Aggro Rag Freestyle Mag! Plywood Hoods Zines ’84-’89: The Complete Collection (Stovepiper Books Media, 443 pages, $24.43) is radical, and not in political or mathematical terms. Rather, this is a surprisingly engaging testament to the underground freestyle BMX circuit of the mid-’80s.
Aggro Rag is a collection of 12 fondly remembered fanzines by the same name, with notes and essays from original editor Mike Daily and other contributors. Daily began the project as a high-school student in York, Pa., working on it between 1984 and 1989. Born on mimeograph and Xerox machines, each issue of Aggro Rag is more of a scrapbook than standard zine, originally distributed at competitions and nationwide by Daily’s neighborhood post office. The eclectic content includes everything from music reviews and prolific interviews with up-and-coming riders to news blurbs and how-to guides for performing the latest tricks, complete with directions and photos.
The much-romanticized zine is a lost art form obliterated by Pentium-enabled digital publishing. Daily’s hodgepodge approach to the mini-mags may have helped it hold up: Aggro Rag has the ragtag finesse of a well-done barspin, probably because of hands-on dedication so easy to skimp on in the Tumblr age.
The collection has the tone you’d expect of kids whose sole pleasure in life seems to be cruising around doing cherry pickers. “And how about when a total moon babe moves in down the street?” Daily writes in an editorial about the many uses for a BMX bike. “Your bike sure does come in handy when you’re tryin’ to win her heart by cruising your scoot past her house standin’ on the seat and give her the peace sign with a rose clenched in your teeth!!”
The photos are mainly amateur action shots of Daily and his peers performing flatland bike tricks. Other images include cartoons and candid shots of Van Halen’s David Lee Roth meant to help retain the reader’s gaze when bike photos fall short of gripping.
For all its unpolished humor and bike-related jargon, the collection is brimming with insights that further its appeal beyond the freestyle junkie. When Daily tackles the role freestyle plays in society, one can tell he’s taken time to consider how bikes help keep teenagers from doing vandalism and drugs.
Ultimately, Aggro Rag’s
best quality is its subtext as a journal of Daily’s progression as a
writer and person, with writing and stories becoming more concise, vivid
and compelling with each issue. Daily went on to work for two national
BMX magazines and write two novels—the fact he’s not embarrassed by
something he photocopied at age 15 speaks volumes.
GO: Mike Daily is at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., on Wednesday, April 3. 7:30 pm. Free.