August 30, 2010
ALEX “AXLES OF EVIL” COHEN: So, Kasey…roller derby is a pretty rough sport, right? I wouldn’t think such a sensitive writer as yourself could compete in such a brutal game!
JENNIFER “KASEY BOMBER” BARBEE: Have you seen these guns?! No, but seriously, roller derby IS a very rough sport, but even we sensitive writer types need to blow off steam sometimes. Roller derby skaters nowadays come from all walks of life. Also, there’s nothing to get your creative juices flowing like a little sanctioned violence.
What exactly do you mean by ‘sanctioned violence?’
Well, as you’ll see in our book, as rough as roller derby looks, it’s also a highly technical sport with reams and reams of rules to keep all that rough-and-tumble action safe. People like to ask, “So you just get to go out there and beat people up on wheels, huh?” Well…not exactly. The aggression in roller derby is as complex as the aggression in football or rugby, but also like those sports, it’s the big hits and sweet strategy that keep the fans coming back. It is also what kept me coming back season after season! I like to land a nice solid hit…who doesn’t?
Was there a particular moment when you just knew you had a rollergirl inside you?
I think she’s been in there since my adolescent local skating rink days. I was always getting in trouble for weaving a little too closely to the other kids on the rink. But as an adult, I think I knew I’d found my place the very first day I showed up for practice in 2003. I had no idea who I’d see in that rink parking lot, and I was really taken aback at how normal and friendly everyone was. They were very welcoming, and un-intimidating..and then they put on skates. They were loud, crass, hilarious, fearless and (in those early days) totally reckless! Then we went out for drinks a couple of days later and I realized that they were the exact same way at the bar! It was like being sucked into the most bad ass gang in the world.
How is writing like roller derby?
In both, you’d better get used to getting knocked down. But you practice and practice and practice until you realize that it’s not about how many times you get knocked down, but what you learn when you’re on your ass and how quickly you’re able to get back up and try again. Teamwork also helps a whole helluva lot.
Here’s a variation on an old favorite: Granting them the skill to skate, if you could choose any 4 famous non-athletes living or dead to be your derby blockers, who would they be?
I’m not religious, but I’d say Moses would be pretty high on the list. If the man could part the Red Sea, I’m sure that splitting a pack of blockers would be a piece of cake. Bea Arthur – those shoulders would be destroyers! Joan of Arc – because if she’s willing to martyr herself for a cause, maybe she would make some good bait in the pack. And finally, Pam Grier. No one kicks butt like Pam Grier.
JENNIFER “KASEY BOMBER” BARBEE: Axles of Evil, what a fantastic name! However did you come up with it?
ALEX “AXLES OF EVIL” COHEN: Well, I’m a journalist and back when I first joined derby in 2003, the phrase “axis of evil” was in the news a whole bunch. Also, I’m a vintage car buff (I own a 58 Edsel Ranger) so I liked the axles reference (and of course there’s the spiffy skating move called the axel). I’ve since discovered that Axles of Evil is also the name of a bad-ass bicycle polo club in Portland, Oregon. Haven’t met them yet, but I’d like to.
But you had a different nom du skate for a while, did you not?
Yeah, in 2005, I moved to Austin, Texas for a stretch where I skated with the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls. I was fortunate enough to be placed on the Catholic-school-girl themed team the Holy Rollers. They had an Axle Rosie and it would have just been too damn confusing. So I became Smother Theresa for two seasons.
Was the derby life different in Austin?
Definitely so. Each roller derby league has its own way of doing things – everything from rules to league structure to cultural traditions. They have a great custom known as the Last Supper where the two teams who are about to face off in a bout come together for a potluck meal and some bonding before the bloodshed. I remember showing up to my first Last Supper and being terribly nervous… until the door was answered by skater Venis Envy who was COMPLETELY naked. By the end of the evening, Venis had convinced most of us to go au naturel. A few bottles of vino later, we took a couple of group nudie shots together. It was a great night… Well, that is until I had to get lead paint removed from my house this year by a bunch of burly dudes. I came home to find my room utterly spotless, and the photos of us naked rollergirls stacked nicely on my dresser. Doh!
You recently wrapped up a West Coast Book Tour. How’d that go?
Super fun! We got to eat oysters, see old friends, and have a fantastic cocktail called a Unicorn Jizz (Absolut Mango, Triple Sec, Simple Syrup, Sweet and Sour and Grenadine)! It’s definitely rewarding to meet rollergirls on the road and find out how the book speaks to them – no matter what stage of their derby career they’re at. We did have one very awkward moment at a reading. A woman sitting in the back row was pulling a Sharon Stone “Basic Instinct” on us, flashing flesh-colored undies that really looked for a moment like Barbie genitalia…. I found it very difficult to make eye contact with our audience after that.
Finally, if you were a tree, what tree would you be?
A manzanita! They’re short, tough, little trees found in California with a smooth, mahogany-colored bark. Love those things.