INKED: What’s the current state of your shop, Last Rites?
PAUL BOOTH: November 22 being my 20-year anniversary, I feel pretty good saying that, although I feel old, I’m feeling really solid. And with my new crew, it’s exciting because I have the creative environment I really wanted. I mean, it’s always been a creative environment here, but I find myself really vibing well with this crew, so I’m psyched about moving ahead.These days, tattooists are rock stars, and you’re one of them. How do you feel about that?
I still laugh about that. I think I said this once or twice in the past: I have a different way of looking at these things, but deep down I still just see myself as a really lucky fat guy from New Jersey. At the end of the day I can’t believe the shit that comes my way. I have hot chicks all around me—I ain’t no prize. I can complain about worse things, I suppose. Imagine me feeling like a piece of meat. Lucky me.
So you embrace it?
Well, no. I spent a few years celebrating it. I did the whole rock star thing. It was fun, sure. The real fucked up thing about it is that it left me feeling pretty alone. And I still tend to feel alone quite a bit because there are not too many people I know that can relate to what I’ve been through in my life … and my career.
Don’t get me wrong, I really love what I do—the fans, the experiences. It really is true, though, what they say: Be careful what you wish for. There are reasons why I’m a shut-in now. I understand more than ever why bigger celebrities are also shut-ins and why they can’t go out. They are like a prisoner of themselves.
For me, going out to a bar with some friends to hang out and just relax isn’t that much of an option. I don’t mind if a sincere fan shakes my hand and it’s all good. But people get drunk over the course of the night and I end up spending hours with someone repeating to me their next tattoo over and over again, shaking my hand with their beer-soaked paw. [Laughs.] There are a lot of cool people out there but, you know, I can tell you stories that will totally make you understand why I stay home.
Give me one.
I don’t know how this is going to come across but I’ll do my best. I go to this club one night—a fetish industry night, which is one of the circles I tend to find myself in from time to time—and I’m standing outside talking to these people I knew, a guy and his wife, and there’s this girl kinda hanging around who knew them. After about 10 minutes she interrupts and says, “What’s your name?”
“Oh my god, oh my god!”
The girl just loses it and all of a sudden she has tears running down her face. She’s freaking out that she’s meeting me, and I’m thinking to myself, If you’re that intense of a fan, why did it take you so long to recognize me? I mean, if you’re so much of a fan to have tears running down your face.It’s not like you blend.
I know! The next thing I know—oh, and keep in mind that there’s got to be, like, 30 people around us outside because you can’t smoke in bars in New York City—she falls to the ground, on her belly, three feet away from me and starts dragging herself toward me like I was that wall in Israel, and she wraps herself around my leg and starts kissing my foot, still crying. I’m standing there, thinking, Jesus Christ. Everyone is staring at me, and I don’t like to stand out, believe it or not. So I take her arm and beg her to get up, telling her it’s cool and how I appreciate how she digs my work, but it’s causing a scene. And everyone is looking at me like, Who does he think he is? Shit like that happens. How can you take it seriously?
So did you sleep with her?
[Laughs.] Nah, she wasn’t my type.
Well, that’s what everyone is going to be thinking, so we had to ask.
I could have sucked and she still would’ve loved me! I guess my point is that you become a sort of commodity for people. You’re no longer human. For one thing, they put you on a pedestal that no one can live up to. For another, they want that tattoo or artwork so badly that they forget about important human things like consideration, respect, and sincerity. I try to be patient with it, but being that I hate mankind, it’s fucking hard to remind myself that not everyone actually sucks. And I don’t omit myself. I suck too.That’s heavy. How do you deal with that?
It’s not easy. I find myself more paranoid than ever. I have a hard time trusting people now. With women, I feel they just want a free tattoo or want to be seen with me. It’s not what I’m looking for. It’s hard to feel a sense of companionship with someone when you know in the back of your mind that they’re full of shit. Of course, if they’re really hot, I’ll overlook that. [Laughs.] Yeah, I’m shallow too. So what? Did I mention I’m a walking contradiction?
Have you ever had a client experience an orgasm?
I have a client that came in for a long, two-day tattoo weekend. She suffered through the first day and came in the second day wearing vibrating panties with a remote control and the whole time I tattooed her, she sat there with the remote control going up and down, up and down. I was confused as to whether she was in pain or whether she was coming! It was so strange because I’m tattooing this woman and it’s like we’re having sex. I’m dealing with my own sadistic tendencies of hurting this girl and listening to her whimper—but that’s my own personal thing—and on top of that, she’s getting herself off the whole time, enjoying herself and using it as a tool to get through the pain.
