is some damage control going on because people are catching on. The crowd on instagram, random people who have seen the documentary, have been telling Hawk that he's not such a good guy in the public's eye since they saw the film. Then he has, of all people, Reynolds trying to say it's all bullshit. Mate, Reynolds wasn't even there, he's not a vert skater, never on the deck of the vert ramps, he's a street skater who rode for him, know what I mean?
Plus, there were certain people talking shit about Henry Sanchez, and Henry put it all together and got in contact with me, so they were trying to fuck with Sanchez because he preferred my 9 over Tony's...
Tas: Yeah, you remember that scene in the documentary? Yeah there's some shit trying to make out that he's just some riddler...also saying the 90's was the worst phase in skateboarding anyway, like they were trying to discredit anything to do with that period and the documentary...that was fucked mate.
They have a full on plan trying to do damage control for sure.
ThrashHead: If anyone has watched the film there were two key moments concerning Hawk where you and Sanchez are talking about him. The first being when Ben went up to Hawk after you, suffering with a busted rib, had beaten him...
Tas: Hawk came at us, he got in our face and Ben just said; "Just go fuck yourself."
ThrashHead: You were clear though, you said "do I do the right thing and separate these two, or do I take my brother's side?"...I mean if I was Hawk I would be able to see that you weren't coming at me exactly because of this, that what you were saying, you know, was "do I calm things down or do I do what a brother does?"
And the only thing Sanchez was saying was that had you been given a chance to be in the best trick comp at the x-games...
Tas: I would have made his trick look not as impressive.
ThrashHead: Yeah, Sanchez was very specific he said that when you were doing it at the Y(Encinitas) it looked like a full on legit 900, I mean you can see the footage right there in the film you came down on top of your board only to have the board spin out from underneath you in the last second. And he said that it would have been killer for you to have had a chance to do it, to see you two guys go at it, to have at least been given an opportunity. He may have done it, he may not have done it but Tas wasn't given a chance. So there was nothing "wrong" there with what Sanchez was saying.
Tas: Yeah! The Ride Channel coming out with that bullshit piece we were talking about before, "Oh I didn't even plan on doing the 9."...what a load of shit. Do you know how much it would have taken to mentally prepare to do the 9? You don't just not think about the 9 and then on the day just do it after he said he had been trying to do it for 15 years! I mean come on, who are you trying to kid? That trick takes mental preparation, you'd be mentally visualizing it for months. Especially if you're going to try it at the X-Games...full of shit, "I'm just such a good skater I'll just do a varial 720...eh fuck it, I'll do a 9", yeah right! Then he says it took him 15 years to do it, but that was the day he said "I might do it."?
No, he would have been preparing, looking at my sequences, he's a liar, he thinks we're stupid man. I can't believe the lies he's tried to spin.
ThrashHead: Everybody knew, I mean even way back in the day, that he was methodical, that he would do a trick over and over and over again until he stuck them. He's said that all he wanted was to do was more tricks, more tricks, more tricks. So I find it really difficult to swallow that he could have just pulled that out of his hat.
Tas: Naw, there's no way. I would have a lot of respect for him if he just came out and said "Listen man everyone makes mistakes, I fucked up back then." The truth be told, I don't like him. I mean, we've had our things, he's done this, I've done that, but everyone makes mistakes. Had he said that, I would have been like "Oh fuck, that's pretty stand up, ok cool." (laughs), "You're a dick, I'm a dick, we're both dicks." and we could move on liking each other.
ThrashHead: Stepping back before all the bullshit in skating became apparent, you play the game, you don't play the game...when I was a kid in Mission Beach, I surfed as much as I skated and I had a big Australian flag on the wall in my room and friends would come over and say "what the fuck are you doing with an Aussie flag in your room!?!" and I'd reply; "Dude, Nat Young, Tom Carroll, Mark Richards...you can't deny 'em! You gotta give them their props."
ThrashHead: But when it came to skating, we didn't know anyone from there, no Aussie skaters were showing up in the mags, the closest was maybe T-Mag's bud Dave Crabb who lived a couple of houses down from me who was from New Zealand...when you first came over did you get any heavy locals only attitude? That "You're an outsider, an Australian, you're not up to our level" kind of bullshit?
Tas: Yeah, a little bit, but once I got to know everyone it was sweet-o, you know, I felt it a little bit. But, it's the same everywhere you go, to any town, and they have their clicks and crews, it's the new kid at school, you know what I mean? And then you make your friends and proved yourself. People are people, generally I try to be the best I can be.
