Monday, March 30, 2009

yo-yo #37: steve brown 888 (small bearing)

heh... in college, my band was called "37". we were a bizarre amalgamation of friends/musicians who just sort of congealed at bc in 1995. pete was a full on "marty friedman/jason becker/dream theater" progressive shred guitar player. hilary "the guy" was a d.c.-scene punk rocker who knew all of the epitaph catalog by heart and oscillated between several hairstyles that seemed to set him in a different dimension from his preppy college peers. i was a jazz/funk bassist who felt the need to inject at least 3 slap-solos into every song, to the chagrin of bandmates and audiences. at first we had no drummer, and we seriously played our first few shows with a programmable roland drum machine (who we introduced to the crowd as "roland"). later, we picked up brian norbert blaise binkowski, an indy rocker who fit nicely into our "no one fits at all" setup. we played a lot of shows (including a pair of epic ones at "the rat" in the month before it closed), released a tape (yes, a TAPE), and had a lot of fun. the name grew out of the fact that hilary and i were perpetually running into the number 37. that and the "37 dicks" scene from the movie "clerks". anyway, sorry for the diatribe.


this is one of the few yo-yo's that i've won (at least that holds any real significance to me).

during the end of the boom, steve brown was one of the only yo-yo players i had heard of (along with all of team proyo and a few of the thp kids, but i didn't remember their names at the time). steve was interesting because he didn't conform to the totally introspective, nerdy stereotype that the uninitiated first associate with yo-yoers. to call him a "punk" (even in the most positive sense) would still be pretty limiting, because steve's one of the most multi-faceted guys i know, and categories just seem to evaporate off of him. anyway, when i finally made my way back to "the scene" around 04, i was really happy to see him still riding the wave, leading the duncan crew, which he had transformed from a battleship being outpaced by the more agile boom-companies into an edgy and relevant force. when i was learning yo-yo as a y-camp counselor, duncan was so far behind, it had become a punchline. in the intervening years, due mostly to the success of steve's freehand (both the style and the yo-yo) and brilliant branding, it had developed a well-deserved legion of fans.

it's funny how one can be 25ish, and pretty well-balanced and intelligent, and still geek out about a totally regular person and act like they're a complete rock star. although i wouldn't use the term "man-crush" per se, i was pretty taken aback when steve e-mailed me out of the blue one day in 06. as i remember, it was a pretty innocuous question about bass gear, but it generated a series of conversations that developed into a surprising friendship (not like "best buds" and tandem-bikes, but as two people who could commiserate on music, kids, comics, and on being geriatric as far most yo-yoers were concerned). we shared enough similarities to make sense to one another, but enough differences to still be interesting (ok at least i felt like that). although he was one of the guys that really shook yo-yoing up, i really appreciated his knowledge of and respect for the yo-yoing of the past, and he was a major influence in my gravitation toward responsive, fixed axle yo-yo's.

anyway, this would have been right around the time that steve left duncan amidst tumult and uproar (as is his wont). almost immediately thereafter, it seemed, he was whisked away to asia with the yoyofactory guys doing all manner of f.a.s.t. demos. shortly after he returned, yyf was hard at work designing the g5 (the first ideas for which, if i remember correctly, were sketched out on a napkin by ben and hans during the trip), and it was clear that steve would be a central piece of the yyf puzzle. i had known that he had nothing but glowing praise for the 401k, and in january of the next year, he showed me the side-art for what would be his signature yo-yo (the "", which was never realized). he said that while he loved what the factory was doing, he needed something with a small bearing if he was going to come out of "retirement" and compete again in 5a, the style he invented.

