Ari – Let’s start this off with your introduction to Fakir.
Blake – I got a hold of the ReSearch book in 1989 and it blew me away. Obviously it was the only cultural document at the time for an emerging subculture. There’s a lot of stuff in the book I was “meh” on but Fakir’s chapter really grabbed me. I was already piercing my friends in San Diego; people would go up to LA Gauntlet and buy a needle and barbell and I’d do them up in the park under a tree. My band had finally gotten signed and I came to this crossroad where I really wanted to do something meaningful and I knew I had a lot of learning to do so I quit the band and rolled up to San Francisco. The first time I went up there there was Body Manipulations – they were the first piercing studio in the area, they opened before Gauntlet. I went up and peeked at Body M and didn’t really know who they were but I recognized that the handsome guy out front leaning on his motorcycle having a cigarette was Vaughn. I knew he was the guy from the ReSearch book. I ended up making a couple of trips to San Francisco. My folks took me to the Gauntlet in the Castro and I went in, walked upstairs, and it was the first piercing shop I had ever been in. The term “piercer” didn’t exist yet – you were just a guy who did piercings at this time. I walked up and I said, “hey, my name is Blake and I am looking for Fakir and maybe some earrings!” I got the biggest attitude from the guy behind the counter. He didn’t even have visible piercings! He says “well we don’t have any jewelry in your size, honey.” I was like, “alright, fuck you,” and I started to walk out when I hear Fakir say “excuse me young man, I can help you!” I turn around and there he is with a porcupine quill in his septum. I just looked at him and told him he was the reason I came – but that I felt like this wasn’t a very welcoming place for me. At the time this was either summer or late 1990. Fakir took me to lunch. He put his arm around me and said, “well I have never seen the likes of you, young man., Tell me your story!” At the time I had 2” earlobes with huge dreadlocks- just a jungle kid from Southern California. How weird to walk into my first piercing shop to have some guy with no visible piercings be a dick to me. I was put off from the beginning. I didn’t consider myself professional at this time – I had only done genital and septum work. I had never done a nostril or navel. The stuff I was doing on my friends was all “Genesis P-Orridge” genitalia aesthetic. Fakir and I had an immediate connection and I told him I wanted to be a piercer. The first thing he said was, “well you sure don’t want to work at the Gauntlet, trust me.” I think we ate at Cafe Du Nord and it felt like I was coming home so to speak; he was just so welcoming. This is twenty-nine years ago. He literally says, “I think you’re doing something completely unique.” I didn’t understand his historical importance yet, I just intuitively knew he was the Granddaddy and if I was going to start a career I was going to go to the source. That’s a value that doesn’t exist anymore. There is a tattoo school is Vegas that cost $40,000 and guarantees you an internet following by the time you graduate, and you’ve only done like one tattoo. It shows you how ass backwards this culture is. The thing Fakir instilled in me in our first meeting – there were no personalities then, all I was was just a jungle kid, there was Gauntlet and Body M, that’s it for the whole US; there was no measure of what other people were doing. My experience at Gauntlet was very telling- Im sure they all had 00g PAs but they didn’t have the look I wanted to be a part of or was already doing, the things my grandmother introduced me to on her world travels. So Fakir sent me to Vaughn and I went over there, walked in and introduced myself. I told them I was a guy who did piercings in San Diego and that I wanted to move to San Francisco and get a job doing this. I didn’t have a resume or portfolio. Vaughn had a partner named Esther (she was the one who opened a Body Manipulations in Amsterdam) and there was a full staff there for a tiny shop. They were busy as fuck with a line out the door and the short story is they hired me conditionally. Vaughn asked me what I had done so far and I said, “honestly I’ve only done genitals and septums, and I’ve never been trained by anybody.” He said, “I’m going to give you something to look over and I want you to report back to me tomorrow.” He gave me a copy of Pierce with a Pro. I went back to the hotel and put it in the VCR and watched it and I remember being like, “oh, so I guess the pro’s don’t use gloves.” 1 I’m a real believer in tribal protocol; no tribal elder has ever donned gloves but in my judgement I’m thinking if you made a video called Pierce with a Pro, shouldn’t you adhere to some basic sterile protocol? I bring it back and Vaughn says, “give your honest assessment.” I told him I thought it was fucking atrocious and he kind of smiles at me and says, “you’re hired.” It is what it is. I’m old school myself, I don’t use a Statim, I don’t need to drape everybody head to toe, there’s a point of medical redundancy that is nullified when a person walks out of your shop. A week later I start working at Body Manipulations. Fakir recognized I was doing something different, he encouraged me to be that way. Vaughn had 1/2” ears at the time and people would stare at him on the street. I come along and people were like, “what the fuck is this guy?”
Ari – It’s pretty intense to think of 2” at this time period. What kind of earrings were you wearing then?
Blake – Manzanita wood plugs I had made from a tree at my mom’s house. I stretched myself after I pierced myself with a rough 6g lemon thorn. Kristian worked for Gauntlet down in LA and his ears were like 1 1/2”. To my knowledge they were the second biggest ears on any white boy in America. This was, at the time, completely over the top. One of the great debts I owe Vaughn and Fakir simultaneously is Vaughn gave me a job and Fakir told me where to go. Body M was much more friendly with a more diverse clientele- a lot of punk rockers getting pierced. Vaughn was bringing them all in, all groups, not just the target market Gauntlet seemed to focus on.
