The Art of Being Shot From a Cannon

"I'm not in Max Pain and The Groovies, so I gotta do something for pussy." Photo: Chris Swainston

Vultures circle from above as a hush sweeps over the crowd. A countdown begins. Tension among the onlookers builds to a climax: with an explosion of the human will and complete idiocy (genius?!), the body of the human cannonball is literally ejaculated from the monstrous potato gun … I mean carcass cannon.

My friend Andy Forgash attended the premier of Jackass 3D on opening night. I saw him later that evening and asked him out of curiosity if anyone was shot out of a cannon. He quipped with a wide-eyed look of pre-guffaw. I quickly began a stuttering back-step as I realized the stupidity of my question. In my embarrassment, I began explaining how I am this and that, but most of all a sucker for the classics. I guess the gaudy act of being catapulted in a crap shack is the new awe-inspiring show of bravery, and a soon-to-be Barnum and Bailey’s go-to. There was a time when class played a part in showmanship.

There also was a time when Jackass front-man Bam Margera was a burgeoning young skateboarder and his go-to was the ‘all will, no skill’ demonstration of ball size stunt known in the skate world as, the “drop in.” He soon launched onto the scene with the opener in Toy Machine’s aptly titled Jump Off A Building. I don’t know if it was his stunting, friend-punching, father-harassing or Jethro Tull flute solo song selection, but I was in love. He was the personified manifestation of the philosophical idiom “Do or die.” I was the 16-year-old, enthralled and inspired. I carved the word BAM into my grip-tape and never looked back. That fucker made a quick living off his antics alone and rocketed into the mainstream a few years subsequently. The stardom came following the success of the CKY videos that morphed into the MTV hit TV show Jackass. Now he has a reality show: what the fuck? All this is the result of the skateboard equivalent of being shot out of a cannon, the “drop in.”

Goddamn it, I’m a sucker for the classics. The only reason I’m doing this article is so I can go along on the photo missions to watch my friends do psychopathic stunting in the name of glory, pride, pain and everything else that goes along with it. Let’s not belie the human cannonball to a vain masochist, and let us definitely not belittle me to a simple sadist. That said, I think the great “Cannonaut” Vladmir Ranolf summed it up beautifully in his 1957 auto-biography The Cannonautist. “I give my people hope. When I defy death, I am god; I strengthen my comrades through my courage. I show them that they too can be gods of men! In that, Mother Russia is proud. When we are gods we will crush America, and everyone will see that the art of the cosmonaut is our victory, and ultimate secret weapon against all who stand in our way.” Goddamn that’s cryptic and deep. Considering he said this a decade before the space race proves his divination, regardless of the outcome of the Cold War. I look at his life and words, and I don’t limit my opinion to that of him being a crazy commie. Rather, I see a man who lived purely by the idea of do-or-die and let it inspire the world. For good or bad, the philosophy is sound and apparently universal. Ranolf was a playboy, and lived like a god until his untimely death in 1978 due to a freak accident involving rope, lubricant and a Chinese hooker.

I scoured the Salt Lake valley in search of a man ready for fame, a man ready to risk it all for the taste of glory: A man who was ready for godhood, and what I found was such a man—a man who responds to the moniker Lieutenant Dan. This brass of lieutenant caliber tells me over a beer one frosty evening that he had spied his white whale. In this case, it just so happened to be a white rail, a twenty-three stair kink rail found outside the legendary Delta Center (Energy Solutions Arena today). I met up with Dan on a remarkably sunny January morning to question him prior to his fame-hood. We sipped delicious black coffee outside of Nobrow and this is what Dan had to say.

SLUG: Do you think that people with more machismo, people who live with more passion and daring live a more fulfilling life?
Dan: I agree. I like listening to punk rock, getting with chicks, skatin’ pools and smoking bowls.

SLUG: A wise old man once said, “I would rather live one day as a lion than a lifetime like a lamb.” Do you live by a similar philosophy?
Dan: “If I’m gonna kill myself, I’m gonna kill myself on stage.” GG Allin said that. Woo Woo.

SLUG: Have you been training for this stunt?
Dan: I started grinding some flat bars.

SLUG: What has your mental preparation been for this insanity?
Dan: Listening to Slayer. I’m being completely honest.

SLUG: How much handrail experience do you have?
Dan: On a skateboard, few and far between, but I have miles of ramp coping and I figure it’s just like that.

SLUG: Describe your skate style?
Dan: Fast as I can go, catch air and most of all, have a good time. Just say hi, let’s party.

SLUG: What is the motivation for today’s drop in?
Dan: Element of surprise.

SLUG: Why’s that?
Dan: I figure if I do this, no one will expect it. I’m known as a transition skater in the area. The most street I get is a jersey barrier.

SLUG: What people or skateboarders are
inspiring you for greatness?
Dan: John Cardiel. He beat paralysis. I was always a big fan of him. Mark “Redd” Scott. He went out and built his own skate parks. He’s the gnarliest dude ever. Spicoli has a big influence on my lifestyle, and Brian Pennington is rad too.

SLUG: What do you want people to know about you?
Dan: I’m a really nice guy. I’m single and ready to mingle. So ladies, ladies, if you see me on the street, come up and say hi.

SLUG: Do you think getting a big picture of yourself in print will get you laid?
Dan: I’m hoping it will. That’s one of the big reasons I’m doing it. It’s been a minute (since any intercourse) so I gotta make power moves. I’m not in Max Pain and the Groovies, so I gotta do something for pussy.

SLUG: Are you lucky?
Dan: I’m hoping today. I wore my lucky shirt, Coors Lite “it’s on.”

SLUG: There is a slight risk of death in what you will be trying today. Do you have any last words?
Dan: I have no fear. I am benevolent. I am the king of beer …

"I'm not in Max Pain and The Groovies, so I gotta do something for pussy." Photo: Chris Swainston Wild Man Puts 4 Down on 7 Up. Photo: Chris Swainston Photo: Tully Flynn Photo: Tully Flynn