Music notes: 'Permanence' explores tattoo culture, history

Published: Friday, March 7 2008 12:19 a.m. MST

A lot of rock musicians — good and bad, talented and worthless — have tattoos. When I was growing up, tattoos were considered slightly dangerous and only a few people had them.

Throughout the years, some of my friends, my stepsister and other family members have decided to get "inked."

Their reasons for body adornment ranged from "boredom" to "liking the design." In fact, my brother-in-law — an artist — took his own drawing into the tattoo studio and had it replicated on his upper shoulder.

Tattoos aren't for everyone, but they do have significance to those who get them. And if someone is serious about a permanent mark on his body, it's a good idea to understand the history and ritual of tattoos.

Author/filmmaker/poet/tattoo artist and public speaker Kip Fulbeck has published a book called "Permanence" with Chronicle Books, featuring portraits of people who have tattoos. The people pictured also have written the reasons they got inked or the significance of their body art (the book does contain partial nudity).

"I wrote a book called 'Part Asian: 100 Percent Hapa,"' said Fulbeck during an interview from Santa Barbara, Calif. "And that was an examination of me from the inside out. With 'Permanence,' I wanted to examine myself and people from the outside in."

Among the portraits are rock stars such as Joan Jett, Kiss' Paul Stanley, Velvet Revolver lead singer Scott Weiland and Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian.

In addition, other professional entertainers such as Margaret Cho, "L.A. Ink" artist Kat Von D and musician Johnny Winter are also featured.

"Out of the estimated 45 million people who have tattoos, it wasn't hard getting people to show their art," said Fulbeck, who cited world-renowned artists Horitaka and Horiyoshi III as his mentors. "But I didn't want to just focus on the entertainment business. I wanted to get others as well."

One of those regular people is Eva Brown, a Holocaust survivor who was tattooed with an identification number against her will during her imprisonment at Auschwitz.

"I was a little nervous asking her to show the numbers on her arm," said Fulbeck. "But she looked at me and said, 'This is me. It's part of my life.' She had survived one of the most horrendous crimes in world history and at that moment, all my own problems didn't matter."

Another photograph was of an anorexic woman with the word "peace" in French tattooed on her hip.

"She originally rescinded her permission to run her picture," said Fulbeck. "She confessed that she had an eating disorder and was worried about her family finding out.

"We talked about how this would be a significant entry in the book because it would show support to others who have the same issues. We decided to run her photo with out showing her face and named her 'Anonymous."'

Still, there are some out there who see their favorite rock stars sporting colorful and elaborate designs and want to emulate them without thinking about the ramifications, Fulbeck said.

"My hope is that the book will help others who don't understand the culture get a glimpse of why it's done," he said. "Thanks to the rise in popularity of tattoos, there are conventions and TV programs that feature tattoos and tattoo artists. Young people get tattoos because it's the 'punk' thing to do. But I wish they'd know the rites of passages, geographic identity and the marks of status that they represent. Tattoos are also very spiritual and show identity."


E-mail: scott@desnews.com

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