Tattooists are Pirates

“Tattooists are Pirates” — Klem The above quote was part of a conversation about japanese tattooing traditions and tattooists names; the “Hori” prefix in names like Horiyoshi, Horikoi, Horitaka, etc, which I understand means, literally, to poke. We progressed on to the way American tattooing picked up, used, and altered the best of other traditions. […]

Tattooists are Pirates
Klem

The above quote was part of a conversation about japanese tattooing traditions and tattooists names; the “Hori” prefix in names like Horiyoshi, Horikoi, Horitaka, etc, which I understand means, literally, to poke.

We progressed on to the way American tattooing picked up, used, and altered the best of other traditions.

We’re not afraid to steal shit and make it our own, Klem said. Basically, Tattooists are pirates.

And I said amen.


I’ve known Klem for a long time. I met him as a friend-of-a-friend at various social gatherings; we were scenester types on the San Jose music scene in the 80’s and early 90’s. I roadied for a lot of local bands, Barb worked for clubs doing fliers and graphic arts. She had a band (Jailbait Babysitters, and remind me, I should get a couple of thier tunes uploaded here), and most of our friends were in or connected to local bands. Some of these cats are now in bands like Smashmouth and Counting Crows; a lot of them are still around the bay area music scene, like Kenny who’s in all sorts of bands, and Rick who’s in the rockin’ Golden Gods.

Our friends were in bands with names like Dot3, Frontier Fucking Wives, Heroic Airmen, Exploding Cadillacs, John Singer Band, a dozen others sadly slipping from my mind now. My friend Lex was in the ‘Wives (This is the same Lex who was also later on Survivor). His house was the center of a huge social circle, and I met Klem at one of his gatherings.

Klem was, at the time, just finishing his BFA at San Jose State, but we were all just getting heavily into tattooing at the time (Ok, Lex and I had been into it for years by then, but the interest was just taking off around us). I’m not sure who it was that started working on Klem to learn the craft; I remember looking at his paintings and remarking to him how well suited his style was to it. But someone somewhere started up a movement to buy Klem a machine and get him hooked up with an artist to apprentice with.

I didn’t get one of Klem’s first five or ten tattoos. But I got one of his first twenty or so; a tribal (back when tribal was still just the thing) frog design, back when he worked in a San Jose shop called Pinup Parlour.

That was a lot of years ago; we figured Klem’s been tattooing about thirteen years now. He’s tattooed a lot of my friends and over the last thirteen years, he’s gotten really, really good. I got my first couple pieces from him because he was my friend; I’m getting tattooed by him now because he’s very good, and because he’s incredibly easy to work with in an industry that tends to favor the gruff and the difficult. And of course, I’m also getting tattooed by him because he’s my friend.

Some of my buddies are covered almost head to toe with Klem’s work; I don’t have that many pieces by him. A lot of my work is polynesian, done by Tricia Allen, and a lot is older Japanese and tribal done by Eddy Deutsche and Freddy Corbin.

For some reason I’ve been off the track of getting tattooed for several years. Why is several long stories, but now that I’m thinking tattoos again, I’ve got one more planned with Klem right away, and two more cooking that do not have a specific artist chosen.

In any case, last thursday, Barb and I each added a new one to the tattoo inventories:

(I lost the thumbnails on these but click anyway and they’ll open into over-large images in too-small windows, I might fix that later if I ever care)

B Rat Tat-2 K Tat Close

Mine is the black and white one, Barb’s the full color. Note the rat lurking behind Barb’s leg; that’s Java, who decided to run into the frame just as I shot that picture. A full leg version of mine is here.

These pieces are for our 21st wedding anniversary. Klem also did our 13th. 13 and 21 seem like good tattoo anniversaries; forget 10, 15, 20, I want significant numbers like blackjack.

I’m happy with the way these turned out. We basically gave Klem the concept and let him run, only specifying the card suits and that we wanted a pinup girl queen (and Barb demanded a diamond somewhere in her piece.) I chose to do mine in monochrome because the left leg is all black and grey, and it’s where the tattoo fit best. You can tell these are fresh, three days old, because there’s still some bruising. That’ll fade in another couple days as the tattoos heal.

Next — Hulalupe. And then I can start thinking about my back.

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0 thoughts on “Tattooists are Pirates”

  1. Nice. I’m getting tattooed again this Friday. Should be fun.

    How does it work for you to have moronosphere.com on a DSL connection? I used to have my site on my DSL at home, but the traffic got to be too much for it and I had to say ‘uncle’ and move it to a hosting service.

  2. I’d just like to state for the record that although our tattoos look basically the same, mine took several hours longer, hurt much more, and will take at least five or six weeks longer to heal. I doubt I’ll need to be waited on hand and foot for that entire time, though. Only for about another month.

  3. Thieves Cross, Swing Party, Jet Crash Miracle, etc. ( so many bands)

    I remember the “Laundry Works”

    That was a powerful time in San Jose.

  4. Wasn’t it though? Dot3, The Wives, Dada Pilgrim, Helen Keller Plaid, and Bad Dog Sit were mu faves of the era. But there were another 10, 20 I can’t recall. So few of ’em made it.

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