Masterpierce Theatre: Mark Seitchik
Mark is one of those piercers who I’d heard about for so long, and had been so curious about, but information always seemed relatively scarce. His years at Gauntlet are some of the most interesting times in our history, and he sat at the helm of both San Fransisco and New York studios, helping train and work alongside some of the most notable piercers in history. One of only five people ever bestowed the title of Master Piercer, his passion and humility brought him to the top of the piercing world in the early and mid 90s. Mark is an incredible person with a rich history in our community, and even decades after he’s left he is someone we need to respect, to remember, and to admire. Reading about someone and talking to them is like night and day; talking with Mark was one of the most humbling experiences in my career. I am thrilled to be able to share this.
Ari – Before you were a piercer, what were your experiences like with piercing? Had you seen people with piercings, or found it in magazines, or anything?
Mark – No, I stumbled into it actually. There wasn’t this aspiration to get into piercing when I did it. I had gone to San Fransisco Art Institute and majored in performance art and instillation art and video and all that. When I got out I got a job amazingly in a sculpture studio, which was pretty cool, but after when that fizzled out I was still living in San Fransisco and bartending and doing whatever I was doing, an ex-boyfriend of mine who was working at Gauntlet, Scott Shatsky, he said “Hey, they need an apprentice, do you want it?” I said I need money, I’ll do it, whatever! So, I just stumbled into it in that way. I mean I’d had some tattoo work, maybe I had my nose or my ears pierced, I honestly don’t remember, but it wasn’t really something I was going after, it just fell into my lap.
Ari – How did you meet Scott?
Mark – At San Fransisco Art Institute.
Ari – Had he been piercing long by the time he asked you to come on board?
Mark – Nah, maybe a year. I’m not even sure how long the San Fransisco shop had been open at this time honestly, this would have been 1989, maybe?
Ari – That sounds right, because before that Body Manipulations had already opened up. Had you heard about them at all before you worked at Gauntlet?
Mark – Yeah, I definitely had, they were more on the cutting edge, a much hipper place. We were the much more conservative place, like we’re going to measure up and make sure nobody thinks less of us. That’s what Jim was about. Hell, when we opened up in New York we opened up on 5th avenue instead of the obvious place of the East Village. We were more about staying there, but I think also because (I don’t know this, I’m speaking completely out of conjecture here) but I think places like Body Manipulation were definitely coming much more out of the hard edge punk rock whatever fuck you society place, where Jim was coming more from the S&M gay place, like no we’re mixing with society, you just don’t know we’re part of you kind of thing so we’re gonna keep it here. I definitely came from much more of the punk fag place, thats what me and Scott and all of our friends were, Michael Blue, definitely way more of that, so we were that common of blood coming into Jim’s place, which was honestly not something he was 1000% comfortable with. I mean he was cool with it, but we were that and he was this and we all coexisted and it was good, we were a mixture of a lot of things going on, especially at the San Fransisco shop. I mean my first day it was just Fakir and I. He knew everything he knew and knows but he didn’t know anything about the credit card machine! I’m like, it’s my first day, I don’t know what the fuck to do! So there we were, I’m just stumbling around with this icon – it was like that back then.
Ari – Who was working at the shop besides Scott at this time?
Mark – Karen, Jim, Fakir, Scott, me, Elayne would be coming in and out from LA for sure, I’m blanking who else right now. These are distant memories for me.
Ari – Other people who were at Gauntlet mentioned that it wasn’t like you apprenticed solely under one person, you had a variety of input from instructors.
Mark – Yeah, it wasn’t super structured. It was definitely very thoughtful, it wasn’t just a whatever kind of thing, but it wasn’t structured like maybe the way it is now where you learn under just one person. I mean when I was running the New York shop and people were apprenticing there, I may have had the last word to say on something, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t practice with everybody. Back then Jim was definitely doing it but it was open, it was everybody doing it. It was structure with a lot of different input.
Ari – When I spoke to Mic Rawls, he talked about how open the piercing community was in San Fransisco, not an our-shop-vs-your-shop type situation. Would you say you did any snowballing of ideas with other shops? I mean at this time piercing was evolving, before Michaela got everyone together for that first pre-APP meeting, were there any meetings to discuss or talk about piercings, or was it just friendships?
