IN HELL’S KITCHEN, ON THE SIDEWALK IN FRONT OF THE TATTOO STUDIO-ART GALLERY LAST RITES TATTOO THEATRE, A YOUNG WOMAN IN SHINY BLACK LATEX IS INTRODUCED TO PAUL BOOTH. HER MASCARA STARTS TO RUN, SHE FALLS TO THE GROUND, AND SHE BEGINS DRAGGING HERSELF ON HER BELLY TOWARD HIM. WRAPPING HER THIN BODY AROUND HIS LEG, SHE KISSES HIS FOOT, STILL CRYING. THAT’S WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE ONE OF THE ORIGINAL TATTOO ROCK STARS, EVEN IF HE DOESN’T WANT TO BE. RENOWNED FOR HIS RICH BLACK AND GREY MACABRE TATTOOS, BOOTH’S FAME BEGAN IN THE EARLY ‘90S AS HEAVY METAL GODS LINED UP FOR WORK AND EVEN BROUGHT HIM ON TOUR WITH THEM. TODAY, BOOTH STILL REIGNS AS ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL TATTOOERS IN THE WORLD, INSPIRING NEW GENERATIONS OF ARTISTS (AND GROUPIES) IN THE INDUSTRY.
Let’s go back to 1988, when you were a punk rock kid from New Jersey just starting out in tattooing. What was the big hook that pulled you into the industry?There were two things that got me into tattooing: One was getting my daughter’s name tattooed on me. I was 19 years old and a new father and kind of freaking out about it, so I went upon a suggestion by my friend to get her name tattooed on me, thinking that it would help me cope better. And it worked for sure in that department. It helped me realize this was a lifelong commitment—the tattoo just like the child. Not only did it work for that but it also intrigued me to no end. I just had to learn how to tattoo. It was perfect for me.
Tattooing wasn’t trendy then. It was really more about individuality and rebellion, especially for me. Having punk rock roots, it was really a no-brainer. I loved the idea of my art becoming permanent and wearing it for life. For some reason I found myself attracted to the responsibility of it all. It made me feel like my art would have some sense of purpose beyond airbrushing murals on hot rods and bikes. The pain factor intrigued me as well; it seems to be such a necessary part of the process. I guess it always struck me as some sort of ritual.
When you’re asked by newbies to impart some tattoo advice, what do you usually offer—or do you just fuck with them?Sometimes I like to fuck with the new kids, but usually it’ll be more about teaching them something—sometimes subtle, sometimes in their face. You know, we old-timers can tell when a kid is sincere or there to truly get my full attention. Just a cocky little prick. But the sincere kids who have the spark, they’re always fun and inspiring to me. I love to teach, actually. I just hate wasting my time. Done enough of that. You gotta be more than just a good artist. You gotta have some integrity and ethics laced in there to truly get my full attention.
In 2002, Rolling Stone deemed you “The New King of Rock Tattoos,” as you were tattooing and touring with bands including Slayer, Pantera, Biohazard and a long list of others. Are you still indulging in that tattoo rock star lifestyle?Oh, I’m just a weekend warrior now! The thought of living on a tour bus again for a month or two at a time—no, I’m OK now. I’m happy visiting my friends when they pass through town or we cross paths somewhere in the world. I am kind of a recluse when I’m home these days, but when I creep out of my lair, it’s their shows I’m usually found at. Otherwise, I just stay home and try and create some weird thing. But yeah… those rock star days.