Sketching the irony with Henry Jones

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The observer who lurks behind the counter of your local skate shop generally picks up on traits in everyone who visits the store. Aside from providing you with the best freshly glossed pieces of maple and urethane to suit your steez, their other natural game is to be aware of the characteristics of their clientele, by clocking the dominant, the followers, the thinkers, the slackers, the fearless, the jokers, the thieves…. and so on. It’s not set in a rule book, it’s just human behaviour.

Within these observations comes banter and Henry Jones likes to dish out a lot of it, in illustrative form. His satirical sketches, derived from his experiences, have become insta and tumblr favourites, bringing a smile, a thought, a chuckle and a share, generally in that exact order. So long as irony presents itself on a plate, Henry’s fingers will never get bored.

Find his world on instagram.

How’s it going out there Henry?

Good man, just hanging at the shop all day working on stuff.

Fairman’s right? Isn’t that one of the oldest skate shops in the US?

Yeah man, one of the oldest, if not the oldest on the East Coast. Some people just came in but they are just riding around on Penny boards so I can answer your questions now. Haha!

Let’s start at the beginning as this is straight off the bat with no notes…

Originally I’m from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, which is just short but outside of West Chester where I’ve been living and working for the last few years.

How did skateboarding take over your life?

When I was younger we only had like one other family living close to us, two of their sons who were a little older than me skated and I thought it was the coolest thing. We also didn’t have a paved driveway either so if I wanted to skate I had to go over to their house or just skate flat on a 4×8′ piece of plywood. A few other people in the area started skating and eventually the local hunting and fishing store started to sell skate stuff since the owners’ sons both skated.

Result, at least you had some access. So what era was this and what decks were on the wall at the fishing store?

This was like early 2000’s, I started skating in ’99. I remember the first pro deck I bought was a Blind ‘Switchblade’. Their wall was usually filled up with classic Shorty’s logo boards; they had Maple, all the old AWS decks too. That was when everyone still screen-printed a lot of their boards so I can still remember how the place smelled of freshly screened boards. Haha!

What a memorable waft…

Right?! The nostalgia is really seeping in right now.

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I guess you were watching the likes of Welcome To Hell, Mouse, Menikmati, Misled Youth etc. Board graphics would have been starting to get gnarly in that era…

Yeah mostly stuff like that, I had a lot of the Logic and 411VM’s.

They were skateboarding’s Holy Grail back then before the internet watered it all down…

Exactly! I’d watch the same ones over and over just to make sure I’d be up to date on everything. Now I don’t know shit about anything going on in skating cause it seems like there’s just too much happening too fast.

What video was your most wanted? I see one of your sketches references Flip’s Sorry vid.

Sorry was and will always be a favorite of mine. I think the video that I really enjoyed the most though was Maple Skateboards’ Black Cat video. I remember all the intro’s to everyone’s parts had really sick animations and some of them had like cartoon titties and shit, so I though that was ‘cool’.

Nothing like seeing cartoon titties to get you in the mood. Were you one of those kids at school who would sneakily draw dicks on people’s school books then?

That was the least of it. I used to draw some pretty fucked up stuff in grade school. Haha! Mostly for shock value but yes, that was definitely me in the simplest of terms.

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Were any family members caught up in the artistic world or did you just pick it up yourself?

Yes, both of my parents are phenomenal artists, graphic designers, carpenters etc, so I’ve always drawn from a very early age. I think skating actually kept me from drawing as much as I did before I discovered skating. I consider my Mom) a real “artist”. She does amazing oil portraits and things like that. She actually started a sign shop on their property that my Dad pretty much took over since he is very talented with graphic design as well.

What about sarcasm, did they manage to pass a heavy dose of that on you too?

I’d say that’s mostly me. They always managed to stay pretty wholesome when I was growing up. They actually made me go to a Christian school until middle school and I would always get into trouble for my drawings being too “obscene” or “demonic”.