Mark – It was just friendships. People were passionate about it, but definitely no organizational aspect. Jim had the magazine going so there was a deadline for that, people were working on that, but outside of PFIQ, there really wasn’t much. I think he felt like he had a good crew and just trusted that it was working well, there wasn’t a lot of checking in or systematic meetings.
Ari – Did you ever do any work for PFIQ?
Mark – No, I mean I was in it a little bit but I never wrote for it. I wasn’t a writer, I didn’t feel like an academic at that point.
Ari – What was that transition like from working at Gauntlet to stepping up and becoming a trainer yourself? How long were you piercing before that happened?
Mark – Maybe three or four years. It really was a sink or swim sort of thing. It’s been the story of my life for when I work for other people (which has been a long time), I usually ended up getting to the running-it type of stage, just the person I’ve always been with whatever I got into. When I was working in San Fransisco and I was just a piercer, I was doing my thing, I had my clients, we mixed, everything was cool. I’m from the east coast, and I visited for whatever reason, and Dan Kopka had opened up the shop, I went out for like two months to work and I got the east coast bug again. I was tired of the west coast, I’d been living there for like eight years, I was thinking I love the New York vibe, I gotta be out there, I gotta be out there, Dan you gotta let me come out there! He was like I don’t know how many shifts I’ll have for you but if you want to come out whatever, I’ll give you what I can. So I was living out there and eventually was working full time pretty quickly, and tragically Dan had to go, and I stepped into his shoes. Whether or not I was training hardcore at that tine, I’m a teacher, I’ve always loved being a teacher. After I left Gauntlet I became a scuba instructor, and eventually I got into massage and then eventually I got into Thai massage and became a Thai massage instructor. I like instructing, not as an ego thing, just the place I’ve always been at. That’s when Michaela and Jim started the trainings, and I got really into that, when they were in New York I got really really into it. As soon as we gathered the people, it was Michaela’s thing but it was my shop so I didn’t mind stepping in and putting my spin on it. I mean they developed all these things to go with it but I just sort of free-balled it and got into it, people really liked it, and I loved teaching that stuff. I was a good trainer, I knew what I was doing and I didn’t have any need for the ego involved in it, which unfortunately there was some of that going on but I didn’t care. Three or four years doesn’t sound like a long time, but I’ll give you one quick story to show you how raw it all was. I mean Jim can go much further back then I obviously, but me and Michael Blue, who was never a piercer, we were driving cross country and he was like you know when we get back to San Fransisco I want to pierce my eyebrow, and I was like oh what a cool idea! He talked about how when he used to live in Seattle there was this guy who used to put a safety pin through his eyebrow. We got back and Karen actually did the first eyebrow piercing ever (properly) and that was back then! Now we see 15 year olds here in Costa Rica with eyebrow piercings and in my mind I’m thinking I remember driving in that crappy ass shitty four cylinder car cross country and Mike saying “I’m gonna pierce my eyebrow!” and I didn’t think twice about it till we got back, I wasn’t even working at Gauntlet yet, I did right after that, and going in going “Let’s get your eyebrow pierced!” I mean that’s how raw things were, I’m glad that things are more civilized now in a sense, but they weren’t very civilized then – very true to nature.
Ari – Would you say 1989 to 1990 is when you started apprenticing at Gauntlet?
Mark – Yeah, five bucks an hour plus you had to pack needles.
Ari – We still pack needles, it’s the bane of my existence.
Mark – Hey, I mean turn it the other way around – somethings wrong if you’re not packing them!
Ari – Once you began training what was that like?
Mark – We were busy, everything was going on all the time, I was either working the counter or packing needles or watching someone piercing or doing piercings.
Ari – As far as turnover at that time, if you were constantly training and adding people to the roster, were people mostly sticking around or was it more revolving door?
Mark – We had people coming in and getting pierced but we had a steady roster. There wasn’t a lot of drama, there was some drama of course, we were a mixture of people who came from a nonprofessional background, it was so new. But people were thoughtful and really doing it and nice, the only thing that really threw a wrench in the spokes were drugs, which thank God I was never really a part of. I wasn’t straight edge but I was not an addictive person, and that didn’t really happen until later. I know there’s a lot of stories about the LA thing and then Dan in New York unfortunately, but it wasn’t a big part of the story honestly. People stuck with it.
