Snowboard Rock. You may have heard of it – a brand new genre of high octane, downhill-sloping, yodelling punk. Despite having never snowboarded before, Avalanche Bob, the 82-year-old inventor of the genre, has reportedly written thousands of songs on the sport, his debut album with the Snowboard Moguls due to come out very soon.
Like many, I first caught word of the Snowboard Revolution through Bob himself- a frequent caller, and fan-favourite on long-running podcast The Best Show. On first hearing him yodel into Tom Scharpling’s phone, I was captivated in wonder, curious to know more of the life of this incredibly idiosyncratic musician.
Filmmaker Rafael Bergamaschi must have had a similar experience on first hearing Bob sing, for last year he released his film debut on the subject – a short documentary titled ‘Avalanche Bob’.
I spoke to Bergamaschi about the film, how it came about, and what it was like working with the musician.
For those unfamiliar, how would you describe Avalanche Bob?
He is the kind of person who gets in a room and instantly gathers everyone around him. He has that kind of energy. And he’s also very unique. He does this mixture of punk with yodelling with songs about snowboarding, and about this… kind of fantasy land which he lives in and out of.
I met him at a place called The Living Room in Brooklyn. It was a Wednesday night and he was the only attraction that actually showed up, and what can I say? It was love at first sight.
And you saw him and thought, I’m gonna make a movie about this guy? Or did he approach you first?
I was actually looking for a subject at the time for something to make here in New York. And… you know when you just feel that something is the right thing for you? I just knew it. The moment I saw him on stage I knew it- I wanted to make a film about this guy, I’m gonna make a film about this guy. I got his phone number and he was a little bit hard to reach and everything, but it was totally worth the trouble.
When I was doing some research I found that he’d released a single called Rockabilly Yodel in the 1950s, and then was just sort of… untraceable for the next fifty years. Did you find out about what he did during that period?
What he did was… hassled you know? Over the past 50 years he’s been struggling- he’s been trying to get his music out there, he’s been working shift after shift at all kinds of different jobs. Working at the supermarket, as a driver, working all kinds of jobs like that, just to get him going while he’s composing thousands of songs in his house.
What I think is very interesting about him is that even though he is struggling, in a way he has… made it? Even though his dreams are so big- he dreams about being on broadway, he dreams about the whole world getting to know his music- but, if you go to his neighbourhood, you see that he has kind of made it! Because you can’t walk with him on the street without people stopping him to joke around, and get him to sing a little bit, or take pictures. He’s kind of a local celebrity. And that’s one of the ideas I tried to convey in the film. It’s like, a man who’s looking for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but he kind of already has it, y’know?
That’s true! In the film you see him bump into people on the street, and at the bakery, and… everyone seems to love him. And then in contrast there’s the bit where he auditions for America’s Got Talent, where we definitely see the other, maybe more conventional side, of the pursuit of fame. And it’s less triumphant, but there are other scenes of triumph I guess.
Yeah, it’s more about the person. He’s… he’s doing everything he can! He’s calling The Best Show every week. He’s calling all kinds of radio shows and TV shows, and yeah, he’s doing what he can.
And the whole thing about the movie is that last year he went to a psychic and she said “This is the year your dream will come true. Everything is about to happen”.
And while he could just sit there and wait for it to happen, what he does is he takes a kind of active role in his capacity. He goes out, he puts himself out there and makes whatever he can to make the prophesy come true.
When you started the film, did you have a plan of what the general mood or message would be? Or was it more of a “we’ll see what happens as we film it” kind of project?
I don’t like to approach projects like this with any preconceived kind of goal. Because the truth is, when you’re working on a long project like this, where we had fifty hours of footage and it’s a fifteen minute film- you never know where it’s gonna take you. You kind of embrace this journey, and it can go in so many different directions. So I guess it’s more a matter of being sensible enough to take the opportunities that present themselves.
Was it a difficult process to cut all the footage down to just fifteen minutes?
It was maybe the most difficult part of the process. Because I had a lot of good scenes and good moments, and I could have chosen to add more of his background story and things like that, but you can only tell so much in fifteen minutes.
But to be honest, it’s also for me the most enjoyable part of the process, because it’s where the film comes to be. It’s where the story reveals itself.
Do you think you could have made a feature length movie?
With the material I had, I don’t think I would have had enough for a feature length movie. But I’ve been talking to some people who seem interested about doing a feature out of this. Right now I’m trying to gather funds and trying to get people together to make it come true. Actually, Owen, the drummer for Avalanche Bob who’s in the film, is also a film maker, so we might be working on it together. There’s a possibility there.
Oh- I was actually re-reminded of Avalanche Bob again when I met Frankie Cosmos- ah, Owen Kline’s sister Greta, when she played here in Perth. I was talking to her, and for some reason I asked ‘Do you know the Best Show?’ and she was like ‘Yeah! Do you know Avalanche Bob? My brother’s in that band!’. It was like, woah, the cliche about Perth is that the world is so small- but it’s strange to see that the outside world can feel so small as well.
Do you have any new projects in the works?
I’m working mainly as an editor now, but I think that my next project will be the feature version of Avalanche Bob. I think that will be very exciting to work on, and I want to have more of his music in it. I’d like it to be a bigger film in a way, because there is so much more to both his work and his personality than you could show in a fifteen minute film.
Words by Ben Yaxley
Avalanche Bob is set to release a debut album sometime this year. Visit avalanchebob33.com for new updates. Rafael Bergamaschi’s ‘Avalanche Bob’ is currently making the rounds in film festivals worldwide. More information here.