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To prepare for a recent presentation I gave for Death Party Philadelphia on the extraordinary life (and death) of Fakir Musafar, I cracked open my now thirty-plus year old copy of the seminal RE/SEARCH #12: Modern Primitives and re-read, for what was probably the first time in a few decades, what may be Vale and Juno’s most (body modification culture) nodally significant interview. Despite having been released over a decade after Fakir’s official ‘coming out’ at the 1977 Reno tattoo convention, Modern Primitives put Fakir, and his doctrine of body play, into chain bookstores, and more importantly, the hands of an audience who may have otherwise never found him.
“Dian Bailey is a maso! I can hear you all saying it, just as my horrified sister did when she saw my swollen, three day fresh navel piercing. As I endeavored to reassure her, I will you, I did not get my flesh pierced or lie on that bed of nails or that couch of meat cleavers, for that matter, for a love of carbon steel penetration. Some pain did accompany all three performances, despite his holiness, The Fakir Musafar’s, denials. But pain is just a weewee stop on the road to knowledge, as his holiness might put it, and I was anesthetized for my piercing by the vision of my perfect navel sporting a jewel that would never get lost when the Crazy Glue failed. As for the nails and cleavers, the Fakir’s to blame for making it look so easy. Fakir is a noted mystic and PARTNER’s Religion Editor, so it is easy for him. Those spikes were sharp, but I could never pass on a double-dare. Musafar claims it’s necessary to lie at least six hours on the spikes to reach nirvana, a state of unconscious bliss. I know for sure you don’t reach that state after two minutes, though the cleavers’ll make you pray for it. The true answer to maso or not, I fell, is whether, having experienced it once, you’ll climb on again. I’ll stick to old-fashioned penetrants, flesh and blood pokers and lots of spit, please.” Continue reading
The 80’s were an interesting time for piercing. PFIQ was going out to more readers than ever, the Gauntlet was growing busier, and piercing was reaching a larger audience every day. Countercultures in general were coming together, sharing ideas, spaces, and people. Being weird and different was becoming welcomed. In the spring of 1982, two wonderful icons of their respected subcultures were getting ready to meet for the first time. After about a year of communication, letters and chats, the sweet, shamanistic Fakir Musafar and the avid, sexy Annie Sprinkle met. They spent a whirlwind week together in New York, one of Fakir’s first times in Manhattan. The midwest shaman got a warm welcome, with pedestrians and cabbies complimenting his septum jewelry (worn on behest of Annie, who found it handsome as could be). The two were determined to turn the city on its head, and they both found great joy showing off at parties and events as Annie lead Fakir about by hooks in his deep chest piercings, or stuck her entire finger through his nipples. They were the talk of the town, answering everyones questions about “if that hurt”. Even Annie went out and about bottomless, ready to show off the fresh addition to her labia. They hosted piercing parties, Fakir adding golden rings to a myriad of members of New York’s various social scenes. Continue reading
Since it’s 1989 release, RE/Search Publications’ seminal issue #12 – Modern Primitives – has become one of, if not the most, nodally significant cultural studies of western body modification ever printed. The pantheon of influential body art figures interviewed includes Fakir Musafar, Jim Ward, Ed Hardy, Raelyn Gallina, Lyle Tuttle, Hanky Panky, Leo Zulueta – you could easily get lost following the ripples of influence from any one of them. But Modern Primitives also featured some younger personalities just getting their start in the world of body art; mostly notably Greg Kulz (a pioneer of black graphic industrial tattooing) and Bay Area piercer/tattooist Vaughn, who at the time of publication was trying to make a name in the industry. Thirty years later, and Vaughn’s legacy – the opening of Body Manipulations and the shift to a more diverse clientele – is easily worthy of inclusion with the best of the industry.
In honor of his his birthday, BSTA’s Ari Pimsler interviewed Vaughn, along with friends, former employees, and clients for the new issue of our print project NODAL POINTS. The supporting interviews – Melissa & Joey from Body M’s, Greg Kulz, Duncan Van Luyt, and Blake Perlingieri – are available exclusively in the zine, which can be pre-ordered here:
(special thanks to Bobby Neel Adams for the amazing outtake photos from his Modern Primitives shoot with Vaughn! http://bobbyneeladams.com)
Ari – For an introduction let’s start with where you started piercing, be it business or just experimentation
Vaughn – Probably about 1985. I moved to San Francisco in 1984. What I wanted to do was pierce my lip and I couldn’t find any outlet to do that. I had been pierced down in LA by Jim Ward at The Gauntlet originally because I was living down there. When I got up to San Francisco there was really no one there doing anything. I wanted to pierce my lip, couldn’t find anybody to do it, so eventually I did it myself. But as far as taking on clients I would say, 1986? I just printed up business cards that said, “Vaughn” and had my phone number on it. That was it. If I saw people who had their own piercings I’d approach them like, “hey I can do noses, I can do navels, I can do this kinda deal.” I would have people over to my apartment and pierce them there. I also would set up a little portable kit and go over to peoples houses pierce people in their homes or businesses or wherever. I did that for a couple of years. I can’t remember exactly when I met Esther but she was a big influence as far as pushing me to make it happen as a business. One of the driving forces behind that was we had heard a rumor that Gauntlet was going to try and open up in San Francisco and I wanted to break away from the stigma that Gauntlet had. That stigma was very much in the West Hollywood gay community. I wanted to see piercing move out more into the underground, like the punk scene and the music scenes. That was my main drive. Esther was kind of in the same mindset that drove me – she wasn’t really oriented on the sexual aspect of it but rather the aesthetic orientation. For about three or four years I just pierced privately and did in-home visits and portable visits. In 1989 I ended up getting a little bit of inheritance. I opened Body Manipulations with seven thousand dollars. Rent on the space was like $300 a month – it was super cheap. That all worked out because I knew the tattoo people who were in the space originally – Erno tattoo. They moved upstairs and then I rented from Erno because he still had a lease on the space for a short time. We just sublet it from Erno and turned it into a piercing studio.