Ari – Before you made the move to New York, how regularly would you go to the LA location?
Mark – I went to LA a number of times, I don’t know how many numbers exactly, it’s been 25 years now, but I’d go down there. I’m not a huge LA fan, when you get into California there’s southern, middle, and northern, and I’m totally more of a Northern California guy. I remember I was staying with Paul at Elaynes apartment, she was gone somewhere, I don’t know where she was. I still remember when she came back we had to put all the food back in her fridge because Paul had eaten it all, we had to remember every frozen thing he took from her and we had to go shopping, I still remember that day. More-so I remember working in the shop and I had a day off and when I came back from my day off I walked through Melrose and this and this and that and I came into the shop because I didn’t have anything to do. They asked what’ve I been doing? And when I told them where I’d walked around they were literally angry at me because I had walked through LA, they were angry with me because you just don’t walk in LA, so that’s my point about LA. But I would go there a few times, and I loved going down there because it was a totally different vibe, and you got out of your stupid little shop and you traded things because they’d be doing it this way and I’d be like “Oh, how cool is that!” or I’d be like “Oh shit, we’re using a nostril tube!” And they’re be like “Oh shit, we’re still using a PA tube and it’s so much smaller!” You have to remember too, this is way before the internet or cell phones, so sharing stuff, I’m not saying we had to send smoke signals or anything, but communication was way different then it is now, I mean extremely different. We may as well have been sending smoke signals. But it was cool. There weren’t that many people going back and forth at that time, I’m not sure why, but I get along with people super easy so I think it was easy to just send me down there because they need somebody for x amount of time. It was a totally different vibe, way more about stars coming in there and all that shit, and the whole shop would be up all night because we’d be brought out to be extras in some whatever it was. We were the freaks, we’d be doing performance art, thats when I got to know Ron Athey really well. We got to become really good friends, I did a lot of performance with him all over. I was really glad to go to LA, there were some cool aspects of it for sure.
Ari – What were the differences in clientele like between the LA and San Fransisco studios?
Mark – LA was more glitz and glam and San Fransisco was more genital based. I mean we weren’t hardly doing any navel piercings at that time, I remember being interviewed on the Geraldo show and saying we were doing twelve navel piercings a month, now I can only imagine, it’s got to be countless, but it was more nipple piercings and whatever facial piercings were going on, and definitely San Fransisco was way more about genital piercings and more experimental stuff.
Ari – What would you lump into experimental stuff at that time?
Mark – Surface piercings. I remember Jim doing my neck. I wanted my neck pierced so badly, I thought it was the coolest thing, it didn’t work out, it grew out, but I remember Jim doing it. We started with a barbell. I know Dan Nicholetta still has pictures of it somewhere, I mean that’s what I wanted, I thought the two balls would look like a bite mark, but it grew out. Also, the Earl, things like that. By then Elayne already had her five tongue piercings, that was all totally normal. But the eyebrow piercing was also experimental because it was like a surface piercing but it worked out pretty quick. What we were developing at that time were what tools to use. We weren’t really getting too far with what you guys are doing with the surface stuff, it was more how to get the needles through the skin in a more efficient manner. I don’t know what you guys use now for a nostril, but we used an aluminum tube about the size of a pinky with the end cut at a forty-five degree angle and beveled so it wasn’t sharp and we used that for receiving.
Ari – We call those receiving tubes! It’s a blanket term now regardless of size, and they manufacture them in pretty much any size you’d need.
Mark – It’s so neat to be talking about this, I was just in Indonesia and there was body jewelry everywhere, and it was like Jesus Christ! It was cheap too! I remember, I don’t know if it was in LA or what, but we were using the receiving tube and I remember going well, I don’t know what you’re using for PAs, because with the PA tube you had to have really good aim! You can’t put anything too big up the urethra, ya know?
Ari – Eh, you can stretch a urethra pretty solidly. A little lube goes a long way. I mean somethings gotta catch that 8 or 6g needle, if not bigger!
