It's almost enough to make one forget about the four-inch long bone piercing Fakir Musafar's nose.
The 64-year-old Menlo Park resident, who looks at least 15 years younger than his age, has been dubbed "the father of the modern primitive movement."
"Modern primitives," a term Musafar coined himself, refers to people who pierce, tattoo, brand, scarify or otherwise alter their bodies for reasons of religion, history, fashion, fadism, thrill-seeking, punk or funk. Such markings are particularly favored by the youthful post-punk crowd.
Musafar remembers when he was one of "seven people in the world" who had pierced nipples, a body part that, by today's standards, almost seems tame. "I never thought it would reach out this way," he said. "It's really been a surprise--a delightful surprise."
For 30 years Musafar kept his 15 piercings, numerous tattoos and branding scars hidden beneath the natty attire of an advertising executive. "No one knew the amount of metal I was walking around with," he admits. "Finally, a friend told me, 'You have to come out of the closet about this.'"
Now he is at the forefront of the body alteration movement. His piercing workshops fill up months in advance. His magazine, the $10-per-issue Modern Primitives, sells out at Tower Records almost as soon as it goes on the racks.
For Musafar, body alteration isn't as much about aesthetics or shock value as it is about ritually marking the significant passages in human life. His own practice draws from Sioux, Hindu and African tradition. "In this culture, we have not provided rites of passage, so youth invent some rather destructive ones. They steal a car, or smoke some dope, or do some other stupid thing."
It was the need for such a ritual in his own life that prompted Musafar, who grew up on an Indian reservation in Aberdeen, S.D., to pierce himself at age 12. "In those days, you didn't 'get' a piercing," he said. "You did one."
After a few years studying stagecraft in Aberdeen with a "fugitive from the New York stage," Musafar left South Dakota for San Francisco and the beat scene. "I had a choice of going to New York to work backstage for the Metropolitan Opera or going to San Francisco to get involved in the beatnik culture. I wanted that beatnik culture."
He had found his milieu. He wrote poetry, "talked 10 or 15 hours a day," wrote plays and dressed in telltale beatnik black. "My favorite garb in those days was a dark, heavy Harris tweed coat and black turtleneck." Mostly he wanted to be a playwright.
But when his "play-writing career didn't go anywhere," he put on a suit and joined the world of advertising. For 27 years he wrote ad copy by day and quietly pierced by night. Five years ago he retired to teach workshops and publish his magazine.
Yet for all the holes, dyes, bones, metal and jewels he is packing on his person, he does have a conservative quirk. "In my workshops, I always tell people not to rush into this. I remind them that if they do this, it's with them forever."
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