Sometime in the late nineties my casual interest in body piercing became my passion. I was desperate for knowledge, yet there was so little accessable. Nowadays, we take for granted how easy it is to learn about body piercing (or any subject for that matter) by using nothing more than a few keystrokes. However, in the nineties the internet wasn’t something I had access to. So I relied on printed media, which was fairly hard to come by in Columbia, SC ,where I grew up. Fortunately, I found a local Harley shop that carried bulk packs of various tattoo magazines back issues and I bought them up. One magazine in particular, the long since defunct, “In The Flesh” magazine was a piercing magazine and what I read in those pages defined who I was to become. The interviews with Jon Cobb, Blake of Nomad and many others changed my entire outlook, not just on body piercing but on life as a whole.
One of the inspirational piercers featured in those pages was Cliff Cadaver. Cliff was a cutting edge piercer of that era and unlike a lot of piercers at the time, he was willing to share his knowledge. Through various interviews, features and his book “A Basic Guide To Body piercing” he put out the information that other piercers guarded as if they were top secret classified info. In fact, one feature in particular where he described the nasallang piercing (that he is credited as inventing) was so inspiring to me, I rushed out at got one myself (that I still have and wear daily).
So, when I was thinking of influential piercers whom have not been previously featured on a BME interview, Cliff was an obvious choice. I tracked him down on facebook easily,obviously there are not many people named Cliff Cadaver. At first, when I asked to interview him he seemed reluctant, but after a short while he had started writing his memoirs and totally alleviating me of any interviewing responsibilities. Since, I am an admittedly crappy interviewer, I was thrilled to have this piece written and edited with very little input by me. I helped check a few facts for him, but aside from that, this whole piece is written by him.
The memoirs he provided me with are rather long, so rather than present it in one long feature with a few choice photos I decided to milk it, and use it as a weekly feature with several photos in each episode. Since this piece (beyond my intro) is purely his writing, I must preface it by saying the opinions stated in it are Cliff Cadaver’s and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of myself, BMEzine.com or the Catholic Church.
“Monster God: Memoirs of a Body Piercer”
By Cliff Cadaver
A Welcome Shake and a Wave Goodbye
I opened the message from Sean Philips. It said, “I’m documenting the history of body piercing.”
“I haven’t set foot in a mod-shop since I walked out of mine on New Year’s Eve …five years ago.” I hit Send.
His reply came immediately. “This is important.”
Well now, here’s a fella that likes to get down to business, I thought. This wasn’t the usual facebook message from a brand new friend. Hmm, tell me more. “People these days don’t even know the history of our trade,” he said. He used words like archives, innovations, techniques and dedication. He said legend. I’d just completed a UCLA certificate program with straight A’s, I’m an accomplished stroker. Sean Philips laid out his proposal, he was polite. Legend. I was dealing with a professional.
Timing is everything. I wrote the first segment to show how hard it is for Cliff Cadaver to change. Something discussed in spades later. I wanted Sean to know that only after five years was I ready to face my past. I’d spent fifteen years of my life in the p-biz. Enough time to leave a lot more than holes. Now I was getting hit up for memoirs. Sean Philips, a piercer/blogger from Virginia, would get more than he bargained for. And so would I.
I’ve read that for some writers, the process happens so easily that they compose as if they were reading. That’s not how it works for me. Whether it’s a novel or a short story, inspiration comes slowly. My muse must be as naturally stoned as her acolyte. I freewrite. I scribble shitty first drafts. I ponder, and edit, and rewrite. I polish. Pages and pages and pages. If I’m only half satisfied I start over again. Anal? It’s a blessing and a curse. These memoirs weren’t like penning the fiction I’m used to. They poured out of me. They wouldn’t stop. Projectile vomit. For the first time, I was writing like those brainiacs I’d read about. I spent two weeks in the zone, getting it where I wanted it. And I was drained.
