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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.
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?”
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Since I spaced on writing something special for the twentieth anniversary of ModCon last month, I figured I’d at least celebrate the anniversary of this gentleman’s birth; one of the more memorable guests of the first MC event in Toronto, Erik Sprague (then Spidergod5, now the Lizard Man) was already on his way to lizarddom with implants, a split tongue, filed teeth, and the beginnings of his scale tattoo designs.
This photo, taken by ModCon (and Scarwars) photographer Philip Barbosa, appeared on the original Modcon CD-Rom.
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. Continue reading
Ari conducted this interview at the 2018 APP Conference and Expo in Las Vegas; while speaking to Georgina, Nick Giordano popped over to say hello and joined the conversation. A rare Ari two for one! Photos will be added soon. -SP/SD
Ari – Hey Georgina, thanks so much for talking to me today. I always have everyone do the basic introduction so give us your name and where you work, etc.
Georgina – Of course! My name is Georgina Schiavelli, and I own Black Diamond Body Piercing in West Hartford, Connecticut. I have been piercing since 1997 and I’ve owned Black Diamond since we opened in 2008.
Ari – How did your apprenticeship start?
Georgina – Like so many people back in the 90s – totally by accident! I was an enthusiast and a college student – it’s how I ended up in Connecticut after growing up on Long Island. I went to University of Hartford, which is in West Hartford, and I walked into Green Man Tattoo. I actually got pierced by one of the tattoo artists first- they didn’t have a piercer yet- the tattooer did a terrible job on my piercing in case you were wondering – it was a hideously off-center labret. Other then that I had started to become friends with one of the owners, John, who did my right sleeve. I started just popping into the shop here and there. I was really interested in tattoos and piercings. Within a few months of that Jeff Goldblatt, my mentor, started working there. He had previously worked in Millford (I believe), which is around 45 minutes away from us. I walked in and was like, “oh, who’s this guy?” and when I found out he was a piercer I thought, “oh, you’re like an actual piercer and not just a tattooer!” I got a bunch of work from him and we became very fast friends. My sheer interest in the general business of it was why he pretty much offered me an apprenticeship; I was in there almost every day. I just always wanted to hang out there and learn everything- I thought it was all so cool. He saw my passion for it, I was about 19 at the time, took me under his wing, and that was 21 years ago! Continue reading
Finding ‘new’ artwork by iconic gay erotic illustrator BUD is always a treat; despite his connection with subculture defining periodicals 1 in the 1970s, Bud never found the kind of audience that Tom, Rex or the Hun enjoyed. Back in 1999, he submitted a six page story to Atomic Love #4 by Sina Shamsavari that featured his trademark crisp lines (before printing; zines were DIY and notoriously suffered poor production values) and erotic fantasy/sci-fi imagery.
We’re working on finding more of Sina’s collaborations with Bud and will share if located!
Sad news out of Texas- influential body piercer and suspension practitioner Daryl “Bear” Belmares has passed away. A mentor to some of the best piercers to come out of the 1990s Texas scene, Bear appeared in the documentaries Modify and Written on the Body and had what may be the largest documented set of stretched ear lobes at 5.5″
He will be missed.
July 10, 1956 – December 18, 2018
(excerpt from the 1990s documentary film Written on the Body)
We’ve finally got the second collected volume of Better Safe than Ari interviews ready to be sent off to the printers; this double size black and white books features interviews with:
– and for this edition, a never before published interview with retired piercer Sean Christian.
It comes wrapped in a cover featuring a vintage Gauntlet NYC photo by iconic community photographer/documentarian Efrain Gonzalez and should be ready to ship before Christmas.
Support print media, support Sacred Debris!
Available for pre-order here: https://hexappeal.storenvy.com/products/24016416-better-safe-than-ari-collected-interviews-vol-2