I don’t have much information on this image other than that it was sourced from a newly acquired Kodachrome slide that dates back to the late 1970s and features Sailor Sid Diller at an unnamed San Francisco tattoo show. Photographer, event organizer, (convention? show? his name tag turns to a blur when the image is enlarged) and all other relevant data may be lost to the ages, but at least the image, some forty plus years old now, survives.
Early tattoo conventions were an integral part of the tattoo community developing and expanding before the rise and eventual decline of the tattoo magazine and the ubiquity of the internet, but they often ostracized attendees who were also in the emerging body piercing scene. Still, they provided a space where devotees could meet at local (often gay leather) bars near the convention or in hotel suites to share their passions, and slowly but surely the two subcultures merged and became part of a bigger community.
While Charles Gatewood is primarily known as a photographer, his contributions as an anthropologist/sociologist and cultural engineer shouldn’t be overlooked. For every iconic image he captured on 35mm film (and printed, fetishistically, in silver gelatin) there was a story behind it, and with his FLASH VIDEO boutique label of films he was able to chronicle the behind the scenes experience as well as create an unprecedented time capsule of the subcultures he documented in print.
I asked him once how many copies he’d produce of his Flash titles; “Hey! I used to run 50 VHS and more if necessary. WEIRD THAILAND was my best-seller and the PAINLESS STEEL series sold a few hundred of each title” – which is mind-blowing; particularly the, “more if necessary” as it could mean that certain titles sold fifty or less units/had less than fifty sets of eyes on them in their prime, much less thirty years after their release. The amount of passion it took to have created these films for such a niche audience is commendable.
The last message I got from Charles, in December of 2015, sums it up nicely: “Some people laughed at my strange documentaries. Who’s laughing now?”
Annie Sprinkle’s photo documentation of communities that weren’t paid attention to by the mainstream media – most notably the 42nd Street scene of the 1970s, the world of adult cinema, and the early western body piercing revival – falls very much in line with my view that subcultures should be documented internally; that participants are best suited to chronicle their own movements w/o the academic gaze.
At the 2019 Association of Professional Piercers Conference and Expo, Annie, joined by her long time friend and collaborator Veronica Vera, presented a class on her Herstory of Body Piercing and it’s intersection with early luminaries Fakir Musafar, Charles Gatewood, and Spider Webb.Annie and Veronica were as charming as could be despite the blissfully raw content they were presenting; in a class given by Jim Ward earlier that day it was pointed out that the piercing world has evolved into something that Jim (piercing as a sexual exploration) and Fakir (piercing as a spiritual conduit) could have never imagined, so Annie’s Herstory and it’s sex positive bent was a welcome return to the roots of piercing to the longer tenured piercers in attendance.Unfortunately I was only able to film for a few minutes, but I hope it’s enough to give you folks an insight into when piercing was a much different (and I’m biased in saying so) and more fun pursuit of fringe players.
We launched our new print zine project at this year’s APP Conference and Expo with issue #1 of NODAL POINTS; 100 pages of body modification history and culture culled from twenty five years of archival that includes:
Ari and I are hard at work on Issue #3 1 but for folks who didn’t get a chance to grab a copy in Las Vegas- we’re stocked up at Hex Appeal.
I’m still sitting on a few dozen photographs from the awe inspiring IN PURSUIT OF THE SPIRIT exhibit celebrating the life and work of Fakir Musafar that the good folks at the Body Piercing Archive set up at this year’s APP Conference and Expo; when we finally get the new issue of NODAL POINTS sent to print I’m going to try and commit some time to writing a piece about it.
Until then- I bought a brand new go-pro for this year’s APP Conference, and for some reason left it in my hotel room every time I’d go down to the Fakir exhibit; so everything I shot was on my iPhone8+ and as such is lacking in quality. And because of the size of the files… I ran out of space on the first day.
I think the PRESS ribbon I was wearing was a bit of a stretch. Continue reading