Ah, so it’s the old rebellion uprising from being around religious nuts that fuels this party then originally, good call. What offended people most in your initial offerings?

I used to draw like knights, dragons and shit like that – people getting their heads chopped off etc. Some of it got pretty gruesome.

I also had a friend whose Mum and Dad were priests and he turned into the gnarliest skater / crack head you ever met…

Ha! I could definitely see that happening! Thankfully my parents never tried to jam anything down my throat and respect my beliefs, or lack thereof.

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What about irony, at what time in your life decide to rip the piss out of traits that skateboarders can’t help but drag around with them?

Well I’ve worked at Fairman’s skate shop for almost five years now and in those first few years I was really exposed to all ends of the skateboarder spectrum. The material just seemed to walk in a present itself to me. Also being in a relatively busy hub like West Chester I get a lot of opinions about skateboarding from people that haven’t the slightest clue about it.

We also run skate camps so I’ve taught private lessons in the past, and let me tell you…holy shit, it seems now that every parent expects their kid to be a pro skater ’cause they saw it on fucking ESPN2 or some shit. I could go on and on about that. Yeah man, just the fact that we are in downtown West Chester means that we have so many weird lurkers and shit, the inspiration seems endless sometimes. Haha!

Skate shops are built for lurkers though, (thankfully) especially when it rains, I guess the doodles just flood out from every scenario…

I think that I spend so much time either working in the shop or just lurking there that so I get so much inspiration I don’t even know of. Fairman’s is like right in downtown West Chester, which is a college town 75% of the year so we have our fair share of longboard douches, penny douches, segway thing douches, etc. We have a wall with a bunch of old boards that the original owner, Dave Fairman, pressed and shaped himself and every fucking Friday night some drunk middle-age dude wanders in to convince me that he “had that exact same board with the roller skate wheels” when he was a kid. That traditionally then leads into their life story and how “kids these days”…..yadda yadda yadda. Oh man, I could go on and on. I don’t wanna seem like too much of a hater. Haha!

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The old “I skated with Tony Hawk once and have a lock of his hair” scenario…?

Exactly. I’ve heard it all. We also get a lot of Bam Margera fans coming in looking for him because they think it’s his shop. In fact we still get fan mail for him every week! The shop has sponsored him since he was a kid so he’s always been associated with us, but yeah, he’s nice enough to usually give the shop guys the code to his gate so we can skate his park.

Ah, Castle Bam….

Yep, it’s like ten minutes or so outside of town. It can get pretty crazy over there but I usually steer clear. Haha!

Is he still painting his old man’s kitchen white and slamming axes through his front door or has he chilled out a bit now? Is there a local legendary story?

His kitchen is currently paint splattered with a multitude of colors for reasons I don’t know. The craziest local Bam story would probably be the time he got too drunk in town, started a verbal dispute with a local resident, that ended with her knocking him out with a baseball bat. Ha! Or when he burned down his mega ramp. As the intro to ‘Viva La Bam’ states: He does “whatever the fuck he wants”. In all seriousness though I have no idea, I’m sure I could make assumptions but I’ll leave it at that. Long forgotten, he’s a fruit cake.

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The 90s had so many characters, I see your art reflects all sorts of responses debates from skaters that their generation were better than the current scene. Knowing your skateboarding history often helps with progression though.

Yeah, I like to draw stuff like that because I think it’s so easily forgotten. Like it’s weird for me when someone comes into the shop and has never seen ‘Sorry’ or ‘Photosynthesis’, or any skate videos like that. I’m biased because that’s when I started skating but it will always hold a special place in my heart.

The old “My era will always better than yours” debate will go on forever. Your ‘2015 trends’ carrot chasing sketch really captures an image of exactly what’s going on…

I think that drawing can translate to every era, 2015 was just appropriate at the time. People are always chasing the trends trying to stay ‘cool’ and make sure no one has a reason to hate on them (that’s where I come in) that they almost seem to end up losing their own sense of style just to look like everyone else. It’s kind of depressing if you ask me.