Ari – When you were in San Diego, what kind of genital piercings were you doing?
Blake – The “Genesis P-Orridge” stuff like ampallangs and prince alberts. I didn’t become the “Apadravya King” until Nomad opened- all of us had one We were all on a mission to stop the large gauge PA phenomenon and turn everyone into a 6g apadravya. That’s all I did. People had the ReSearch book, they saw what they saw, PAs and pallangs. I like pallang because it’s the way the Dayaks referred to it. I mean Vaughn did my apadravya 28 years ago and he did a smashing job with it. I wear a 2g barbell in it to this day. Take it from the guy who had the first 7/16” conches in the industry – you gotta suffer if you want your shit big. But we had our dicks out all the time, we all would show people like, “don’t get a PA, get this instead!” We were doing so many a day, like at least four or five, and we ended up doing this sort of publicity stunt. We ordered this 8g gold barbell from a company called Onyx, one of the first gold jewelry companies – I actually think the owner Allison might’ve been ex-Gauntlet. The person who got apadravya number 500 would get this crazy gold barbell for it on the house. This dude comes in to get pierced on his 18th birthday, the price is right and he was number 500. My 500th apadravya was a gold barbell on an eighteen year old on the house. They’re not so popular anymore.
Ari – You bring up Genesis – when you were at Nomad were you playing things like Throbbing Gristle or Christian Death?
Blake – Nah, we had the Baraka soundtrack. I saw that movie and it was a catalyst for me – my uncle ironically was the cinematographer’s buddy.
Ari – Did Vaughn put any restrictions on you at Body Manipulations, or did he let you work however you wanted?
Blake – I got more freedom than I ever could have imagined. We would do like sixty to seventy piercings in a day. Vaughn paid me really well, he treated me really well, and we’re still best friends. He gave me freedom to do what I wanted as long as the end product was a well done piercing. We were ordering bigger and bigger needles at the studio. It was obvious pretty quickly that you shouldn’t pierce with a 6g needle and put a 6g plug in it unless you didn’t mind a bit of clean up. The pierce and stretch happened quickly and was implemented before Nomad was opened.
Ari – Who was on staff when you came on board?
Blake – When I came on it was Vaughn and Esther, the original founders, and Elizabeth Brassil – the sweetest bulldyke you’ve ever met. She was the manager and she was a very intimidating woman. She was 5’ tall and 5’ wide, combat boots and suspenders, marine haircut, and overall very military looking. She was the one who looked me up and down and told Vaughn to hire me. There was Melissa Kaye, who to my understanding was the only person to ever work at both Gauntlet and Body Manipulations. That was it for a while. I was there for two and a half years. I had an opportunity to go work with Esther in Amsterdam but my loyalty was to Vaughn, so I chose not to pursue that. Historically that was the first real piercing studio in Europe- pretty groundbreaking territory.
Ari – Do you feel like if piercing had already been established to where there were other studios you would have gone to work for someone else after Body Manipulations? Or was opening up your own studio always the path you had to go down?
Blake – In 1992 Kristian came into Body Manipulations wearing flip flops and a sarong and Dayak weights in his ears and an entourage of little gay boys with him. I had heard of him already, and after he introduced himself we ended up hanging out. I was already doing a lot of work freehand. The whole “tribal vision” was still a big driver for me. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was my calling to go do my own thing. That’s how Nomad became the third shop of note in this country.- an ex-Gauntlet guy and an ex-Body M guy, that was a really big step for us. We were young and didn’t know shit about running a business. I used to go to Kristian’s apartment and he’d show me the jewelry he’d collected and books he had, and I’d be like, “oh I know them, my grandmother visited that tribe in the 1950s!” That was our bonding thing. He had traveled and I had family that had spent time with tribes and imparted it all to me. What I established with Kristian right away was our procedure and protocol. I know Kristian had felt very limited at his time with Gauntlet and the hierarchy wasn’t something he wanted. Early summer of 1993 we just went nuts. I worked out of my house for six months or so and I managed to get some 4g needles made. I was saving money to open up because at this point Kristian and I had decided to open the shop and we wanted to do it like a tribe did it – that meant no boundaries. Once we established that a lot of things became real clear. Pierce and stretch might be standard now but 4g was like the standard back at Nomad. We had this black guy from LA, Baba, and Kristian did huge labret on him with an X-acto knife. It was a big ass lip piercing – trust me! I got a hold of hollow titanium barbells from Russia and did large gauge cartilage on this same guy, and they were like 3/4” in length with 3/8” balls. I called them Sadhus, a lot of people call them conch, or “cahnch” if you’re from Jersey. Freehand was automatically the thing we did because forceps were expensive and we were broke. I had watched the first really good freehand work from Vaughn, like I already said he did my apadravya in 1990. Before that I had watched him do a bunch and was so impressed. He was a goddamn great piercer and he sure as shit didn’t clamp them. Him doing my apadravya was my self-indoctrination into the piercing community, so to speak.