Swear on Anton’s bible. I made the same promise to myself that I’m making to all of you right now. I will tell the tale to the best of my ability. The most accurate history that my aging stoner memory will allow. If there are any mistakes, they’re small. Nothing was stretched, or altered, and I feel really good about that. I even did some fact checking to supplement my memory. The good feeling fled when I contacted someone from my past. “Wait a minute,” I told him, couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You want me to erase your history?” I wouldn’t have believed it in a million years. “Yes,” he said, “I don’t want to be another of your characters.” He’d changed. Now, he was ashamed of piercing. Upset I was writing memoirs. Embarrassed of me. He actually said, “What if they find out I’m tattooed?” A sledge hammer rang the bell of one of those carnival contraptions. Adrenalus Maximus.
I regained my composure after three days of fuming. Fuck it. If my first apprentice would be ruined by all the wonderful and complimentary things I say about him, I’ll spare his feelings, even if I don’t agree with his reasons. It’s so hard to eat a shit sandwich, but I’m not the cosmic chef. And I’m used to it. Now this isn’t Mike Leatherman we’re talking here, he’s way too solid a cat for that. It’s the other Mike, Mike T, the one who asked me to drop or misspell his name. I could be mean and say he’s found religion or Sarah Palin, but that wouldn’t be true.
Tuinstak? Tuinzaka? Tuistenopoulos? There are only two lies in this story. Mike Tuinkhov is the biggest one. You’ll have to read closely to find the other. A small fib with a B.A., a B.S., an M.A., and a Ph.D.
My first job was for the Los Angeles plumbing union, local 78. I slung their tools for fifteen years. I built condo and housing tracts, schools and restaurants, tilt-ups and skyscrapers. I was halfway to retirement and a full pension. That would never happen.
They had no concept of what I was into back in the eighties, unable to pigeon-hole me. They didn’t know how to take piercings and heavy ink. If it wasn’t my blue hair throwing them off, it was the permanent fangs I paid Doctor Fraga a couple grand to install. I’d dangle my legs off a helicopter pad at break time, thirty stories up. I’d toss a paratrooper toy off the side and fight the urge to go with it. I ate my lunch and my pride. I survived under a Harley-Davidson hat and ached for change.
I was very lucky to be accepted as a piercer’s apprentice by Crystal Cross at the now defunct Red Devil Studios, co-owned by Jill Jordan. Same shop that spawned artists Kevin Quinn and the Tuesday Brothers, Riley and Jesse. Hollywood, tattooing, piercing, non-stop excitement. Bliss.
I trained for two years under Crystal back when the only other place in town doing exotic piercing was the Gauntlet. I went from a high-paying Journeyman’s salary and a nice apartment in San Pedro, to a place on the ‘vard I shared with two roommates. I struggled and made chicken feed for wages. Both these things would change.
1993 saw the opening of Cliff Cadaver Body Piercing in Studio City, California. My business quickly flourished, life grew even more exciting, I was happy. For a time.
No Place Like Home
When Red Devil closed its doors, I accepted an offer I couldn’t refuse. Rockwood Rick, owner of Studio City Tattoo and long time friend, suggested I rent a suite above his shop. Business boomed, no one else offered full-range piercing in the San Fernando Valley so I easily cornered the market. In six month’s time a Ventura Boulevard storefront opened up three doors down from Rockwood’s place. I upgraded. I painted the interior with Hammerite metallic silver paint; it looked like someone took a ball peen hammer to the insides of a flying saucer. The exterior was gloss black, red neon, chains, diamond plate and acorn nuts. Giant, four-foot piercing needles skewered signs and fringed the roof. Over the years, I paid a custom metal specialist to fabricate steel and aluminum furniture, counters, walls. Every square inch was silver or metal. My shop was gleaming and bullet-proof. So bitchin’. I worked alone for the first year and thrived.
For further episodes from this series keep checking modblog every Friday until it’s completion. Same mod time, same mod channel.