Mark – Oh shit, we never started more then a ten gauge! Well, genitals heal up pretty quick in general. I remember doing my first ampallang, I mean I wasn’t the first one to do an appalling by any stretch whatsoever but you kind of felt like you were because there wasn’t any. I mean we weren’t cowboys, I think probably starting in New York and putting it out there, we were the first body piercing shop in New York, but we really had to keep our cred good and all that and thats when apprenticeships really took off. I mean it wasn’t regimented or anything like that like it might be now, we overcompensated, we were probably doing 5-8 glove changes in a piercing, because we were kind of overcompensating. I mean there’s nothing wrong with that.
Ari – New York for you is what, 94ish?
Mark – Maybe 93? I mean I don’t know, whenever we opened up.
Ari – I know that the New York studio was sort of turbulent, what was your experience there?
Mark – Mine wasn’t turbulent! Mine was great! Mine was fucking great! My New York wasn’t turbulent at all, it was fabulous, it was all the famous people and it was great. It was turbulent before I got out there, but I just did what I did. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. But it was after, or because the way I left was turbulent, and I didn’t even know that until after I’d left later on and heard. My administrative manager was all coked up and spread all these lies about me on the West Coast, but I was already gone, I didn’t even know that happened until afterwards. They just say “Oh, we’re changing, we’re restructuring”, I argued a bit and got out of the way, and I ended up becoming a scuba instructor in Key West. I was ok with it all, I got a great severance. So when I was there, no, it wasn’t turbulent, it was great. We were so left alone, and that was actually my main complaint. We were so friggin left alone that I just got to do it and it went great, we made them a shitload of money, we were on every tv show, all these great stars were coming in, I was being paid (as far as I was concerned) really well, and nobody was really fucking up. I think it started out with Dan, who I loved, and still do, and that was that whole tragic mess, and then after I left New York went and then Gauntlet went, and I was gone by then, I was coming up blowing bubbles going “Gauntlet who?”, and thats not out of bad feelings or fuck you, I just had the cream of New York.
Ari – Who were the bulk of your coworkers at the New York shop?
Mark – Dan, Mic was there later, Jon (Cobb) was there, Jon was great, Jon turned out to be a total fuckin freak, but when Jon was there with me he was the most wonderful freak in the world. I’ve heard from multiple people that he’s gone off to Mars, he contacted me actually a couple years ago. I loved Jon, Jon was on his best behavior in New York, he was phenomenal, he was this pixie wonderful weird guy. He had a bit of attitude like he was better then this or that, but we had this love affair working together, we were great. We’ve had this credo for life; no drama. Mic was great. Denise Gianneta, Lauren Pine, who is one of my favorite people on earth, I just spent some time with her in New York a few months back. Mic was the most lovable guy on earth, some people you maybe haven’t heard of because they banded up and went down the heroin hole and fell off the face of the earth. Jon Dean Egg, he moved to San Fransisco, Autumn Aspberry, but she wasn’t a piercer.
Ari – One of my favorite things to do is have people give profiles on other piercers. Would you do a little profile on Lauren Pine for us?
Mark – She is so deep. Ron Athey and I were doing a performance down in the Meat Packing industry in New York, which sort of no longer exists anymore, it’s just a myth now, but it did exist, there were literally carcasses hanging up and we had all these amazing clubs going on. Way before Lady Gaga, Ron did this whole meat performance thing on top of me. I got covered in meat and blah blah blah, so I had heard so-and-so were in the audience that night, all these people were there, this and that, but I couldn’t see anything because I was totally covered in meat. Lauren comes in one day not soon after on her day off, and I’m at the counter, and she’s with this blonde woman who’s real pretty, and she says “Oh hi Mark, I want you to meet my friend, this is Debbie”, and I go “Hi Debbie” and she’s holding my hand and looking at me and goes “Oh I know you! You were the guy who was covered in meat over at the blah-blah-blah” and I’m looking at her going “Oh, this is Deborah Harry!” I heard she was there, and now I’m recognizing her! So this is Lauren, she’s very subtle and very not-in-your-face about shit. Lauren and I were adventure buddies, like we went and climbed a mountain, and we worked together too, she’s like in corsets and she wears this great make up and heels and she’s involved with the coolest things on earth. We were adventure buddies and we kept trying to go skydiving, so we finally did, the winds were right. I swear to god, I don’t know what her connections are because they sure as hell weren’t mine, but a week and a half later SNL is doing this skit about people who are pierced and skydiving together and all the lines get caught up in each others piercings until they get ripped out, and I call her up and I’m like Lauren, where the fuck did that come from? That’s obviously us! And she’s like I don’t know! Lauren is most amazing, humble, deepest, person on earth, you should absolutely talk to her! She even reminded me that I fired her, I had no recollection of that whatsoever.