Ari – Early on at Nomad were you and Kristian working together primarily or switching off shifts?
Blake – We worked together. We used to live on a big burrito from the Mission; we’d just split it and each take home $20 a day. We had a second piercing room going pretty quickly and got busy fast. We had an opening party that Fakir came to, Melissa came to it, Raelyn also came to it. She passed on a few years ago but she was one of the first people doing scarification in the industry. Kids don’t know that. One of the things I always respected about Vaughn was the door of Body Manipulations said piercing, branding, and scarification. One of the things he gave me was a lot of freedom to do scarification and branding. He was just like, “go for it man!” I think I even did a post at one point a few years back about branding at Body Ms. It was pretty outside the box though, a medical procedure without a license. We could get in trouble. We got our piercing table delivered by the army via Jeri Metzler in the summer of 1993, who had Spears of Shiva in Fresno. He got us our first autoclave in 1994. I must’ve missed Dana (Dinius) by like, one degree of separation. I was piercing his old boss, I mean he was a big dude – I did a 6g bridge on him and it was proportionally perfect.- the guy was like 6’6” and 500 pounds. He was a sweet guy but he was doing nostrils with 10g captives because he had hands like logs. Very helpful with a lot of our premedical stuff. I had a lot of negative interactions with Gauntlet people early on, the stuff that we were doing was so off the map I think it made people question what had already been presented to them. We let them do it their way while we did it our way. We had to deal with a lot of unfortunate things like being reported to the police for practicing medicine without a license. We were doing some pretty extreme modifications for the time- using scalpels and dermal punches and whatnot – it was an absolute rejection and total fuck you to the Gauntlet “Master Piercer” thing. It was totally necessary to push the tribal aesthetic we were preaching. We knew what we were doing was causing embarrassment to them because of how unconventional our work was – how outside the box all these procedures were, and how well they were working. Back then we were living in fear and doing the extreme “jungle” mods in secret. The APP was like maybe a year old at this point.
Ari – Were you making a lot of your own jewelry at this point?
Blake – A lot of the initial jewelry was coming from Fakir but I had been making steel captives at home. Before wood, delrin was the material that was lightweight-unfortunately it needed an o-ring on each side, but it looked black and had a bit of a “tribal” look to it, non-porous, healed great. It’s bittersweet for me but Nomad was the studio that introduced organics to the industry, and there are some motherfuckers out there right now who are rich because of what we did. I was too focused on keeping the business afloat and being able to do the work I wanted without limitations than to market wood ear plugs as my main agenda. My father said, “son, somebody is going to steal your idea.” Lo and behold the first one to do just that was Gauntlet. I had this client who I had done a large cut on his ears, I think he was at 3/4”. Turns out his father was a wood worker so he came in and said, “I love my son’s ears, would you like to do business? Would you like me to make you some stuff?” By the summer of 1994 we had a totally custom organic line with a board above the jewelry counter that had wood blanks where people could choose a base and choose an inlay. There was no market until Nomad made the board. We called it “The Motherboard” – it had a series of base woods and a series of inlays including fossilized walrus ivory and teatree – those were some of our favorite early ones. Straight plugs made on a lathe with a double inlay. The end goal is, “you want to be an 1”? I will pierce you at a 4g, then cut you to 1/2”, then cut you to 3/4”, you stretch to an 1” and once you get there you’ll have this beautiful pair of earrings made by an old guy named Ed.” We were cutting a lot of people by the end of the first year. There was probably 150-200 people that had 1” ears that didn’t the year before; we would see them regularly. they were pierced and stretched – this was entirely my concept from the get-go. I still have a couple of pairs made by him.
One of the early stories with how organics got into the industry is I’m sitting in Michaela’s office, Castor on Market, and she says, “Blake you’re writing page one of The Point.” (if you have the purple issue, that was my project.) I said, “Michaela, your ears are fucked up.” She was wearing these 1/2” acrylic tapers. She’s like, “yeah, this is what we sell here,” and I told her, “just come over to the shop, keep it low key, and I give you some ebony.” Now, this is before Ed was making our stuff. Magically she’s cured. Word gets back to Daddy Irwin that their main girls ears got saved by these dumb jungle boys in the other neighborhood- it made a ripple. Irwin Kane came by and took pictures of our jewelry cases and whatnot (funny enough since no one at Gauntlet had big stretched ears) and tried to run with it. The cosmic irony though is they pushed it out with all the pretty wood that they were selling wholesale, selling things like purpleheart to their clients. Anyone who knows organics knows what that does to someone’s ears- toxic fucking wood. We fucking laughed. It bit them in the ass pretty quick. I didn’t make any secrets about my dislike for them. An issue of PFIQ comes out – the tribal issue. It was in newsstands right next to Body Play. Kristian brings it back and he’s like, “look at this shit!” Half the people in there were Nomad clients including the cover model, Baba! Gauntlet found all these jungle kids we’d been working on and admittedly it was a nice issue, I think one of their first full color spreads- I don’t have it since it’s a bit bitter for me to look at, but It showed us the impact we were making on this industry. If the mighty Gauntlet had acknowledged our tribal contributions instead of showing the typically leather daddies – well that meant something. It wasn’t even really acknowledgment – there was no credit to us, of course, but we knew they had noticed us. Later on we watched other jewelry companies use our ideas as well. Historically though everything before us was steel and acrylic – all this organic shit comes back to Nomad. Not to mention in 1993 or 1994 you’d be lucky to find something as big as 1/2” anywhere else. We brought size into it as well.
