WAKING UP THE HARD WAY
When I was hired by Larry Flynt to edit his tattoo magazine, Skin&Ink, nearly twenty years ago, I thought I had arrived at the end of the rainbow. Finally, after decades of writing books, magazine and newspaper columns, I had a chance to join a team of real professionals. There was a vice president in charge of advertising, another in charge of production and, of course, a brilliant active leader who made definitive decisions within twenty-four hours. Could I remove the monthly starter-kit ads from the back-outside page of each issue? It meant an enormous loss of revenue (over the year, nearly fifty thousand dollars), but Flynt, hearing my explanation that starter kits were bad for the industry and put cheap tattoo machines in the hands of any teenager with a credit card, agreed. If you notice, nowadays you don’t see starter kit ads on the back pages of the major tattoo publications. He even objected to my using the F-word too much in my first-issue interviews. I told him that I wanted my magazine to reflect how people really talk, what they really think, and the F-word was part of that honesty. Again, twenty-four hours later, he agreed. “Just take it out of your ‘Editor’s Comment’ at the front of the issue,” is all he said. Easy. And that was the beginning of our honest working relationship.
But the more I visited the ten-story LFP (Larry Flynt Publications) building on the corner of Wilshire and La Cienega, in Beverly Hills, California, the more educated and less naive I became. Larry Flynt’s domain wasn’t merely the end of the rainbow, it was a target. A target for daily hate mail, death threats and, I’m sure you are aware, a bullet in the back, which put Flynt permanently in a golden wheelchair. When I began working for him, Flynt was in the throes of recovery and said that the pain was “like being submerged waist-deep in a fifty gallon drum of boiling oil.” I think it was during my first year that he underwent a successful yet extremely dangerous operation to sever the nerves to his lower body and finally give him relief. I was thrilled, especially when I learned he quit his daily regimin of painkillers cold turkey. My respect for the man quadrupled
The awakening to the negative aspects of life extended far beyond my association with Flynt. He was considered a role model for so many in the tattoo world. At least that’s what people said. Initially, I was a bit shy about telling people I worked for the publisher of Hustler magazine, but after awhile so many people told me they “worshiped” the man, that I proudly proclaimed my association with him. But it wasn’t as cut and dried as all that. Yes, Flynt had his fans—they liked the sexy girls, they liked the lifestyle, they liked the humor—but not everyone agreed with his politics. And so goes my relationship with the tattoo world.
From the beginning, I felt I should tell it like it is. I didn’t want a puff publication where every artist is “a genius” and every tattoo is “awesome.” But I soon learned that telling the truth can get you in trouble. In this great, universal family of tattoo artists and collectors, there are infinite points of view. Yes, there are supporters, but there are also haters. Yes there are artists grateful for my magazine helping to build their careers and there are others who threatened to burn down the building of a tattoo artist who wrote his honest opinion of a convention on our pages. When we removed the starter kit ads, even though I was backed by members of the tattoo hierarchy like Henk Schiffmacher, Jack Rudy ajnd C.W. Eldridge, I got hysterical threats to me and my family. “If I see you at a convention, I’m going to knock all of your teeth down your throat,” was one.
And now we have a spate of gun-related killings in the news. Sandy Hook. Small children shot senselessly. Police ambushed on duty. Politicians telling us that school teachers should be armed. “More guns, not less,” they say. I even got one lengthy email telling me that the government had masterminded the school killings in order to generate public support for “taking our guns away.” There are people who think the Nazi concentration camps were a figment of someone’s imagination. These are also members of the tattoo family.
Although I consider Larry Flynt to be one of my idols and teachers, I avoid getting political on this website. Frankly, it’s too dangerous. My simply responding, a few years back, to a reporter in a newspaper interview that tattoo artists charge $150 an hour, brought death threats. You can imagine what I’d face if I took a stand politically or commented on gun control, equal pay for women or supported gay marriage.
I likewise don’t even think that tattoo Facebook accounts are the place to air them. (It’s terrifying to go to some people’s homepages. You’d be shocked at what you’ll find.) Instead, I offer this site as a safe harbor for those of us who simply want to talk about art. Who simply want to share their talent with the world. Who want to use these pages to voice their opinions, announce their charity work, talk about their trophy from some convention or simply hoot and holler about being able to make a living doing what they really love to do. Or, if they choose, bitch about how it’s irreparably corrupt. Imagine, with all the problems facing the economy, the great numbers of jobless, the daily tragedies… we have this place to show off, criticize, compliment and simply talk about it. Maybe that ain’t the end of the rainbow, but it’ll do till the real thing comes along.