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Does ‘cool’ even exist in skateboarding? Everyone will always have their own opinions on what they believe it is. Sheep culture seems to have kicked in more than ever right now, at least when Bam was at his peak, he dressed like a pirate and didn’t give a fuck. Isn’t that what skateboarding was supposed to be about originally?

That’s exactly what skating is supposed to be, but on the other hand if you really want to dress a certain way or skate a certain way, fuck it. No one’s hurting me. I will make lighthearted jabs at you however. I try to poke fun at everyone; we all have our flaws that can be exploited via pen and paper.

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That’s true. Who do you think has got away with it the most?

Today all people get away with it most. I think recently it has got to the point where I almost expect a skateboarder to be dressed a certain way. I call it the skate uniform. Skateboarders are so connected now that once something is ‘cool’ everyone knows and everyone is doing it.

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Sheep mentality is unfortunately herding skateboarding towards the Olympics. Core brands have always resisted involvement in the past but sports brands have moved that theory into skating ten fold to sell more product globally. There’s no doubt that the sheep who think they are ‘cool’ will all complain when the Olympics arrives, but forget that the shoes they have worn played a huge part in it. Typical skateboard irony.

I think we are defining ourselves too much. When it gets to the point that you can televise it and make it that sort of competition, when one can say, “that person is a skateboarder because they do that like everyone else”, I think that’s bad.

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Is that what skateboarders really want in the long term though? Do they realise by backing big corperate sports brands not owned by skateboarders that vacuums money out of the core industry, they are funding the movement towards the complete opposite of ‘cool’? The hashtag skate every day thing means skate more, wear out our shoes and buy more of them please kids. You can picture the sales graph and the marketing people around that boardroom table if you shut your eyes.

I don’t think most people think of it on that level unfortunately. Skateboarders started out as the misfits, now when I see the generation of skateboarders they just remind me of jocks.

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There was a moment in the early 2000’s where all the supposed ‘cool’ kids started working for sports brands who hated on skate parks. It was street or nothing, with turned up noses to the internet, skate jams and fun comps. Now we see those same people talking about parks and repping skate events because the corperate brands they front own them. It’s just one of the sad, ironic situations that has made a lot of people laugh worldwide. It’s even harder not to laugh at those individuals who shouted skater owned to the hills and finally gave in, jumped ship and took the money.

Yeah, I do think that’s pretty unfortunate, but you could also look at from a different perspective. I also think it’s great that more people are able to actually make a decent living off of skateboarding since so many more people are willing to endorse skateboarders. It’s a double-edged sword. Do you want to stay ‘core’ or do you want to be able to lay a foundation for a future family, housing, retirement even?

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That’s an obvious point, but if the industry backed skater-owned shoe companies, like the majority used to, and skaters fucked off the sports brands, the skate industry would actually have sales to fund those same jobs for those who needed them keeping ownership of their own scene. It worked for everyone before those brands came along just fine. How is your own brand Corposkate going to cope with demand when it launches?

Haha! Corposkate will never be an actual entity; it’s merely just a manifestation of all the different pros and cons of big business in skateboarding. But yes, if skateboarders did actually back skater owned companies that would be possible, but unfortunately Janoski’s are just so darn ‘cool’. There’s that word again.

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If Corposkate was real, who would you have on the team?

Hmm that’s a tough one; I’m assuming I’d have a corporation sized budget right?!

Well of course, everyone else’s mum, dad and cousin would be funding it as a tax write off in their jogging wear and hackey sack lycra shorts.

Bobby Worrest would be up there, the hometown hero. Also if I could actually get the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater line-up on my team I think that would be pretty legendary.

Pushing those buttons…

Up down left C, man.

Ha! Pass that blunt.

We might not win too many contests with that lineup however.

That’s fine though because if you ran your own branded contests your own team riders would win anyway. Isn’t that how it works?

That is how it works! When your own skater wins your contest it’s just like paying yourself for advertising.