Ari – Let’s talk about scalpels – do you remember the first scalpeled procedure you did?
Blake – I do- his daughter was a client- this gentlemen in his 50s named Rueben. My very first cut was from 4g to 1” on this guy. I knew it was an ambitious thing, completely out of my spectrum of experience, but we were already having 4g needles made and I just knew what to do. He had gigantic earlobes with a well placed piercing and a mile of soft tissue before the anti-tragus – just straight up the line. A double flared 1” eyelet. It took some getting in – I’m not a “get-out-the-caliper” kinda guy, I always say I just use the force. I undercut a bit so the guy didn’t bleed out!
Ari – Did the approach to cutting ever change for you?
Blake – A lot of what became normal for Nomad in 1994 was corrective cuts for people who already had a 6g or 2g piercings that were too low. They were going to the other guys and honestly any half-witted piercer should’ve looked and said, “thats not a good idea, no structural viability, you’re going to get thin spots,” etc.
Ari – I mean, if you asked any number of piercers today if 4g to 1” was a safe jump you would undoubtedly hear, “no” from all of them. Did you ever change your view on cutting in terms of how much at once? Did parameters ever come up? Or if they had the anatomy to do it you could make very large jumps with a very low probability of things going south?
Blake – That’s it in a nutshell. A lot of people would come because my ears were already on the cover of Body Play. 2” was the gold standard at the time. If you wanted big ears, you came to me. My ears have never seen a scalpel. A lot of people would say, “I want to be at an inch, can you get me there?” We don’t want to waste people’s money with every 16th of an inch. I had delrin up to 1”1/16th, I was making bullets and when a cut didn’t happen, someone would give me twenty bucks and I’d make them something that would work like a taper. There was a huge contingent of people that were availing themselves to that. It rocked a lot of cages. We were heavily aware of the reputation of the big established shop – we kind of looked at them like a bunch of fucking pussies. 10g piercings? Let me show you how it’s done. The time comes where Kristian is still friendly with some of these people since he used to work there. They’re all going to Club Fuck together, hanging out with Ron Athey, and it’s a scene man. I’m the token straight boy but it was cool, it was inclusive. We were like, “hey Brian, if you wanna come over we’ll do a double guiche on you and I’ll cut your ears!” You can only have so many of your employees going to the other shop to have work done before it starts to ruffle feathers. But they did their best to emulate – it was silly. You’ve got no one in there with big ears or “tribal” aesthetic. Just stick to your needle pushers and clamps and corks. I mean, shit- I remember the last time I pierced a navel with a clamp – we were like, “we can’t afford these fucking things, they seem like they’re really disconnecting us from the process of the energy of what we’re doing to someones body.” Once you get really good at free handing- it’s actually better! Anyone who has pierced a small male nipple both ways knows what I mean. Like I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t just random clients getting extreme Nomad work – it was all of our colleagues from the early industry. I did Allen Falkner’s Sadhus at a 4g in 1994, I cut Clayton Cross’ (Primeval Body in LA) ears to an inch, Didier Suarez got some 4g Sadhus from me, the list goes on. I even pierced Kristian’s upper cartilage at a 1/2” Dayak style as well as re-cut his earlobes to 5/8”, since he had removed his own stretched lobes after quitting Gauntlet. It was a veritable celebrity “who’s who” list of early industry heavy hitters getting Nomad work. Back then they were the first to step up which also helped spread the use of Nomad technique, and even later 90’s generations as well.
Ari – In the midst of all this exciting cutting edge stuff going on, what kind of relatively “normal” things were happening at Nomad?
Blake – We still did a ton of tongues and belly buttons. We were also able to tap into that market – Kristian and I used to flyer Haight Street wearing nothing but penis gourds – we would just go out there with our dicks in a gourd, hand out flyers, and looking back I don’t think I’d do that now but it sure got peoples attention- two tattooed young men with big ears. It wasn’t just the large gauge freehand organic scalpel work – we were still doing all the normal stuff. I did my first vertical industrial at Nomad- things that are still cool by today’s standards. We did everything.
Ari – A topic I’d love to explore is piercing as a ritualistic act – teaching empathy, passing energy, etc. The whole format today has segued out of that – it’s rebranded as luxury. It’s jewelry. The act is diminished. How does that make you feel?
Blake – It’s cliched but you start to appreciate your dad’s wisdom.- “goddamn kids today” blah blah blah – but it’s true. I had the good fortune of getting in on a cultural revolution on the ground floor. I got a lucky break getting hired by the best piercer in the industry. That guy is still my best friend. I’ve known him for twenty-nine years – it’s more than half my life. This is the guy who was in Modern Primitives – he’s been out of the game ten or twelve years now. We talk about this all the time; it’s just not recognizable. I’m going to quote something from one of your books now – I believe it was Dana (Dinius) who said, “it’s not about the piercing, it’s about what you put in it.” Another BVLA piece. Sure it looks pretty, sure we make good money when we sell it, but it’s not about the work anymore. That’s a very strange thing to reconcile when you came of age before the internet back when it was only cameras and hardcopy portfolios.