Ari – When you left Gauntlet, was there a certain catalyst that made you leave piercing altogether, rather then going to a different studio or opening up your own?
Mark – That’s a great question, I don’t know if I have a great answer. First, this dickhead cokehead made me lose my job, but I’ve always made lemonade out of lemons. I traveled down to Costa Rica without an agenda, I spent two weeks down here, hooked up with this couple that was traveling through, and you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for two weeks. I always was into nature and the tropics and I didn’t even know Costa Rica existed until someone got me to come down, and it changed my life and my perspective on what I was going to do. When I left Gauntlet, I left and turned 30, everyone from Gauntlet came and we did this cool birthday party, and I knew I wanted to move to the tropics. I was like life is too short, so I came and became a scuba instructor, but honestly, I thought about working at the other body piercing places in New York, but I felt like my time had been served. Not like a prison sentence, but that that chapter was over and it was time to move onto something else. I also think that I was tired of people being in my face about something that was on my surface. When people have tattoos and piercings, and maybe it’s different now, it’s got to be, but when people feel like they can, especially back then, be judgmental, I was glad to be relieved of that. I think I did well with it, I think I forwarded the movement of what we were a part of, I did a lot of interviews and tv shows and I was happy to do it, but I was kind of glad to have that turned off. Some people want it more and more more, whether they get it or not. I was happy to have it when I did, it was a lot of fun, but I was glad to get out and move into nature and body work. A few of us actually moved to places where there was more tribals stuff going on rather then trying to create it in places where it wasn’t, that was a big part of it. It felt very sincere while we were doing it, and it felt like it was moving to a place where, oh well it was always commercial, I’m not going to say it wasn’t, but it felt like it was shifting to a different commercial place. We had so much respect being a part of Gauntlet, even though the newer people who were coming up in a sense should have had that respect, it was more real with them then it was for us. We were a corporation. The way Gauntlet came down was from a bunch of bullshit; things can fail, there’s nothing wrong with fading out or failing, but it was stuff I couldn’t even believe, I didn’t even know until five or six years ago when I was out in San Fransisco with Paul. Drugs and corruption? Stealing? Lying? Where the fuck was there room for that? We were doing cool stuff, we were so incredibly fortunate to be making the money we were making and being in a supportive place and being at the top of our game on top of it all. I don’t know how it came down. When I came down, we were a bit of a new generation that Jim appreciated and supported, but we were new school and I don’t ever know how much Jim really embraced new school, and that’s not a bad thing, that’s more of a description rather then a complaint.
Ari – You bring up how travels to the tropics influenced you, during your piercing career were you able to travel at all to see these cultures, like Indonesia or anything?
Mark – I never got time off, I mean corporately I got health insurance, and by the time I left I’d climbed up to where I got like six weeks of paid vacation, but I could never take it ever. You just couldn’t, because if you left things just totally fucked up, they just did, which was part of mismanagement on my part. No, I didn’t get to do that. I remember people right when I was in New York started doing that, like Paul obviously.
Ari – Were you influenced at all by those cultures growing up?
