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Alta States

Thrash or Hunt - will the real Johnny please stand up?



"What seems to be absurdity and is not is better than the ignorance of the men who think it is absurd."

Sufi poet Attar of Nishapur

"Hey," the familiar voice came scuffling over the telephone. "If I lose you, it's because my battery is down." And then he cackled and I couldn't help but smile. "He-e-e-e-re's Johnny," I thought.

I could hear the sounds of the road in the background. Feel every jolt, every pothole the truck hit as it wound its painful, two-hour journey back from the oil rig where he works. A long moment passed. "You still there?" Another whiskey-and-cigarette laugh. I said I was. "It's because I left my phone in the car all day," he explained. "I guess my battery just doesn't like the -40C temperature out here..."

A little static. A few more croaks. And that was it from Saskatchewan. I didn't hear from John again until the next day.

I never bought into the Johnny Thrash routine. Sure, it was entertaining. And the kid was funny. But I never belonged to the gangs of voyeuristic bystanders egging him on to outdo his last outrageous shtick with yet another head-turning routine. I didn't like the spectators' raw hunger. Didn't like their cruelty. It was like they were living all their dark dreams through the lanky-haired wildman who partied like a rock star.

No. I was more interested in the kid hiding behind the mask. Frankly, I never really saw the Thrash character. What I saw was a mountain-loving, slightly insecure doctor's son from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta doing his best to make a place for himself in a kooky new world that didn't seem to have any limits.

Mostly what I saw was former ski racer John Hunt; a kid from the flatlands who got turned on to sliding on snow by bashing gates and running downhill in the Rockies. Who found his passion on the mountain after realizing he was just too small and light to be successful in the rough-and-tumble world of school team sports.

Sadly, I also saw the downward spiral this Thrash character had imposed on its creator. It scared me to imagine the consequences that this leap to underground stardom would impose on the kid. And when the police finally busted him for rolling down Blackcomb Way - entirely nude - and spinning inside a giant gyrosphere, I knew the end was near for the obstreperous star of Ski Bums .

But that's all water under the bridge now. After all, that was over 10 years ago...

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