Ari – Do you think this was even avoidable? Could it have still swelled to the degree it has, which is still relatively small, but not gone down this avenue?
Blake – I don’t think so. I think once you lose the integrity of the core movers and shakers it’s all downhill. I’m not too internet savvy but back in the day I had a little soiree with Shannon (Larratt) in 2002 and we had had some bad blood. Once we buried the hatchet he suggested I write a column for BME. The Nomad Culture Corner or something – I wrote a few articles, I recruited a few people. The internet really changed everything. I’m just so glad I got to cut my teeth with Vaughn. We were doing a shit ton of piercings every day and he was just like, “go for it!” I’m doing my first navel like, “hmm, I guess I’ll just clamp this thing and put a ring in it!” It’s hard to second guess about how integrity is maintained when technology shifted everything away from your work, your portfolio, etc. Showing people what you can really do. Hopefully you put on gloves and your hands don’t shake. Maybe you want to drape somebody’s whole fucking head, maybe not – that’s another topic. Your work is supposed to speak for itself. It was destined to go to shit because there’s nothing new under the sun. Cultural revolutions are only relevant when they’re new and exciting and you feel like you’re riding a wave. The first time I cut an 1” ear I knew it hadn’t been done before- at least not by a white dude in Western society. Maybe some Masai elder did but not by a piercer.
Getting chosen by Fakir from our first meeting to getting invited to his house – I was fucking starstruck. “I’m at Fakir’s house! We’re going to smoke a bowl out of his purple Star Trek Enterprise pipe in his backyard naked!” I’m like, “I’m living the dream!” I’m with the guy who I want to be like. I got his spiritual guidance alongside that first wonderful job that had creative freedom. When it came time for Nomad, we were still living on books and magazines. I’m disgusted by how many followers Fakir’s Instagram has now after he passed because when he was alive he had twenty less than I did. What does that say about modern piercers? Where were you fuckers then? Now it’s cool because you saw an old guy say something and make a tribute? Do you know who he was? Why is it cool now? Where is your integrity for your art form? This is Grandpa. He made it all happen- he had 1” nipple loops the day I was born. That was punk rock for 1966. It’s still punk rock by anybody standards! I just recognized from the get-go that he was the real deal. It was important for me to stay connected with him.- I had the fortune of being discovered by Grandpa. I had a hard time wearing the badge. I had those big ears and he knew everyone who was connected to body mod everywhere, so to have him say, “you are the primitive’s primitive,” to see that in print, to see it in the magazine was really flattering. I look back now and next year would have been thirty years since I met Fakir. You just know when somebody is authentic. There’s no pretense to it. The first time we got stoned together was a moment I knew I’d remember when I was an old man. When we did the body play shoot and he said, “take off your clothes, Blake- you’ll be closer to God!” I’m like, “ok, yes sir!” I just got lucky. He swooped me up, pointed me to the right place to get a job. Nobody was a piercer back then, that word didn’t fucking exist There was Gauntlet and Body Manipulations and you just did piercing there, there was no proper noun. Fakir would call me and we’d hang out, we’d meet at Folsom street. Hell, I was the straight guy on the back of Melissa’s BMW for Dykes on Bikes as the honorary hetero boy. I always got to be in his living room and look at his books and talk to him about how things were in the pre-industry days. Something I never knew up until last year was that Fakir pierced babies at Gauntlet and Jim fucking hated it. But for Fakir it was a hands-on ritual. Priceless.
Ari – I’d love to talk to you about your book, A Brief History of the Evolution of Body Adornment.
Blake – I released that book simultaneously with Fakir in 2004. That was a career moment, dude. I’m sitting there with Fakir at Barry’s (Blanchard, Anatometal) booth; he hosted us, it was great. I guess in America we were the first two guys to write a book on these subjects. It gave some legitimacy to the industry. My objective was just to educate other piercers. It took a while to sell 2000 books. It was certainly not easy.
Ari – Did you two know you were writing the books simultaneously?
Blake – I think we sort of knew but it worked out psychically that we got it off the press at the same time. I knew about the publication and I ended up doing mine quite differently, it cost a fucking ton of money with recycled paper and vegetable based ink. The book was like $26.50 a copy! If I was more schmoozy I could’ve done what others did later on like make it in China and actually make a profit, but that wasn’t the point of the book. There’s always the perception of two camps – the Jim and Elayne camp and the Fakir and Blake camp, and I suppose they’re diametrically opposed. Now that Fakir is gone there are some things people need to know. I mean when Fakir worked at Gauntlet he was fired for multiple reasons – one of them was for piercing babies. 2 3Who fucking fires Fakir Musafar?
Ari – It was a relatively conservative company though, I could see piercing babies making some serious waves. I could see people like Fakir or (Jon) Cobb having a hard time fitting into the corporate structure.