Mark – Absolutely, I remember when I was a kid, like six years old, making up fake maps of Africa and all the tribes and everybody believed me. In fact I’m about to open up my shop here called Modern Primitives of Living. Thats based on, before I even knew Gauntlet existed and I was in art school, I was in a graphic design class and we had to do a presentation of a store that you made up, and I wanted to have this store of imports. I called it Modern Primitive, and I didn’t even know that that was happening yet, I literally had to do it with glue and cutting things out, because we didn’t have internet or any of that shit back then. Then when I moved into this I was like oh shit, same idea! Now it’s coming full swing. When I was a kid I had a childhood friend who’s mother worked at this import shop in Philly and they traveled all over the world, and I was like I’m gonna do that one day, I just love it, I love this primitive artwork in a modern culture, that was always my draw. I wasn’t scared of piercing, I wasn’t scared of the S&M thing, which is really where Jim and some of the others were coming from; I was coming from a performance art part like ball dances where we sewed bells in with Ron Athey, so it didn’t scare me, but it wasn’t me genre. I was much more into the ritualistic aspect and the performance side of it, the punk part of it, so yeah, it was absolutely rooted in that, but I didn’t get to travel, I didn’t have the time or the money for that. It was always an innate part of me, I had great books since I was a kid on African ritual and scarification and shit.
Ari – When it comes to branding or scarring, did you have any of that done or do that yourself?
Mark – Yeah, when I was in New York I became much more of a person preforming scarification. Ron was my lead into that – Ron and I got into a relationship really quickly, so it was like, not falling in love but falling in fun with Ron Athey and getting some scarification stuff on stage in LA without really know what the hell I was getting into but just being open to it. It was pretty mild stuff, it wasn’t anything hardcore, but because Dan opened up New York and we were the first spot there, we got into all this club stuff and performance stuff. We started doing scarification on stage and I would receive some of it, but then people started asking me to do some stuff on them so we did some of that with ashes. Ron came out and we did this big cool performance stuff at PS 122,a really famous place in New York, doing all that there. I was much more passionate about that stuff, I mean I was passionate about piercing because it was my profession, but the other stuff was much more so my passion, ball dances and trance dances and whatnot. Keith Alexander became a big part of that, he was a very very dear person to my heart. If you google my name, it pulls up a ton of stuff about Keith, I was like his mentor and he was a very dear person, I think out of everybody in Gauntlet he was my closest person as far as teaching and learning and progressing. He was so passionate and so humble yet so huge at the same time. A hugely talented piercer, incredible, such a bright light. His real name was Keith *******, the ******* were one of the five mafioso families of New York, and he was this big bearded long-haired guy, he wasn’t even that good looking but women were fucking falling over for him. He was that guy that other straight guys were going “why are all these girls around him?” He took on Alexander because it was his middle name and dropped ******* because of what it was associated with, thats who he was. I remember when I wanted all the piercing rooms painted in metallic copper, and it’s the most pain in the ass paint, it’s like breathing straight fumes, but he did it because I wanted it.
Ari – Did you show him some of the scarification then?
Mark – I’m sure I must’ve, it was such a part of the New York thing.
Ari – Did you attend Night of 1000 Scars?
Mark – I wasn’t there, I was gone by then. I remember things about it but I wasn’t there. He may have left Gauntlet by that time. Ours was in the really underground clubs, very well attended, very famous in a sense, but very dirge-y and weird. I have some pictures I’ll try to find, they were pictures at Meat.
Ari – I know sometimes when you’re working for a corporation, there are parameters for how they want employees to represent them. When you were doing these performances, would you go as Gauntlet or independently?
Mark – We had free reign. I was a really unsupervised well-behaved child. That’s how I grew up, my mother left us alone but thank god I never ended up in prison. Jim either didn’t supervise me because he trusted me or because he was on to other things, but I kept us in the spotlight and top of the list in New York. We were on talk shows, Gauntlet didn’t get us into the scarification and the ball dances, that was our own connections, but if anything was written up about it Gauntlet was in there.
Ari – How often was Jim there at New York?
Mark – He came out there for sure, but it wasn’t like he was there pal-in’ around. It was perfunctionary, honestly, I don’t think he really wanted to be in New York, I don’t know what was going on, but Irwin, the guy who fucked up Gauntlet, he was from New York. Apparently he’s the one who brought it all down, I don’t know if there was weird shit I wasn’t even aware was going on. Jim was our parent, we were the well-behaved unsupervised children. Is your tongue split?
Ari – It is, it’s actually pretty common place these days. It makes sense, no real blowback if you were to leave the community.
