At The Intersection Of Ink And Noise

by , August 3, 2020

Sometime back around ’94-95 I was selling stuff at a biker rally in Ignacio, CO. We were at the Sky Ute Fairgrounds at the Four Corners Rally, vending our leather goods. Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell was the Grand Marshall of the Parade of Loud Machines and we were killing it, sales-wise.

First booth on the right as you entered the indoor arena. Prime real estate.

Eventually nature hollered and I made my way towards the restrooms, which were awash in biker fluids of various colors.

Biker rally etiquette frowns on overt displays of enthusiasm between strangers.

While standing in line to make my contribution to the stenchfest I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me.

Native American looking fella, long hair, beard, etc. But what caught my eye was the t-shirt: “Clutch.”

I had picked up “Transnational Speedway League” earlier that year and was hooked by the first minute of “A Shogun Named Marcus”. The band hadn’t really broken through yet as a main attraction so it was cool to see some random dude was into the same crunchy noise I was enjoying. Kinda like the first time you ran into another kid from your town that was into punk rock. You thought you were the only one who understood how important and wonderful this new music was and then you found another human that also loved it. Instant friendship and tape-trading.

“Cool band”, sez I.

Biker rally etiquette frowns on overt displays of enthusiasm between strangers. “Yeah,” he says, “Good driving music. Binge and Purge is awesome.”

And that’s how I met Running Bear. He was tattooing at the rally and since I’d spent the previous chapter of my life running with the ink slingers it turned out we had more to talk about than music. I went by his booth and checked out his work. He came by ours and looked over our stuff. We discussed trading tattoos for leather.

One skin for another…..

Eventually he invited us to come back to the reservation with him and his family. He did good, solid tattoo work with strong lines and great shading. He understood that human skin does not age like paper or canvas. That the miniature single-needle reproduction of the Mona Lisa might look good this year but you’d better take some photos of it because ten years from now it’s just going to be a blob of pigment. 

Sun, wind, more sun, age, life…..they all take their toll on your body and it’s decorations. Stick around long enough and you’ll find out.

Since we were booked for the following weekend in the opposite direction I didn’t take him up on the offer, although in hindsight I wish I had. A week with the Navajo would have been good for my soul at that point in my life. I was busy chasing dollar bills and I needed to figure out what the hell was important.

We’re obsessed with minutia until something catastrophic happens. Then we realize how much energy we’ve wasted on stupid shit and promise to not do that anymore once things get straightened out. As soon as they do we slide right back to worrying about stupid shit……Koyaanisqatsi.

I’ve spent a little time with the Oglala Sioux in recent years and I’ve come to appreciate just how out of balance our modern life is.

Life on the Rez is hard. But there is beauty there and there are things a 60 year old white guy like myself can learn if he shuts his mouth and opens his ears. Seeing people who have little to give giving everything they have to those who have nothing is humbling. I thought I knew what poverty was but I didn’t know a damn thing. I consider myself lucky to have made it to a point in my life where I realize that I’m not the smartest person in the room.

Over the years I have occasionally come across Running Bear’s name while perusing a tattoo magazine. He travelled around the world with a tattoo machine and a can-do attitude. Good for him. He now operates a shop in Modesto, CA. Drop in and spend a little of your money there. Bring a “Clutch” CD to listen to.

You won’t be sorry.


Sounds: Clutch “Transnational Speedway League”

Sights: “Little Wound’s Warriors” on Amazon Prime

Words: “Keeping Heart On Pine Ridge: Family Ties, Warrior Culture, Commodity Foods, Rez Dogs and the Sacred” by Vic Glover

Next Time: GWAR, Richmond Pigs and The Wall Of Doom

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