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Exactly, small world problems then. How do you run away from your own problems in this life?

I can usually only run away from my problems for a few hours when I skate before I’m dragged back to reality. It’s getting tough to find the time these days.

How much time goes into the drawings, do you bust them out super quick?

I can usually bust ‘em out pretty quick and the actual concept or idea takes the longest. I do everything with just a black pen then colour them with markers.

So no computers needed, that’s rad.

Nope, I’m sure I could do them on a tablet or something but when I scan them, the actual drawings have a certain grittiness to them that would be impossible to mimic on a computer. I like that, it keeps it alive and very real.

Have you ever tried to roll them into comic strip form?

I’ve thought about it. I really like the idea of single panels though, short and sweet. I suppose if an idea required me to do multiple panels it wouldn’t be out of the question, I’ve just never felt the need to yet.

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If ‘likes’ are a means of measuring what’s most popular which drawing takes the #1 spot? The pills?

I think that one would probably be up there if I posted it now, more recent ones have more though. Like the “sorry mom” one and a few others have a considerable amount more than the others.

Do many people send requests?

All the time! A lot of time though it will be for a personal thing like a tattoo or something so I try to help out if I have the time.

What’s the most ridiculous?

Hmmn…Nothing too ridiculous. More likely than not it’s simple stuff, like people ask me to doodle their dog or something. They just want it done they way I do it I guess.

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Did you laugh when you first saw your art tattooed on someone’s skin?

At first yes, because the first tattoos I saw of my art were people getting them thinking it was Gonz artwork. After a while more and more people started to get them knowing it was me, which really amazed me.

I will let you get back to counter duty, I’m sure that Penny boarder will need some new sports shoes and weed socks, but let’s have your final words on whether you see yourself as a skater or an artist…

I fancy myself a skateboarder rather than an artist for sure.

Nice one, keep up the splendid work.

Find Henry Jones’ wonderful work on instagram.

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We Can’t Stop Here, This is Bat Country

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It’s become customary to refer to skateboarding in the 1990s as a time of outlaws and risk-takers – a barely-supervised playground far from the judgmental glare of the mainstream. The golden age for connoisseurs of that raw shit. Strobeck says as much in a recent interview with Vice, and he seems to know what he’s on about.

From the vantage point of the mid-2000s, those times looked crazier than a Bundy-and-Hitler themed children’s party. By 2006ish, you could buy more or less the same skate brands from chain stores as you could from skater-owned shops, and the Swoosh kept those bro-stores open through exclusive local SB contracts. For a price. Identikit boutique-style points-of-sale, look-a-like teams, sound-a-like interview discipline, and increasingly samey videos with 90 minute plus running times.

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But look at our world now. Faster than I can clumsily type, UK tech-gnar trailblazer, Death pro skater and celebrity Welshman Matt Pritchard has literally pissed all over the Universal Soldier (Dolph Lundgren to his mam) whilst drunk out of his mind on the way to the Las Vegas start of the Gumball 3000 car race; Pontus and Jacob Ovgren lead the charge of indie brands forcing cartoon violence onto the eyeballs of skate-consuming youngsters; Scumco & Sons deliberately manufacture decks that smell of shit; and the VHS video Svengalis behind ‘Bum Fights’ go on the run having been caught with a suitcase full of human body parts in a Bangkok airport.

Do the 90s seem so rad because the 2000s were so dull? It was certainly both a lot smaller and younger back then, and virtually unsupervised by bonafide adults. When Welcome to Hell came out in 1996, Ed Templeton was the weird old boss man, whilst still in his early twenties and just 2-4 years older than the then-young bucks JT, Maldonado, BA, Barley, Satva and Elissa. The sportswear giants didn’t give a sustained shit, dipping their toes in and out of the pool, hardly disturbing the anarchy that went on beneath the surface.