Mark – Those were pretty rare back in the day. But totally, when I was growing up as a punk fag where you were like “fuck the future” but at the same time you were in a place where it wasn’t a hindrance. I mean you couldn’t necessarily get any job looking like that, but it didn’t feel like a hindrance. Back then Gauntlet was the only game in town. I remember getting a call from this guy out in Idaho or Montana or some guy way out there who somehow ended up with an infection in his nipple, but we were the people to turn to, it all funneled into Gauntlet. Jewelry was expensive back then, getting a piercing was not cheap, not because there wasn’t competition, it was just there were only so many people doing it and it was what it was, it cost what it cost. I mean now I can go into a gas station in Costa Rica and sometimes there’s titanium navel bars and they cost like $12 or something, but fuck no, back in the day a titanium navel curve was like $95.
Ari – Did you ever fool around with any of the manufacturing?
Mark – Oh I was a jewelry maker for sure, I really got into what we could do, but because I only worked with gold and silver, and everything was mostly steel and titanium and a little bit of gold, it was limited. When I was in the New York shop I set up a jewelry thing there and I set some stones for people, that was also a draw initially, and what I’ll be going back to with my shop. I really want to bring ethnic jewelry into the shop, not so much for piercing stuff, but that was absolutely one of my big drives, I loved doing the displays in the shop.
Ari – Was it exciting to watch jewelry evolve over your tenure then? Those are some formative years, there had to have been some big steps up between 89 and 96.
Mark – Absolutely, I also saw the downfall of Gauntlet where you would order jewelry and wait for 8 months for it to come in. There was that, I’d forgotten about that, that was really fucked up, but the jewelry was incredible, really cool nostril rings and labret jewelry. We got to be there when Jim was really excited about expanding and making it happen. We started going why don’t we get an emerald set in gold, and he would have his people do it, especially New York when we were getting exciting people wanting stuff, a lot of famous clients!
Ari – Would you say New York and LA clients were similar in that aspect?
Mark – Yeah, we had famous people in left and right, we got to have some fun with that, but it also might have been part of the downfall because they sort of overextended themselves some. One day I’m opening up the shop in New York, it wasn’t open yet, we didn’t open until 11, and typically didn’t pick up the phones before we opened. I was in my office and the weasel cokehead guy was playing Madonna. We would play our music over the shop, and we had certain bands we played during open hours for the mood, but before we opened we played whatever. When somebody was put on hold on the telephone they would hear the music we were playing. This day Madonna was playing and it was driving me up the wall, but I just let it go on, and the phone was ringing and ringing and ringing, so finally I pick the phone up, and somebody goes “Hi, I need a nostril screw with a ruby in white gold, etc” and I was like why don’t you just come in? They go we can’t come in. I tell them it’s a lot easier if they come in because nostril screws have to be bent to the client and we don’t want it not fitting right, but they insist they can’t come in. It was a very New York thing. After going back and forth, I finally go why can’t you come in? I mean it’s before hours, no one else was picking up the phone, I was getting frustrated, Madonna was playing, I just tell them come in! They go we can’t, and when I ask why one more time they tell me it’s for Madonna! I go what, did she break her fucking leg? I didn’t see it on the news! I mean we got it done for her, I remember to this day she needed a 5/16th. I remember going in to grab a coffee downstairs, we were above a deli, and the employee there was like “you guys, Madonna was here at like 9am in the morning all coked up pounding on your door wanting to come up!”
Ari – The Master Piercer title, what was that like for you when you received it?
Mark – I figured you’d get to this, I’ve read some other stuff with Elayne and whatnot, I don’t know how I’m going to bring you to an interesting place with this.
Ari – Was that something you were expecting, when you were a piercer were you aware of being at that place when Jim gave it to you?
