Karl Rove's Pierced Family Jewels, part 2: Jim Ward interview (audio)


Following up on a previous BoingBoing post (Essay: I'm the proud owner of Karl Rove's father's solid gold cock ring):

Piercing pioneer Jim Ward (image above), who in 1975 launched what is now considered America's first contemporary body piercing business (The Gauntlet), remembers Louis "Indy" Rove, an early body modification enthusiast who is identified as the adoptive father of Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove. The elder Mr. Rove had (at least) 37 piercings, most of which were in his genitals, all performed by Mr. Ward.


AUDIO: (duration - 24:11)

[Browser-compatibility note: If your web reader doesn't allow you to access Flash, here's a direct MP3 Link. ]


Text Image at left: snip from a 1983 issue of the body mod fanzine "Piercing Fans International Quarterly," which featured the man identified as Karl Rove's dad on the cover.

Inside that issue, a long, first-person essay about Rove's love for body modding. That issue featured close-up photos of his numerous genital piercings on the cover. The photos were shot by Fakir Musafar, who kindly provides the scans.

In the detail at left, Rove talks about the relief of managing to pass through an airport security metal detection machine with dozens of gold rings in his genitals.

Full scans to be posted later, and an audio interview with Fakir Musafar, who also knew Louie Rove.


EXCERPT FROM JIM WARD INTERVIEW:

[BOINGBOING] Now, did you ever pierce Louie [Rove]?

[JIM WARD] Oh, [laughter] many times. I pierced him -- I looked up the -- we published a magazine called Piercing Fans International Quarterly, PFIQ. He was the cover and the feature interview in one of the issues. In 1983.

[BOINGBOING] You mentioned that he used the nom de pierce, "Indy."

[JIM WARD] That's correct. And I referred back to the article -- at that time he had 37 piercings. And most of them were in his penis.

[BOINGBOING] That's a lot of hardware.

[JIM WARD] It is indeed, and it was all gold.

[BOINGBOING] It was gold -- was that unusual?

[JIM WARD] It was, because a lot of men preferred stainless steel. He had the money to buy it, and that's what he did.

(...) [BOINGBOING] You mentioned also [via email to us] that you knew him as a retired geologist who had worked for the Getty Mining Company.

[JIM WARD] That is correct.

(...)He was actually an incredibly nice man. He was genteel, a sweet nature. I don't think I ever heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He was probably an alcoholic. He drank way too much and smoked way too much. But he was never a mean drunk. If he'd had too much, he just said goodnight and went to bed. He was just really incredibly nice. He actually, a number of times through the years when I was strapped for money, he actually lent me a little money.

[BOINGBOING] And you mentioned [earlier via email to us] that he hosted some of these piercing parties for gay men at his home not far from LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

[JIM WARD] That's true.

(...) [BOINGBOING] What did you know of his family life, his personal life, before he came to LA?

[JIM WARD] Not that much. I knew he was divorced, I knew he had children. The only story I remember about his family was, I remember his telling me about when he came out to his mother. And this may be a little off color, but -- her response was, "You mean you put that dirty thing in your mouth?" So, for some reason that stuck in my mind. He was actually fairly private about his family and didn't go into a lot of detail.

[BOINGBOING] I don't know if you had a chance to read the essay on BMEzine [by Yard[D]og], does any of that resound with the Louie Rove you knew?

[JIM WARD] Oh yes. It did indeed.

(...) [BOINGBOING] If there's one thing you'd like people to know about who Louie Rove the individual was, what would that be?

[JIM WARD] He was a man who was not afraid to be himself. He realized that he was a gay man. He ended a marriage that was a lie. He lived openly as a gay man. He was very true to himself.

Full text of Jim Ward interview after the jump.


TRANSCRIPT OF JIM WARD INTERVIEW

AUGUST 19, 2007

[XENI JARDIN/BOINGBOING] This particular piece of the story is interesting for obvious reasons, but I think much of our audience is not familiar with exactly how this thing we take for granted now, body modification and piercing-- who some of the pioneers of that were, and... all of that points back to you in a big way.

[JIM WARD, FOUNDER, THE GAUNTLET] Well, I played a big part in that history, and I think -- primarily because I was the first person who began what became the piercing industry. There were a lot of people who were very interested in piercing, but they were very closeted about it. And even though they were telling their friends, it was very difficult because there was no place to get pierced, and no place you could really buy the right kind of jewelry.

[BOINGBOING] How did you first become involved in piercing? What was your first exposure to the experience?

