Harley Flanagan: Bob Roberts is my favourite tattoo artist ever!

The ex Cro-Mags bass player told us about the noticeable differences between the old tattoo scene and the contemporary one. A true hardcore chat!

Some weeks ago, in a cold and unforgettable December night here in Milan, we had the great pleasure of discussing about tattoo art with NYCHC icon Harley Flanagan, ex Cro-Mags and actual guardian of a very respected solo career.

Harley Flanagan, credit by Marc Joseph
Harley Flanagan, credit by Marc Joseph

Harley, author in 1986 (with other Cro-Mags guys John Joseph, Parris Mayhew, Doug Holland and Mackie Jayson) of the seminal ‘The Age Of Quarrel’ LP wrote two years ago a terrific memoir called ‘Hard-Core – Life Of My Own’ (Feral House) based on his wild and reckless life in the underground music scene.

A book that hits you in the stomach and a very recommended reading for every Flanagan fan on this Earth. Here a few excerpts of the forthcoming Tattoo Energy interview out in the next months.

Harley Flanagan with Tattoo Energy, credit by Valeria Sgarella
Harley Flanagan with Tattoo Energy, credit by Valeria Sgarella

A memorable quote taken by your memoir is «It’s not about the tattoo or its subject at all, but the person that wears it». Do you want to explain better the concept?
Well, today I defend tattoo art and who has studied it: fortunately nowadays we are full of great tattoo artists. But in the beginning this “tattoo thing” was illegal – I’m talking about early Eighties – and at the times wearing ink on your body it meant you were part of another society, a different obscure underworld. My quote comes exactly from this. From my youth and from my way of seeing things in dear old 1981. The year I got my first tattoo! (laughs)

By the way, do you talk in detail about tattoos in your book ‘Hard-Core – Life Of My Own’?
I speak here and even if – to be honest – my memory is not what it used to be… (smiles) About ‘Hard-Core’ my first goal was to make a book readable but not pleasant at the level of content. I must say thanks to my beautiful wife, Laura Flanagan, for this: she was an excellent editor.

You, with your living example, represent the junction between the old and the new American tattoo scene. What’s your point of view?
Maybe that I’m a relic! (laughs) Everything has changed now, man… If one of my two sons asked me to get a tattoo I would accompany him and pay for it. That’s for sure. I would have him choose a good professional tattoo artist because he stewed me all the garbage that was going around in my day. Life goes on. Now tattoo scene is simply magnificent.

Who is your favourite tattoo artist among all those you met?
My only choice is the great Bob Roberts that now manages his Spotlight Tattoo in Los Angeles (during the Eighties Spotlight parlour was located in New York City, the Harley metropolis. Ed). Bob is a living legend. In the Seventies he worked beneath Ed Hardy and he did an amazing vintage skull tattoo on my right arm. Terrific one! Look at the cavities in his teeth. They seem to have been made yesterday.

Thank you for the precious time gave us, Harley.
Thanks to you, guys. Have a great tattoo-friendly new year!

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