Blake – I was working in New York when Cobb was at the New York Gauntlet, and he already had a reputation for doing things way outside their comfort zone. He was not containable. The first time I ever saw a Uvula he had done I was super impressed and I’m a hard guy to impress! I was like, “wow, that’s well done!” I’ve done one myself and I would never do it again. I tip my hat to the guy for pulling it off, nothing about it is easy. I’ve always been drawn to going against the grain.
Ari – Let’s swing back piercing babies. Were you inspired by Fakir to start doing that? If not how did it come to fruition?
Blake – No, I didn’t even know Fakir had ever pierced babies until about two years ago. I have a priceless audio documentary of a conversation I had with him about piercing babies back when he worked at the Gauntlet. My first baby piercing was done sixteen years and one month ago when my daughter was born. I had been in the game for a good long time then and any reputable piercer is going to be anti piercing gun. I realized by default that job had fallen to me, so she was my first baby. That was a tough piercing to do, I mean when it’s your own kid, lemme tell ya! Have you ever pierced a baby?
Ari – I haven’t. I’ll start as young as two or three as long as they meet some behavioral criteria, but I don’t have children. I lack that empathy I feel is needed for the job for babies. My coworker pierces infants between three and six months, and then she stops and goes up to that young cognizant age as well. But I wholeheartedly support her and part of that support means helping her clients if they need something and I’m working instead of her, so I’ve done some emergency reinsertions and jewelry adjustments on infants. Especially the sentiment of an elder initiating a baby into the tribe – I’m missing a link in that chain. I got fixed to ensure I don’t have any kids.
Blake – I think you hit the nail on the head there with the spiritual aspect- It takes one to know one. I wouldn’t do a large gauge piercing on anyone if I didn’t have on myself. Even after doing it for sixteen years it’s still outside the box for the US. A year ago I learned The Point had written an article on piercing kids and I thought they should’ve called me. \ I’m certain I’ve pierced more children than anyone else in the industry – at this point it’s like 70% of my clientele. I mean, I resigned my membership with the APP over my feelings about piercing children. So many of those people still subscribe to the “old” way of believing that they have to be able to ask for it. I think that’s bullshit- none of us would be here with pierced ears if newborn babies in India and Africa had to “ask for it.” I can’t reconcile that hypocrisy. Just because you can’t do it or won’t do it doesn’t negate the fact that it’s one of the oldest human rituals across all tribes and cultures. Why knock it? It makes you look like a putz.
Ari – Piercing children is something I don’t think people realize is embraced by the rest of the world. This war of consent for babies is a localized view, not a worldwide view. Which is ironic since everything about piercing culture is borrowed, but for some reason that seems to be where the line is crossed. Is it willful ignorance that at other conferences they’re discussing the best way to do this? That the rest of the world is ok and fine with this? How did we even get here?
Blake – That’s a good question. The kid thing is to me something that was always the most obvious ancient thing all humans do, and without this spiritual indoctrination into a tribe from an elder, maybe a goldsmith in India – I have a huge contingent of Indians that come down from Seattle with their infants, and the grandmas are always like “this should have already been done.” In Mexico the children don’t leave the hospital without their ears pierced. When I got invited to do the LBP thing in 2016 I thought this is perfect! The latino piercers are already living where the Mayan and Aztecs lived, this is already normal for them, and there is a good body of people who I know who pierce children in their studio all the time. When I got invited to do that people like Cody Vaughn were there. I did a head count at the end and asked how many piercers there had pierced a baby. Half the hands went up including his. Last time I checked he was the APP VP. I don’t know if he still is but that was 2016. I’m like, “ok, we’re on foreign soil so it must be ok to be more forward.” I was going down there when the organization was still under the American umbrella, until they decided they needed to embrace their own thing and be untethered from it. To me it seemed culturally correct. The class was great. I discussed the history of piercing children – I mean, I’ve pierced 20,000 kids in seventeen years. I know that’s more than anyone. I’m happy about it. I’m really proud of it. Isn’t a piercer’s job to save people from the gun at the mall? Anybody who’s been in the game for a minute has extracted a gun stud from a child’s ear – its nasty stuff. That was one of the first things we got down during the APP formation – no piercing guns. We use a disposable needle and an autoclave.
Ari – I would be willing to bet there’s a decent chunk of piercers who do pierce babies but the culture of fear prevents us from getting a good idea of what that number really looks like. No one wants to risk digital castration from the online “cool kids.” They just aren’t as confident or insulated as you are. That sense of fear – do you feel like its always been there since the community grew past three studios?
