Friday, June 18, 2010

Beach Boners: Gavin McInnes Goes to Coney Island

Do: Create a fashion story inspired by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes's new book, Street Boners. Don't: Allow him anywhere near it. Well, one out of two ain't bad. What follows is the result of a day at the beach with the maturity-challenged enfant terrible and a stable of very understanding models. View the full gallery, and, after the jump, take an in-depth look at the method behind this particular brand of madness. Photography by Ruvan Wijesooriya. Styling by Christopher Campbell. Scribbles by Gavin McInnes

Of all the attractions on the Coney Island boardwalk, “Shoot the Freak” is the one Gavin McInnes seems most excited about. Coney Island is a stretch of commercially-blighted oceanfront dotted by implausible tourist traps and so many compounded layers of bygone New York City fashion castoffs that it would take a really bummed-out anthropologist years to sort through the mess. In other words, it’s the perfect setting for McInnes to flex the uncanny irreverence familiar to readers of Vice magazine, particularly the “Dos and Dont’s” section, where McInnes mercilessly and hilariously critiqued people for how they dressed.

“Shoot the Freak” becomes a mantra over the course of the day, popping up whenever there’s a lull. “They use death row inmates in it,” McInnes explains of the game. Actually, It’s just a thing where you blast a carny in the dome with paintballs while an Italian barker shouts at you in an epic Brooklyn accent. But like all the other far-fetched stories McInnes tells, it’s said with such a matter-of-fact affect that half the people listening almost believe it. We’re in Coney Island to shoot our own freaks, as part of a photo shoot featured in our June/July issue. Its inspiration is a new book McInnes has written. Street Boners: 1746 Hipster Fashion Jokes is basically one big “Dos and Don’ts” bible, and it shares its name with McInnes’s current online venture.

After the shoot wraps and we’re cruising back to Manhattan in a motorhome, McInnes has the driver pull over at a bodega because he’s diabetic and is going to die if he doesn’t get some sugar quick. It isn’t until he rolls back in with a couple of six packs for the crew that everyone realizes he was bullshitting.

The constant bullshitting makes interviewing McInnes a pleasurable challenge. Unlike a lot of boring subjects where you have to push to get anything even remotely interesting, McInnes is almost too quotable.

Upstate, where he spends his time away from the city, “Everyone wears their p-fucking-js,” he says. “Half the people in WalMart are dressed in pajamas. Same thing with the airport. It’s like, denim is too uncomfortable for you now? Spun cotton isn’t doing the trick anymore?”

McInnes seems like he’s constantly workshopping bits. Twitter and the comments section of Street Boners are his favorite place for trying out new ones, although he does get a little annoyed with some of the meaner comments on Street Boners. “It bums me out when people talk about the girl’s bone structure or something. Your beef is with god, not her. But the internet is all horny fourteen-year-olds. So you’re fourteen and you can’t get anyone to fuck you, and now you’re mad at chicks.”

Larry David and David Cross carry around a note pad at all times to write down jokes as they think of them, he says. “The beautiful thing with Twitter, is you have your notebook anywhere. You can’t lose it. And you can tell if it’s funny from retweets. Like the other day, I said, ‘Park Slope? That’s like the most Korean name ever.’ No one retweeted it. I guess that’s not a zinger.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of his material ends up being scatological or dick-related. During the shoot, when we’re interviewing the models for the iPad video component of this spread, most of them play along. Anyone who ever said models were humorless never had to watch them play it straight while an interviewer asks them whether or not they think fat people should be shot. Aside from dicks and poop, what else is there, McInnes wants to know. “Vaginas aren’t funny. They’re like the boss that the alien calls up before they call in the invasion. Like this guy with blobby tentacles.” His impression of a floppy alien vagina commander is pretty spot on. Best I’ve seen, anyway.

Before getting in a cab to come to the shoot, McInnes tells me, he popped an adderall and drained a cup of coffee. Not a good idea before his morning shit, it seems. He vividly recalls feeling like a pregnant lady in the movies—breathing heavily, hoping the driver doesn’t hit any big bumps. Retelling the story gives him an idea for a bit where the cabby gets out to help perform an emergency delivery, but instead gets sprayed in the face with diarrhea. What follows is a discussion about the best ways to rig the fake shit and what angle to shoot it from so it looks most believable. You know, showbiz talk.