[JIM WARD] Back in the late 1960s I was living in New York. I got involved with the leather scene in New York. It was something that's been stuck in my psyche for a long time. But I met a couple of guys who lived in Brooklyn Heights, where I did, and belonged to the New York Motorbike Club, a group of guys who were into leather and S&M. About that same time, I was reading a magazine article, and it talked about some man who had gone on a sea voyage. And when he had gotten back from his voyage, he decided to get his ears pierced to mark that occasion which is a Naval tradition as I understand it. It just -- this compulsion to have my ears pierced surfaced, and I got one of my buddies from the New York Motorbike Club to pierce my ears for me.

Not long after that, since late puberty, I'd discovered that nipple play was a very erotic thing. So about this same time, this fantasy sort of materialized of wanting to pierce my nipples. And finally I did. At that time, I knew no one who had ever done it, never heard of it, never seen it. And ironically, not too long after that some friends and I went to one of the leather bars in the Village. And lo and behold, there was a guy at the bar with no shirt on with beautiful gold rings in his nipples. That would have been about 1968, and that was kind of how I got into it.

[BOINGBOING] Now, take us forward from there to when you opened your shop, The Gauntlet, in West Hollywood, in 1975. That's often referred to as the birthplace of the modern piercing movement.

[JIM WARD] That's true, it was. I moved to LA in 1973. And one of those kinds of twists of fate kind of happened. I had a friend who had moved to LA not that long before me, and he had gotten a job as a bus driver. He drove back and forth to downtown, and one day he picked a guy up on his bus, and they got to chatting, and got acquainted, and it became a regular thing. This guy whose name was Tom would get on the bus, and chat. One day while they were visiting, another guy got on the bus who had a pierced ear, and they got to talking about piercing and my friend the bus driver said, "I have a friend who has pierced nipples," and Tom said, "Oh, I'd really like to meet him." Turned out that Tom was somebody who was very interested in body piercing and was very interested in it, and knew a number of people who were very involved in it including Fakir [Musafar], and he also knew a man named Doug Molloy, which was kind of a "nom de kink," as my friend termed it. "Doug" was a name that was used by this very wealthy Hollywood businessman, and we got to be good friends [Ed. Note: Doug Malloy was the pseudonym of Richard Simonton, an executive at Muzak Corporation].

And then, I was dating a guy not long after who wanted me to pierce his nipples. And I called up Doug and said, some of the techniques I used to pierce my own were pretty crude, I just used a wine bottle cork and a pushpin and a couple of cheap little earrings. Maybe you could share your technique with me, and tell me how to do it, tell me where you got the jewelry. And he said, I'm happy to share my technique wit hyou, tell you how to do it, but as far as jewelry's concerned, he said -- the only guy I know that makes it in San Diego and it's pretty expensive, lke $200 per ring, and this was in the early 1970s.

[BOINGBOING] So that was a lot of money back then.

[JIM WARD] That was a lot of money back then. And when I'd lived in New York, I'd taken several jewelrymaking classes, including one for professionals. I can buy the equipment and the gold wire and make these myself for a lot less than $200. So there was a little lapidary store in West Hollywood and I went there, and bought every thing I needed for about $45. And we made the arrangements for Doug to come over at the appropriate time and I pierced my boyfriend, and then Doug called me up one day and said, let's go have some lunch. So we went to a little restaurant and chatted, and he said -- you know, there is a market for this. And I think you should start a business. And that's how it all came into being.

[BOINGBOING] And what did you say? What was your reaction when Doug suggested turning this very personal experience into a business?

[JIM WARD] The investment was pretty small. Doug was even willing to lend me a little money to get me going. I could work out of my house in the beginning, and even continue with my other job as long as necessary. Seemed like a really great thing, something that I really enjoyed -- piercing, that is -- and it evolved from there.

[BOINGBOING] How old were you when you opened the shop?

[JIM WARD] The shop didn't open until 1978, but I started the business in 1975. I was born in 1941, so what would that have made me -- 34?

[BOINGBOING] So you opened the shop, and I imagine that back then, not a lot of people knew about this. There wasn't a big network of people, certainly not like there is today.

[JIM WARD] Well fortunately, Doug had traveled all over the world. He'd met people who were into it, he'd placed ads in fetish publications, trying to contact people who were interested in it. Over a period of years, he'd made contact with roughly a hundred people. So he gave me those names, that was really the core of where the business began. I made up a little catalog, and sent it to these people. Also, there was actually probably about 25 people in the LA area that he knew. So we started getting together once a month for what we called the "T&P Groups" -- tattoo and piercing. And we'd have a potluck or go out to a restaurant, and we'd end up back at my house, and anyone who wanted to get pierced -- I was happy to pierce them. And that was how the ball got rolling.

[BOINGBOING] And how did you come to meet Louis Rove?