Blake – I can tell you the nail in the coffin for me.- A Venezuelan surgeon called me for a recommendation in Atlanta to get her baby’s ears pierced. A fucking Venezuelan surgeon who just wanted it done right. I knew of a prominent APP figure there and sent her that way- boy did that come back to kick me in the ass. The surgeon called me in tears. What the fuck good is the APP if this is how we’re acting? Of all the things that could’ve been said – “I don’t feel comfortable, I’ve never pierced a baby,” etc – you fucking shame her? Don’t shame her. Don’t shame her culture. I felt like such a dick. I apologized and told her if she was ever in Portland I’d do it for free. Here in Portland (and elsewhere too) I recognize that respectable shops (like Black Hole) and local piercers (and some ex-piercers as well) help with word of mouth with referrals for baby clients. But that Atlanta experience was horrific, and the beginning of the end for me of the organization. I could no longer be confined within the antiquated box they promote. The parameters of consent. Where would we be if children were not ritually pierced? Anyone with half a brain who’s picked up a National Geographic gets that it’s a cross-culturally occurring human thing dating back in all cultures to the beginning of time. I mean, no, a baby can’t ask for it, but a three year old can. I pierced a three year old wonder-woman yesterday! She fucking asked for it! She scribbled her name, she had watched the videos on the Nomad site. My consent starts when you can walk and talk and take a piss on the pot like a big kid. Guess what? Before that we have to answer to the higher code which is the cultural precedent. Babies were already pierced – every tribe. Pick one. They pierced their babies. How can we call ourselves piercers if we’re not willing to support the methodology to do that safely? When Delilah was born I was like, “I’m doing this shit!” I’m currently wearing the earrings I pierced her with. When my Mom died, Delilah pierced me. She was ten years old and freehanded Daddy’s second holes with her own baby earrings. I have faith in my child. Back when I pierced her and started to embrace this mentality I got hate mail telling me I was mutilating children. It was from an APP piercer. I mean what kind of ignorant shit is that? How the fuck can you call yourself a piercer and sit on this righteous platform that is in total contradiction with how babies have been pierced historically? Every culture for thousands of years – every fucking culture around the Earth! You don’t tell these cultures they’re “mutilating their kids ears.” Those babies are the kids who grow up and have the big ears and big labrets that we all emulate.I mean, people are like sheep, man, they just go along with the prevailing attitude. That’s one of my biggest problems with the organization- an organization I helped start, where I wrote the first fucking page of the first fucking Point ever done, back when it was just a little blue newsletter and not a slick magazine with an online copy. I’m a student of history, the spiritual and intrinsic value of cultural precedent – that’s the whole reason I opened Nomad. That was my motivation. Not just to do big ear piercings and five hundred apadravyas in the first year. Because I really feel like the value for us, just like Fakir said, it’s not measured in dollars and cents, it’s measured in satisfaction. The value for us as piercers is to facilitate a transcendent experience – there is nothing more transcendent than preforming the most ancient ritual that there is known to all people on this globe, which is piercing babies and children.
Ari – I mean piercing infants and children makes sense because it also still resonates heavily on the experience end, which has got to resemble the piercing world you first came into over what it is today.
Blake – Absolutely. Half of my baby clients are Indian and Asian. I get a fair share of Caucasian babies as well but so many of them are from those cultures where this is always done.Those Indian families that come down from Seattle, they come down with Grandma. When Grandma says, “in my country this would have been done a long time ago! We’re very happy to find you” that gives me so much satisfaction- satisfaction that I’m able to help preserve an ancient ritual. I’m more than happy to do it.
Ari – I also think posting the pictures helps. It breaks the idea that it’s this brutal or traumatic process. You let people see a bunch of happy smiling babies and happy smiling families. It’s a perfect way to normalize what is ostracized.
Blake – That really hits home- that normalizing what is ostracized. I mean, with what I’ve done over the years I really feel in a lot of ways ostracized from this community. Now every badass youngster can do a 2g initial lobe – well, you’re welcome! Things come into the mainstream but people don’t know how they got this way – it’s a conversation I have often with Shawn (Porter) – goddamn kids!. You think it’s always been like this? Bringing so many new concepts and procedures to the industry has been both a blessing and a curse. I have admirers and haters. Piercing children, freehand technique, cutting (all procedures that I showcased in the 2006 BME best selling DVD) and punching, organic jewelry, pierce and stretch – being unafraid and willing to effect “tribal arts with 21st century technology.” That was an early Nomad slogan. We brought these to our clients and colleagues, concepts that were once fringe that really ended up becoming standards. Nomad, and I specifically, have had to bear the cross of introducing the concepts into the main stream before the rest of the world really understood or was ready, and that came at a price. It still does. The irony for me is I was just at the right place at the right time and got in ground floor as a second generation piercer.
Ari – With Fakir passing it really puts things into perspective in that so many people from first and second and third generation piercing are still alive, that can still be reached out to and spoken with. People are going to go to APP for the first time this year and say “I never got to meet Fakir, tell me about him.” There are plenty of people who’ve squandered it, who saw him and never approached him, or haven’t reached out to anyone still alive because they’re intimidated or worried if it’ll hurt their social standing or whatever the fuck. Crazy to live when we can still access this information firsthand and hear it from the mouth of the people who did it – it’s such a rare opportunity in any field.
Blake – It just feels like entitlement. The piercing world was smaller when I came but I still took the time to recognize my elders and I still do. I don’t feel that’s still present anymore. I didn’t know shit when I came in but I at least knew I was going to go to the best and learn from them so I could do my best.
Ari – Kids now wanna look like they’re Maori, pierce in a studio that looks like a luxury salon, and preach like conservatives. It’s fucking confusing.
