(Photo via FBM)
Today, in light of Mike Tag’s passing, a lot of his closest friends and family members have been sharing their memories of Mike’s life. I never got to meet him. Nonetheless, he changed my life and he’s a part of the reason I am where I am right now.
I don’t think that any kid reading this right now could comprehend how blown away I was as a 15 year old kid watching Albert Street for the first time. There were so many things going on that I couldn’t wrap my head around. Crandall pissing on some girl’s tits. The Baker brothers beating the shit out of each other. Lou Bickle breaking a bottle over his head while almost completely naked standing in his front yard.
I don’t think kids could comprehend how insane these things seemed to me at the time because kids now grow up with the internet. They’re desensitized at an early age to all but the most outlandish behavior. But I had no frame of reference for that kind of thing. A couple years ago I Googled “how do you eat a lightbulb” just to finally figure out how Lou Bickle was able to pull that off. But in 1999, Google wasn’t a household name just yet. These guys were superheroes. I didn’t really know how they ended up that way. I just knew that somehow, if I rode really hard I could maybe one day figure out how to be as cool as them and live as loudly as they were.
They didn’t care what anyone thought of them. They wore their anti-social behavior (throwing chairs off balconies at parties, writing MUTHAFUCKINFBM on a cast in huge letters) on their sleeves almost as if that’s what made them BMX riders, even more important than the actual act of riding bikes itself.
I was 15. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to hang out with my friends, ride my bike, break some shit and stay out late doing whatever I felt like doing. I knew what I didn’t want to do too. I didn’t want to sit in class, I didn’t want to work a job, I didn’t want to do all the bullshit that my parents had been shoving down my throat my entire life. And it was obvious to me that these guys had life all figured out. They were happy. They were proud. And the fact that the rest of society found their lifestyle disgraceful didn’t matter to them. They were doing what they wanted to do. They had already learned a very important lesson that was hard to comprehend when I was still in high school: nobody else matters. If you’re happy that’s all that counts.
Albert Street was my first glimpse into the world of a bunch of grown men living like children. I knew that the way they were living wasn’t sustainable. They were broke, dirty and probably constantly on the verge of being evicted. But I didn’t care. This was proof to me that all the things I wanted out of life – which is to say a lot of fun and little to no responsibility – were possible.
Mike Tag was always the best rider in the FBM videos. Maybe that wasn’t abundantly clear in Albert Street but by the time All Time Low was released a few years later, there was no denying it. He had everything you could want from a street rider. He went fast. He grinded everything. He pedal iced rails before anyone knew you could grind on your pedals. He got tech when he felt like it. He rode spots I couldn’t imagine existed on the same planet that I was living on. He was larger than life without ever saying a word.
The attitude represented in the FBM videos changed me. I decided that I didn’t care if I was broke. I didn’t care what my peers thought of me. All I wanted to do was live the life that the FBM guys were living. I wanted to travel. I wanted to ride. I wanted to just get out there and experience life. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to get the fuck out of the town I lived in. I just wanted to do something. I wanted to see how great I could be. I wanted to see what I was capable of.
If you had told me in 1999 that 13 years later, Mike Tag would be dead from cancer I would have called you a liar. I still can’t believe it. He was a man of steel. He had to be. How else could he take all those falls and pull all those rails? How could he have lived through all those drunk episodes in the FBM videos without ending up horrifically maimed or in jail? If he was capable of dying, he would have died a long time ago. As far as I was concerned, Mike Tag and the rest of the FBM team taunted death daily for a reason – because they were invincible.
I was wrong. That’s part of being young. You feel like you’re invincible because you haven’t had time to deal with the consequences of your recklessness yet. You push the limits because you haven’t faced death yet. You don’t have anything to be afraid of because you don’t really know what’s out there.
Ultimately Mike Tag died a pretty average death. A lot of people get cancer. Ask your parents how many friends they’ve lost to cancer and they probably won’t know where to start. There’s nothing glamorous about cancer. There isn’t some lesson to be learned from Mike’s death. Cancer strikes whoever the fuck it feels like striking. It creeps up on you and before you know it, it’s already got you. Maybe you’ll beat it. But you probably won’t.
I found out about Mike’s death yesterday after I had just finished the 12 hour drive from Long Beach to Salt Lake. I drove out with a bunch of my best friends in the world. We’ll be here for 2 weeks. We will primarily do 2 things while we’re here; we’ll ride our bikes and we’ll drink – just like I grew up watching the FBM team do in videos before I even knew what beer tasted like.
As soon as I heard the news, I posted it on this site. And then I went out to the bar with my friends. I didn’t really feel going, but we already had plans and I figured it’d be better to go out rather than stay home and contemplate my existence. Elf was at the bar. I told him the bad news. He said that he had heard it was coming a few days before. He told me that in 1996, Mike Tag was the first person he saw do a long fakie rollback after doing a trick on a sub box. I felt really grateful to be able to hear one of Mike’s friends share a memory like that with me. A tiny wrinkle in his brain that had been stored there since before I even owned a BMX bike.
Mike Tag was one of the toughest men to ever dedicate his life to his BMX bike and even he couldn’t beat cancer. But there aren’t many people that can say that they inspired thousands of young kids all over the world to try harder. Death is inevitable. But living a lifeless existence like the kind your parents and teachers try to shove down your throat isn’t. There isn’t any lesson you’re going to learn this week that will stop you from getting cancer. But if Mike’s untimely and early passing can make you treasure your days left on earth a little bit more, then his death won’t be in vain.