Where I felt it the most was the pro skate scene, like "who are these pricks coming over here?", I mean Hawk was just beside himself back then, he hated it, hated us.
ThrashHead: Did you ever think maybe he was feeling like the old man in this situation, like "man, I'm gonna lose my crown to these two upstarts from down under"?
Tas: Um...I never thought of it to be honest, we were just doing our thing. I never looked at it like that, I mean my dad was telling me things, but I'd say "Yeah, whatever dad." But now, yeah everything makes sense, the documentary itself let's me look back and say "oooh yeah, that's probably what was going on." You know what I mean? Just by the looks on people's faces...I was just in it partying, doing my thing, skating...trying to be someone else because I didn't like who I was, that's why I left Australia because I had to become someone...so I wasn't really thinking about it.
Plus, as I said, I have borderline personality disorder because I was sexually abused as a kid, this and that...so that's the burning bridges thing (Reference to Tommy Caudill's comments in All This Mayhem) it's like a part of my... I can turn on a drop of a hat if I feel threatened by someone, especially if I start seeing that you're not really my friend. I just kinda turn off, I just can't really play the game, you know, like in business where you just play the game when you know someone doesn't really like you. I couldn't do that back then because I didn't know what I was dealing with, with myself personally, and that's what led to what Tommy said, the bridge burning and shit.
I saw it heavily in the vert scene, I was just like "fuck!", back in Australia all the skaters were friends, there was nothing to gain, nothing to lose, we were just skating.
ThrashHead: It's like what your friend Dom Kekich said when he was a little kid, I guess he was being filmed by Greg (Stewart), I don't know, where he's asked "Why do you skate" and he replies "For fun! What, would I skate for money?"
Tas: Right, right, that was our attitude. I didn't go over there thinking I was going to set myself up for life, I wasn't even thinking about tomorrow to be honest, I was just thinking; "Gonna win that comp, whose got the sluts, whose got the coke?" (laughs) I wasn't thinking of a paycheck, a house, I was just thinking of the next good time.
ThrashHead: What Dom said was the way it use to be back in the 80's it was just skating, having a good time, then in the 90's it all became about the money. I mean you see someone like Dom when he was a kid saying something like that, then you flash forward to Ryan Sheckler when he was a grom talking about wanting to get paid, to make his millions. And one can't help but say "Dude, that's not what skating was about..."
Tas: Right, yeah
ThrashHead: "It's about cruising, slamming, having a good time with your tribe."
ThrashHead: I saw an absolutely beautiful video of you the other day, I'm not sure if you've seen it because I don't know who posted it, but it's of your son Billy making a drop into a big bowl...
Tas: Oh, yeah, I've seen it, I set his board aside and throw him up in the air...
ThrashHead: Yes, that's the one, being a father myself, though I couldn't see his face, or your face, the shot was too far away, I could just sense that the best moment of that day for him was when he was up in the air above you. Do you feel in a way, that what has happened to you, the childhood trauma, the fame, the fall, even everything you're dealing with now, has put you into a position which will make you be a better father? To be able to tell Billy what the dangers truly are because of the conviction one gets from experience?
Tas: Of course, of course, in his teenage years we'll sit down and watch the documentary again and I'll say "There's your uncle...you do that stuff, that's what happens, there's your uncle."
Yeah, I know that for sure...guaranteed that's why god kept me alive...and to maybe be able to tell others.
ThrashHead: How's the situation with the INS? Any word on when you will be able to get a visa to return to the states?
Tas: I don't know at the moment we just have to wait and see, I'll need to get an immigration lawyer, but life right now is like...
Tas: Yeah, work and living paycheck to paycheck.
ThrashHead: All This Mayhem is winning a lot of praise from critics from around the world, you have a guest model on Cliché with artwork by the legendary artist Marc McKee who, along with Sean Cliver, did all that incredible art for World Industries, and is now with Dwindle, you're even adding more to your bag of tricks with the mayhem, which is absolutely insane, you were the first Australian to pull a 900 hundred, even though you came so damn close long before anyone else...what else do you have in the works now?
Tas: Ah, now I'm just cruising. Tony Mag is giving me a board on H-Street.
ThrashHead: No way!? Cool, gotta score! When's it coming out?
It's on the way, yeah, I'm pretty happy about that, thank you Tony. Trevor Ward from Theeve Trucks, he looks after me, Steve Douglas helps me out.
Right now I'm just working, I'm not yet in a position to just be out and skate all the time, but with God's blessings we'll see what the future holds.
Watch Tas make the 900 in the vid below.