as 07 pushed on, yyf announced a contest called "tricked out", built around its flagship yo-yo, the g5. participants were to create tricks using the g5's free-spinning hubstacks, which while amazing, clearly weirded most yo-yoers out to the point that they simply ignored them. in the first few months following the g5's release, the renaissance of innovation that steve had implied would take place just hadn't materialized. the g5 was such a solid 1a yo-yo, that the hubstacks had remained little more than an under-utilized "extra" which, aside from pull-starts, users were blissfully ignoring. in effort to change that, the "tricked out" contest would award 3 winners: best overall trick, most views, and peoples' choice. each would receive their choice of yo-yo's from the yyf vault. i came up with a pretty run-of-the-mill top-tip trick i called "mess with the bull" (basically making a "bull" or "666" sign and grinding the tips between your index and pinky). it was an easy trick, and i thought i had no prayer. my norweigian pal (and fellow skater, though MUCH better than me), pekka won best overall with a sick 'hacky-sack' trick, dropping the yo-yo to spin on his foot, before kicking it back up to his palm. bemis advertised his trick brilliantly on yoyonation and was way ahead of everyone on views. the only chance i had was peoples' choice, and for whatever reason, people voted for me. i still have no idea why (here's the original vid, btw).

the same day that ben emailed me to tell me i won (his name registering in my email as "pedro flores") and to ask me to "choose my prize", steve confided that he'd be getting a small bearing signature 888 in black hardcoat WITH some of his tattoos engraved around the outside. i immediately replied to ben with an innocuous (though transparent) request: "well... do you have anything small bearing... and black?" predictably, he replied saying they had something in the works but it would be a few weeks, and did i mind waiting? of course i didn't. in the intervening weeks, i visited steve in va beach, where he was performing on the main drag for the summer. i tried out his pre-pro loop 720s and was flabbergasted when he revealed the ingenius response system. he also let me know (amidst much hooting and laughter) that yyf was creating red "dice hubstacks", both as an homage to steve's 5a, and as a means of circumventing duncan's counterweight patent. the original plan was to be able to string the two halves of the dice together to form a counterweight (which would really have stuck it to duncan). in the end, however, the dice were a brilliant, but purely aesthetic addition.

unbeknownst to me, there developed a real problem with the hardcoat process, and no more than a dozen of the small bearing steve brown 888's were produced (aking this one of the rarest yo-yo's i own), one of which arrived at my door about a month later. they had some large bearing ones for sale at worlds that year, but the black ano can't touch the hardcoated ones that were never made again. i met ben at that contest, and, in addition to the dice stacks he tossed me a red and black f.a.s.t. yo-yo holster "to match my yo-yo". ben talks loudly, both online and off, and his manner can seem brash and intimidating. however, his generosity just never ceases to amaze me.

steve used his 888 to freestyle that year. although 5a had taken on a life of its own, and was being pushed forward in new directions by many of yo-yoing's top innovators, steve had intimated that very few people (less than 5) actually "got" his original intentions for it. his big reason for being excited over the yyf hubstacks was his ability to use them to get closer to his original goal (which i will not describe in detail here). his hubstack freestyle was insane. INSANE. and if memory serves, he was sick as stink when he did it. as he predicted, most people couldn't look at it and appreciate how difficult it was, or its potential to change things. they still don't, and that's a shame. he actually posted it online a few weeks before the contest so that judges could see it and at least try to think through how the'd score it. it just wasn't the same 5a as most everyone else's. he walked through pieces of it with me in virginia, and though i'm not a freehand player, it was so ambidextrous, and so reliant on impossible pinch-catches, it was hard to imagine him "going clean". he didn't, and it was hard to be bitter over my other good friend, tyler severance winning the division. i know steve was disappointed, but it remains, in my eyes, one of the most innovative contest freestyles ever, but the most innovative stuff doesn't always reveal itself clearly or immediately, and certainly doesn't always win. 2 years later, people still don't understand it or its significance.

maybe it IS just "man crush residue" talking, but i certainly associate this yo-yo with steve, with the concepts that underpin that freestyle, and with the potential still just sitting there waiting to be exploited.

steve brown's 07 worlds freestyle


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