We’re looking through stacks of commercialized bullshit in one of the dozen or so gift shops along the strip, shopping for snorkels, giant inflatable banana cocks, cartoon bikini t-shirts, the usual Coney Island business. “Superman is like brute force,” he says unraveling a long superhero beach towel. “He’s like WalMart. Spiderman is more tenacious, though. He’s like Goldman Sachs. He’ll bundle mortgages behind your back.”

I mention the thing about his riffing making him an easy interview subject. “Well, I basically did your job for fifteen years,” he says. “I usually like to try to figure out where the dude is coming from and basically do his work for him.” That’s totally cheating, by the way, but okay, because it’s pretty much what he’s done here with the Shoot the Freak motif. Shoot the Freak could be another name for Street Boners, actually. But instead of lobbing paint ball volleys at a parolee in a riot gear costume, McInnes is shooting a another type of freak, taking pictures of kids on the street in different, but no-less ridiculous costumes of their own.

If you’ve ever read Street Boners or the “Dos and Don’ts,” you’re probably curious about how it works. Do people know what they’re getting themselves into when he comes over with a camera? Shouldn’t they be wise to his schtick? “I mostly have handsome or beautiful people do it,” he says. “It doesn’t work with this face. I’m actually surprised at how much training it takes, though. A lot of times they’ll come back with homeless or fat people: one of those is a mental illness and the other is self-indulgence. Or they’ll just do beautiful people that are normal. So I said what I want is people 18-25 that are ‘alternative,’ for lack of a better word, trying to be stylish. I don’t care if they’re hot or not. And I want mostly women, because they care more about fashion than men.”

Do people get salty when they end up getting a bad rating on Street Boners? “They get really mad, actually,” McInnes says. Conversely, when he’s writing a complimentary caption, as he did for this shoot, the joke has to be more on him, like he’s got a boner for the outfit, or the shoes and socks–and with him it’s very often the shoes and socks that engenders said boner. The humor comes from his overreaction.

People ask him all the time whether his wife gets mad. He was doing this when they met, he says. It’s not something he started recently. “And it’s not like I’m thinking about holding this woman and spooning her. It’s more like a Benny Hill type of thing.” Still, he has to watch himself in public. “You’ve got to be careful if you see a hot ass. The trick with wives is to point out hot dudes too. For every three hot dudes you point out it earns you one ogle.”

A lot changes when you get older and settle into a relationship, McInnes says, and he’s sorting out the details of his next book with that in mind. It’s going to be a series of reminiscences called The Death of Cool. It’s a title that sums up his feelings about getting old. “I hate when people say that cool is dead,” he says. “It’s because their era is over. It’s this myopic view that people have, like when they’re shitting on hipsters. What it means is that ‘I am too old.’ But cool is over for me because I have a wife and a kid.” (McInnes also starred in documentary, A Million in the Morning, where he tries to break the record for non-stop movie watching.)

We’re walking past a group of screaming kids nearby barely containing their hurl on a free-fall ride. Two leathery beach relics are relaxing in the sun over a couple of beers. Probably retired civil servants, he thinks. “This place is like an elephant’s graveyard for cops.” Civil servants are an issue of particular interest to McInnes lately. He’s just written about how much money cities waste on firemen. “How many fires have you actually seen in your life?” he asks. “A couple, right? It would probably save money to just let the houses burn down and then rebuild them rather than pay these guys to sleep all day.”

It doesn’t seem like the city has been paying much attention to this area for a while. All around us the slouchy buildings and empty lots are covered in signs calling out the iconic seventies camp classic The Warriors. “Dear Coney Island, The Warriors is a movie about how much this place sucks,” he says. “They’re bummed when they get here. There’s no party waiting for them.”

It’s a film about a bunch of dudes dressed up as cowboys and baseball players and Indian roller skaters trying to kill each other on their way to Coney Island. Some of the characters look like they wouldn’t be out of place in Street Boners. Freaks, basically. Readers of Street Boners, and anyone else who’s ever walked five feet down the block, know kids in New York have always worn some weird shit, it’s just that the details of the costume keep getting changed. Fortunately, someone has been documenting it.

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