Mark – Absolutely! We were cutting edge, doing everything we were doing. Did I deserve it more or less then anybody else? I don’t know. I see my name on that list and I don’t even know what to do with that. Back then, yeah, I was piercing my ass off, teaching people really well, I wasn’t worried about being recognized that way but when it happened I was like yeah, this kinda makes sense. It was a weird mix of being in a very cutting edge place, and there were people who were very egotistical about it and others who were just passionate about it and other people like me who just dropped into it and sort of took off and made it work. I didn’t expect it, but it made sense at the time. I was a bit of a mover and a shaker there, I just wasn’t in bed with Jim. Elayne was (in a good way, I don’t mean that in a bad way), but she was and still has a very special bond with Jim, and she should, I think they’re cut from the same cloth, and I don’t think I am at all. Being in that business and the place I was at the time I was instrumental in moving it along and making it happen. I don’t know what a Master Piercer is, honestly. I would give mine to Paul if I could find it! I’m not putting it down or up, I’m just saying. For me, I don’t know what your relationship with your dad was, but I had this amazing dad who I never really had a personal conversation with in my life, but it was like a dad who you never really shared these Budweiser moments with and he hands you this thing and you’re like “oh my god dad, I never realized you felt this way” and he’s like “Of course son!”, that’s what that Master Piercer shit was like. Jim and I didn’t get off on our own and have these special moments, I think he knew I was running the shit out of his shop for him, and for whatever reason we just never really pal-ed around. I was punk fag and he was old school S&M guy, and Jim deserves every bit of credit he gets. It was weird to be the black sheep in a place that was, by definition, if you worked there were a black sheep. A lot of shit went on, but I wasn’t caught up in it. Neither was Paul or Mic or Elayne, but plenty of people were. When it came down to it we were putting needles through people, which is not rocket science, it was just where was your heart, where was your passion, and how did you fit into this crazy shit going on? You served yourself well if you didn’t have a lot of ego. I loved being with famous people, not because of the ego, but some of them were so amazing and talented, I wanted some of that to rub off, or was thrilled to be around it! I mean the atmosphere, I came in right after the old school stuff, it was an amazing crew. I mean to be there with Fakir, I didn’t even know who the hell he was when I showed up on day one. I didn’t know who Jim was, I definitely didn’t know who Fakir was, and here we were, trying to figure out how to use the credit card machine, that’s how I fell into it all, wonderful and great. I obviously quickly got to know who he was though. One of my favorite shenanigans is we were at International Mister Leather, Jim and Irwin and whoever were down at the booth, me and Scott Chance were up in the hotel room and they were sending up people for us to pierce. It was like big gay bear leather thing, but because Gauntlet was the only place back in the day for legitimate piercing everybody came. This really cute young straight couple came up, and they came to Chicago because she wanted to get her clit pierced, and they were like we’re not gonna fuck around, we’re gonna wait until we get to Gauntlet, but they couldn’t get to San Fransisco or LA, because those were the only two at the time. But we were in Chicago for this event, so they came up and we’re in this basic hotel room with two queen sized beds. Usually in Gauntlet we had some specific music we were playing, like Dead Can Dance, where we would set the whole mood, and we had the lighting right, but here in the hotel room all we had was a clock radio. We were playing the radio for music, and we’re gonna do this clit piercing and I’m gonna do it, we almost did no actual clit piercing, they were very rare firstly that anyone wanted them, second they were rare because most women didn’t have the anatomy for them. Most people who came in really meant the hood and it’s like a PA, nice and quick and heals fast. If they wanted a clit piercing, 9/10 if they actually meant the clit they still couldn’t get it, it was like this unicorn piercing. We established we could do the piercing, but we didn’t have the table with the stir-ups, so the guy is sitting up against the wall with some pillows and his girlfriend is there between his knees – that was the best way to have them. The radio is on, it’s not even a great station, it was like K100 or some top ten shit. We brace them that it’s going to be pretty intense, we have the clamp on, we’re doing deep breaths, and we do the piercing. I take the clamp off and I’m about to insert the ring. I get the ring butted up to the needle and the music stops and the DJ goes “This is K100, where our finger is on the pulse, where’s your finger?” and it’s such an intense moment but we all break up laughing. I go “Well my fingers on this bloody clit right now!” and finish the piercing up. It couldn’t have been any better. Back then, to sing the praises of Gauntlet, nothing was watered down, it was the time and place to be. Fuck ups and brilliance. There was a lot of respect, and people who really cared, and it’s wonderful to see this lineage, this movement still going on today.