In that isolated Wild West town of Lonesome Skatesville, bad craziness went down that would seem unbelievable to a mid-2000s publishing exec looking to buy beloved UK and European skate magazines only to dead them a decade later. Nor would you have had many catwalk fashion models agreeing to cavort half naked in the background of Moody Dreamboat Dylan Rieder’s shoe ad, especially if said ad had been for Duffs, shot on a $50 shoe-string, and involving adult-film performers, a dwarf, some guy puking, and a couple of homeless dudes fighting. Through the 90s, all these things actually happened.

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Early in the decade, Steve Rocco and his posse rode into town in a cloud of prairie dust. The terrified townsfolk bolted their shutters and hunkered down with a bottle and a shotgun, muttering to their faithful hound that the madness would soon pass. And it did. Manic energy all spent up by the turn of the century, with Rocco retiring to a beach house and leaving his legacy to whither into ever diminishing versions of Flame Boy and Reaper Man.

But our little world got changed something crazy in such a short time. Noble gun slingers like Rick Howard and Carroll fled the poor taste and borderline criminality, and founded their own settlement, just beyond the ridge. A settlement that, twenty-years later, still flourishes – long after Rocco Town became nothing but tumbleweed. But when World and its affiliates burned, they burned so brightly. The original Gonz-steered incarnation of Blind, Natas’ 101, Kareem’s Menace (the spiritual progenitor of DGK and Palace both), not to mention World Industries itself. They brought us Dill, Gino and the McBride brothers, Rodney versus Daewon, the untouchable Europeans Enrique and JB, and the certifiable madness that was Big Brother magazine. Rocco stole riders and picked fights, face-to-face and through print adverts, with established companies and upstart indie brands alike, with a mixture of cruelty and humour that still seem unbelievable in today – where everybody’s ‘nice’ and all/most pro skateboarders carefully watch their mouths lest Red Bull or Nike cut their salaries.

Rocco’s vision laid the foundations for how skating would commercialise over the next decade – retaining for a time something of the anarachy and dumb-fuckery he encouraged. What’s exciting now is that we’re seeing a bunch of guys who at the time were teenagers (or younger) reviving something of that frontier spirit. Dill and AVE’s Fucking Awesome and Hockey. Gilbert Crockett, Tyler Bledsoe and Jake Johnson’s Mother. Both putting their faith in small, adaptive independence as they race away from the spent carcass of Alien Workshop. Lev Tanju and Pontus Alv don’t hesitate to talk shit about what they don’t like and enthuse about what they do, whilst nice guys like Jahmal Williams or Brian Anderson choose to captain their own ships, and continue to fucking kill it on their skateboards, rather than fade into some late career obscurity.

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But are we really seeing a comparable level of madness right now? For those of you too young, or not born at the time, a quick summary. Big Brother magazine started in 1992 within Rocco’s World Industries then jumped to pornographer Larry Flynt’s publishing house. It thrived on drink, drugs, sex and controversy – gleefully skirting well beyond acceptability with tongue-in-butt-cheek jokes on race, gender, religion and disability, regarded by Rocco as “power statements”. If he could piss people off, within and outside the skate industry, AND get away with it, it demonstrated that he reigned unchallenged. Big Brother’s videos ‘Shit’, ‘Number Two’, ‘Boob’ and ‘Crap’ introduced the world to the antics of Johnny Knoxville and an expanding cast who would go on to produce Jackass. In the UK, this inspired today’s hero Matt Pritchard, and buddies to create Dirty Sanchez, another prank and gross-out themed venture that revolved around the stuff skateboarders seemed to find uniquely funny. If grown men becoming very wealthy from jumping off bridges in shopping trolleys whilst dressed as gorillas seemed ridiculous, the idea that they could one day piss on a Hollywood action star and more or less get away with it seemed absolutely absurd.