Readers are going to run out and buy vibrating panties for tattoo pain relief!
I’m gonna start selling vibrating panties with the Last Rites logo! If I’m comfortable with someone, I’m cool with it. I’ve done ritual tattooing and all kinds of weird things.
You must have clients in the fetish world who would get off on tattooing, without the vibrating panties.
Oh, definitely. What I love about the fetish scene is that the women tend to be more neurotic. … If I’m at a party and there’s one girl there who looks like she’s ready to fall over dead, that’s the one I’m all about—the one who’s emaciated with makeup running down her face, an emotional wreck ready to jump off a bridge … I just think that’s hot. It’s not like I’m out to save them either.
Maybe you’re out to share your own bit of crazy. What’s your big neurosis?
Oh my god. I’m certifiably insane.
Yet highly functional.
No, I fake it. I have patterned my universe to fit my disease. I live in a microcosm. I am the master of my universe, no matter how great or small it may be considered. I need to control my environment to keep myself somewhat sane. Between my natural instabilities coupled with my career choice, it’s driven me deeper into a darker place.
With that need to control your environment, how did you deal with your former Last Rites crew all leaving you suddenly last year?
Do you mind talking about it? I don’t mind.
Then for those not in on the gossip, give a recap first.
In a nutshell, I’ve always been a bit psychologically unstable. When I was a kid, mostly it was depression, and as I grew older it became other things. Stress triggers it. And with a lot of things I was doing four or five years ago—like Tattoo the Earth, a music tour I produced, the beginnings of Art Fusion, and all these crazy things—I drove myself too hard. I ended up having a breakdown in Europe. My girlfriend then and manager got me home. I started seeing two separate shrinks a week for six months and took all these brain-candy cocktails to find the right recipe to keep me functioning. It became a battle. The medicine kills the demons but the demons and the art come from the same place. It took me a year to get back in the rhythm and create in a way to give a client 100 percent. And if I don’t feel 100 percent, I can’t work.
In the end the people close to me had to nurse me all the time. I couldn’t go out without a crew. I couldn’t go out without people I trusted around. I had a greater safety requirement than the average person. That can range from legitimate paranoia, like someone really out to get me, to aliens peeping under my door. Weird shit.
So through my struggle, everyone was getting tired of being around me. It started with my girlfriend bailing out. And I don’t blame her because I knew then what a pain in the ass I was, but I couldn’t help it. Nonetheless, it devastated me because this was a girl I thought I was spending the rest of my life with. She did what she could. I don’t think anyone in my life has let me down easier. Then, one year to the day that we officially broke up, my entire crew walked out on me on the same day.
The funny thing is that, after they left, a big part of me felt that a cancer had been cut out of my body. I was sitting in my shop alone feeling nothing but relief, not even knowing until that moment where a lot of my stress was coming from.Was there a big fight?
No. My issue was never them leaving, but how they left. It wasn’t cool how things went down. I’m not going to go into detail. I’ll just save it for my book. It was more important for me to bite my tongue and stand by my reputation and my professionalism, than proving gossip wrong. I spent so many years hearing rumors about me that have ranged from being a gay heroin addict or baby-eating satanist. …
I really have heard the gay heroin thing.
Yes, I’m the world’s fattest heroin addict. Is it even possible? I got a hot chick on my arm at every convention, and I weigh more than three people. Over the years, I would start my own rumors to see what they’d turn into, like the child-slavery-ring rumor.
That’s a good one.
Listen, I’ve always known that human nature generally sucks. Where I grew stronger from all this is the evolution of myself, and the awareness of human nature that I have now is much greater than ever before.
I had a gallery opening two months after the shit went down, and people actually wrote in the guest book all kinds of shit like, “You asshole. How does it feel now?” All based on rumor. The amount of people who called me to get more than one side of the story, I could count on one hand. I was bedridden for three months. I mean, really bedridden with some dark shit—but I survived.
Did anything positive come from it?
I know it will take a lot more than nine people to take me out. I have a new crew. I’m less concerned with what people think, which is good because I was always too concerned. Now I can just give the entire universe the middle finger.