Blake – A cultural revolution turned into an industry gets diluted with mediocrity and entitlement. I mean, at APP 2015 it was the 20th anniversary. There was a big roundtable with a panel of old school piercers- Fakir Musafar, Jim Ward, Elayne, Blake, and so on down the line.- there were a lot of good people up there, people who’ve been in the game for a long time. There was fuckin’ nobody there man. Maybe sixty people in the audience – it really made my point. This is the only time all of us will be here together and all the youngsters were off partying instead. t’s a party and not a communion. It’s anecdotal but in retrospect it was the only time you had that many old school guys in one place – now the Grandfathers gone. It just wasn’t well attended. Shawn (Porter) has a video of my ElderLore lecture and that was my last thing – honestly, I was surprised to even be invited to speak. ’ve had some distinction because Fakir gave the anthropology lecture in 2003 and I was asked to do it the next year – a clear passing of the torch. I was his spiritual protege. Body Play Vol 2 #3 in 1993 – he named me “The Primitive’s Primitive.” Could you have a more complimentary terminology from a more important piercer? I don’t think so. I was really humbled by it.
Ari – You have such an incredible collection of ear projects that really predate the term “ear projects” – what was the catalyst for that?
Blake – The catalyst was me honing my skills as a jewelry maker and being able to fabricate a barbell that was my own design. The only thing you could get was a big 14g 1”1/4 industrial bar at the time. My ability to make a barbell changed that – I did my first crazy ear project in 1995 or 1996, it was a dude with nine concentric orbits on his ear. I did that when I was in NY and I knew there was nothing else like it. It was done in stages, it took about six months to complete, but building these big circular barbells to model the solar system – that was the birth of that. I’ve always made custom barbells just because I came from a time when people would make crazy shape barbells and I thought I’d design the piercing around the barbell I made! I don’t know of that many people doing things like this, but I know I was doing the first ones because I was making the jewelry for them! I don’t really know what’s going on currently, I live in a bit of a bubble.
Ari – Do you feel like that bubble comes from a healthy duration of flack and bullshit?
Blake – That’s a pretty fair assessment. When you come in on the ground floor of something and every bit has been borrowed and capitalized on, there’s a bit of sourness from watching that. I remember when all the members of the APP could fit inside an elevator and now there’s like a thousand piercing studios running around. The contributions I’ve made have made friends and enemies. I don’t have any problems looking to the guys that came before me and giving credit where credit is due, saying, “yeah, I saw him do a freehand piercing before I did.” The self-imposed isolation is -I just can’t stomach this shit anymore. I was there when it was a bunch of freaks trying to do something new marching to the beat of their own drum. I mean next year is thirty years in a shop. I’m in, man, I’m the last man standing, the last guy still poking every hole. I only partnered with Kristian for the first three years out of the last twenty-six years of my career, so that leaves the last twenty-three completely solo. Maybe I won’t be around in another year because I’ll be too busy at the farm. But it’s important to not be afraid. That was the premise of Nomad – don’t be afraid, cut that motherfucker as big as you can! If the Masai can do it I can do it, I just have fancier stuff. If they can pierce their baby I can pierce my baby. We have a three month old at home, Mom pierced one ear and I pierced the other. My wife Polina, herself a piercer, we each pierced an ear. That’s jungle love incarnate. That’s a sacred covenant as a piercer. In fact, Fakir married my wife and I, and she was the last person he ever pierced. 4 Pure magic.
Ari – Any final thoughts?
Blake – My willingness to take taboo topics by the horns therein were the seeds of change. Nomad’s “prime directive” – honor the tribe and respect the ancients -has always driven me. As a non-conformist I also believe that if you reject the status quo completely (in my case Gauntlet procedure and protocol), as I did using Nomad as my vessel, the condition of fearlessness is born. When you are fearless you are free to thrive. This is how creativity is nurtured. This is how I was able to bring so many new concepts to the table and change the game.
This interview has been interviewed for content and clarity. All photos courtesy of Blake Perlingieri. For more information on the Better Safe than Ari series, click here.
If you’d like a print version of this interview, it’s available in Nodal Points #1, now shipping from the Hex Appeal Store.
The content of oral history interviews is personal, experiential and interpretive because, by its nature, it relies on the memories, perceptions, and opinions of individuals. While all reasonable attempts are made to avoid inaccuracy, the interviews are presented in good faith to be accurate and should not be understood as statements of fact or opinion endorsed by Ari Pimsler, Shawn Porter, or Sacred Debris. We welcome opposing viewpoints from individuals with first-hand knowledge of the people, places, and situations contained herein as well as corrections on spelling, timelines or names. Email email@example.com attn Shawn.
- Wearing gloves wasn’t standard practice when the original Pierce with a Pro video was produced. ↩
- Fakir’s wife Cleo doesn’t recall ever seeing Fakir pierce infants at the Castro/Market location. ↩
- Update 07.11.2019- Blake. sent over an audio file of a conversation recorded with Fakir in which he (Fakir) discusses piercing infants while at Gauntlet. Audio file on record. -SP ↩
- Fakir’s last piercing (with the assistance of Dustin Allor) was a guiche on Ken Coyote- Source: Cleo Du Bois. ↩