Freelance Writer
The Needle and the Damage Done, a Little Tattoo on Everyone
02.15.06 | No Comments
Category: A&E

Worcester Magazine
A&E Feature

Don’t ever get a tattoo when you’re drunk, too young or blindly in love.

Don’t you know these things are permanent (unless, of course, you consider the costly laser removal surgery a sufficient corrective)? It may seem brilliantly cool to brand “Mary, My Muse” on your ass today, but it might cause some tension between you and your next girlfriend. And statistics support that you most likely will have a next girlfriend. Oh, the needle and the damage done.

Those are a few things frowned upon by Scott Alderman, one of the founders of the second annual Massachusetts Tattoo Festival, which inks up the Centrum this weekend. But done right, and with some thought, he considers the tattoo one of the most interesting art mediums. There’s a lot more out there than anchors and “mom” these days.

“We’re not about giving people their first tattoos,” says Alderman. “This is to see what a good shop looks like, what good artists are all about and to educate people so if they get one they’ll be informed. If some 18-year-old comes to our show to get his hand tattooed, it won’t happen. It’s not something you should rush into.”

Alderman himself, who is not an artist but a self-proclaimed aficionado of the tat, didn’t succumb to the needle until he was 30, and sober. He now boasts 30 on his body. “My left arm is just about done,” says Alderman. “I got my first one in 1990. I went to graduate school in Berkeley and I met all these really freaky people out there. I was from New York, and I had thought I had seen freaky people, but San Francisco was really over the top.”

His friends out there chided him about having no tattoos, and jokingly gave him a copy of the book Modern Primitive, in which Alderman was struck by a tribal design out of the Philippines. That became his first tattoo. “It wasn’t to commemorate anything,” says Alderman. “In ’98 in a hotel room in Berlin is when it got out of control. I was up to the upper bicep by then, but that’s when it started to go down the arm. No, I don’t regret them. It’s almost like, if you regret one, you have to regret them all.”

And he doesn’t regret starting the Massachusetts Tattoo Festival in Worcester. Debuting last year, to coincide with the legalization of tattooing in the state, he and Paul Booth (who is an artist sitting in the upper echelon in his field, his work recently celebrated in Rolling Stone) organized it on the heels of their tour called “Tattoo the Earth,” which visited 18 cities. “That was really a heavy metal tour with a few tattoo artists,” says Alderman. “That’s not what we wanted.” Now that the Massachusetts show was so successful, they consider it a template for other similar ones, which were already held in Chicago and Oakland this summer.

“Hell yeah, I regret a lot of mine,” says Corey Kruger, and adds with a chuckle, “Hopefully you get something you can live with. Everyone gets the tattoo they deserve.” Kruger’s barely got an inch of blank slate to work with, but says that he’ll probably lighten up a few of his regrets with laser surgery so he can add some new stuff. He’s also an artist, who works at a tattoo parlor in Clinton called What It Is, and has been involved with Alderman and Booth’s festival since it was the Tattoo the Earth tour.

Though he hates to pigeonhole himself, Kruger says he performs custom work with a lot of Asian influences, and high-energy modern approaches. When we spoke, he had just finished stringing Hindu-style rib panels from the top of a guy’s knees to his armpit – on both sides. Makes you wonder if there’s a limit. “Well, I won’t tattoo anybody’s face,” he says, “or if I think it will impact their lives negatively, I won’t do that. Like, ‘white power’ or something … “

Kruger will be one of 200 artists, from more than 20 different countries, setting up shop at the show. Attendees can choose from a variety of styles, from traditional hand tattooing from Borneo or Japan to henna. Last year, Alderman estimates that about 10,000 attended, and artists punctured the skin of a couple thousand throughout the weekend. But, he emphasizes that the event is for everyone, even those who choose to keep all of their skin plain.

“It’s bigger than Gladiator,” says Alderman. “It’s a show that basically incorporates all the things that are associated with tattoo culture. That includes, obviously, tattooing, but we also have an art gallery, photography, film and music. There are bands playing over at the Palladium and a film festival at the Bijou. Just everything that’s emblematic of the culture. Even if people have a parenthetical interest, they will find something interesting.”

There will also be lectures, piercing booths, performance art, collaborative tattooing and more.

“There’s a certain preconception people have about tattoo art,” he continues. “A lot of people who have never been to this show said they had no idea of the diversity of the audience, the diversity of the artwork and the levels. They’re blown away.”


Tit for tat: some quickies on Scott Alderman:

Favorite tune on The Stones’ Tattoo You: “Start Me Up”
Among his 30 tattoos: The Stones’ “tongue,” which is the only logo included in his ensemble
How he’ll feel about his tattoos when he’s 80: “When I’m 80, nobody should be looking at me anyway. I won’t even look at it. I’ll remove my mirrors. I won’t even go to the beach.”
The only letters found on his body: ”Show me” on his right wrist.
Rule of thumb: “If you insist on tattooing someone’s name, you should do it in a foreign language so people won’t know.”

What:Massachusetts Tattoo Festival
When:Saturday, Oct. 12 through Monday, Oct. 14.
Where:Worcester’s Centrum Centre (still known as The Centrum to people who live here)
Cost:$17.50 per day, $45 three-day pass
Visit for schedule.

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