Before we get all bleary eyed and mutter about how “shit got safe” whilst slurping our craft beers, it’s worth remembering that we weren’t just surrounded by media of the risqué quality of Big Brother. ‘Bum Fights’ left Big Brother’s poor taste as a speck on the horizon as it ventured far into the territory of moral unpleasantness. Ryen McPherson and friends took the occasional altercation with drunks and rough sleepers that most street skaters encounter to a whole n’other level. The result was the ‘Bum Fights’ video series, where vulnerable people with mental health and addiction issues were given money by white, middle class fellas to fight each other, perform Jackass-style stunts, and self-harm. And for some time, many skateboarders’ moral compasses were so out of whack from ten years of deliberately provocative “power statements” that Bum Fights managed to be a kind of sub-cultural phenomenon. Mr McPherson and co-conspirator Daniel Tanner are currently on the run (rumoured to be in Cambodia) having been arrested in Thailand for trying to smuggle several parcels full of body parts, including a baby’s head and a “sheet of skin”, into the US.

bumfightsBut a big change that occurred through the otherwise dull 2000s, that laid the foundations for the way people have reacted to Pritchard’s mile-high antics, is that this sort of stuff started to be funny to a lot more people than just skateboarders. Now with social media (particularly YouTube), any guffawing private school idiot can film their derivative, skater-lite antics and sit back as it goes viral via UniLad for the LOLs of millions of even bigger douchebags.

Was our culture so Gonzo, in a good and sometimes bad way, that Rocco’s vision effectively corrupted all the squares out there beyond the prairie – so now ‘they’ laugh at the same things we used to? Would the media have worked itself into moral uproar if Bum Fights had happened now, rather than in the early 2000s? There are 10s of 1,000s of videos on YouTube of street and bar brawls, of kids inciting the homeless to freak out at them. Young dudes have become internet famous and real-world rich for harassing (and sometimes assaulting) women in public. Normal folk are laughing at and sharing clips that even the most weed-fried skateboarder would have balked at in the 90s. Maybe the shit-heads and punks of Kids-era skateboarding have become the nice guys in comparison to everyone else.

dan_joyce_dirty_sanchezSkateboarding was always the context. It gets us out in the street where the craziness happens, inspires us to talk shit about the stuff we don’t like, within a world we otherwise care so passionately about. Without skateboarding, the genius of Big Brother quickly morphs into crass re-runs of privileged kids making fun of the vulnerable. It’s a thin line, but it’s a line that’s clearly scratched on black Jessops grip-tape. When looking back at the crazy level of celebrity attained by Bam Margera, there is something rather sad about a guy so very, very skilled at something as beautiful as skateboarding being better known for slapping his dad whilst he tries to take a dump.

That’s why skateboarding as it is today, albeit without institutions like Big Brother, is so darn rad – because the context and the act of skating itself is so healthy. Without that, we’re pissing on the shoes of any old chump, and not Dolph motherfucking Lundgren.

Written by Chris Lawton.
Illustration by George Yarnton.

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Jackass star Ryan Dunn killed in car crash

ryan_dunn_jackassTributes from Jackass fans and skateboarders are flooding the internet following the death of Ryan Dunn today. The Jackass star reportedly crashed his black Porsche 911 GT3 just after 2:30am when it veered off the road, flipped railings, and tumbled into woods before erupting in flames. The impact of the crash has been reported to have killed Dunn and a passenger.

Many tributes via twitter and facebook are being posted online tonight including messages from the Dirty Sanchez lads. Lee Dainton tweeted: “sad news, RIP Ryan Dunn… thoughts going out to his family friends and fans around the world…” and partner in crime Matt Pritchard who says, “Terrible news on the death of Ryan Dunn, so sad. Thoughts go out to family friends and @jackassworld crew.”

Reacting to the loss of his good friend, Johnny Knoxville also posted on twitter. “Today I lost my brother Ryan Dunn. My heart goes out to his family and his beloved Angie. RIP Ryan , I love you buddy.” Bam Margera is yet to comment on his account although this afternoon his Mum was quoted on local radio station that “it was like losing a son.”

Our thoughts go out to Ryan Dunn’s family and friends. RIP.