[JIM WARD] Louie Rove was just one of those people -- I don't even remember how I met him, exactly, it may have been through The Pleasure Chest, which was -- which is -- an adult toy store in Los Angeles.

[BOINGBOING] Sure, they're still in business, over on the edge of West Hollywood.

[JIM WARD] I know that they referred people to me, that's one possibility. I also was doing some advertising in some of the local gay publications. There was a little newsmagazine that came out weekly called "Data-Boy," I ran an ad in that pretty much weekly, and it's possible that he saw that ad and responded to it.

[BOINGBOING] So he came in to the Gauntlet?

[JIM WARD] I think I would have-- yes, he came into the Gauntlet, I was probably in the store by that time. I opened the store in 1978, and I don't remember Louie being part of that at that time.

[BOINGBOING] So how did you become acquainted? He somehow became a part of the community, the circle of people around you, and what kind of man was he?

[JIM WARD] He was actually an incredibly nice man. He was genteel, a sweet nature. I don't think I ever heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He was probably an alcoholic. He drank way too much and smoked way too much. But he was never a mean drunk. If he'd had too much, he just said goodnight and went to bed. He was just really incredibly nice. He actually, a number of times through the years when I was strapped for money, he actually lent me a little money.

[BOINGBOING] And you mentioned [earlier via email to us] that he hosted some of these piercing parties for gay men at his home not far from LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

[JIM WARD] That's true.

[BOINGBOING] And you mentioned also that this was before he moved off to Palm Springs.

[JIM WARD] Yes, he moved off to Palm Springs after I moved to the Bay Area in '89. I don't remember how long after that he moved.

[BOINGBOING] Now, did you ever pierce Louie?

[JIM WARD] Oh, [laughter] many times. I pierced him -- I looked up the -- we published a magazine called Piercing Fans International Quarterly, PFIQ. He was the cover and the feature interview in one of the issues. In 1983.

[BOINGBOING] You mentioned that he used the nom de pierce, "Indy."

[JIM WARD] That's correct. And I referred back to the article -- at that time he had 37 piercings. And most of them were in his penis.

[BOINGBOING] That's a lot of hardware.

[JIM WARD] It is indeed, and it was all gold.

[BOINGBOING] It was gold -- was that unusual?

[JIM WARD] It was, because a lot of men preferred stainless steel. He had the money to buy it, and that's what he did.

[BOINGBOING] Why would someone prefer stainless steel? For economic reasons, comfort reasons?

[JIM WARD] A combination. Part of it was economy. The other thing is that a lot of gay men, particularly those in the S&M scene, came to prefer the white metal over the yellow metal.

[BOINGBOING] Just a different aesthetic.

[JIM WARD] Right.

[BOINGBOING] You mentioned also [via email to us] that you knew him as a retired geologist who had worked for the Getty Mining Company.

[JIM WARD] That is correct.

[BOINGBOING] What did you know of his family life, his personal life, before he came to LA?

[JIM WARD] Not that much. I knew he was divorced, I knew he had children. The only story I remember about his family was, I remember his telling me about when he came out to his mother. And this may be a little off color, but -- her response was, "You mean you put that dirty thing in your mouth?" So, for some reason that stuck in my mind. He was actually fairly private about his family and didn't go into a lot of detail.

[BOINGBOING] I don't know if you had a chance to read the essay on BMEzine, does any of that resound with the Louie Rove you knew?

[JIM WARD] Oh yes. It did indeed.

I spoke to him on the phone a few times after he moved to Palm Springs, and he told me about doing hospice work there, and told me about his lung problem, having to be on a respirator, on oxygen, that kind of thing. I did not see him, I have not been to Palm Springs in years, and unfortunately I never saw him again.

[BOINGBOING] The author of this essay identifies Louie Rove's son as being Karl Rove. Have you heard this before?

No, this is the first time I'd heard it. And then I did a Google search today, and apparently there's a biography of Karl Rove that came out not long ago...

[BOINGBOING] The Architect?

[JIM WARD] Yes.

[BOINGBOING] I hadn't read the book myself but saw those references online as well.

[JIM WARD] That was the first I'd heard about it.

[BOINGBOING] In that book, as I understand from excerpts on the web, the elder Mr. Rove is identified as having come out as a gay man, but none of those accounts ever related his role or experience in early body modification culture, so this is a pretty new thing.

[JIM WARD] [laughter]

[BOINGBOING] Not new for you, sir, but a new thing for the rest of the world to know about, with regard to this person. Well, so you opened The Gauntlet, the shop, in 1978. And as I understand it you left that business or somehow the business crumbled without you. Can you tell us what happened and how as I understand it, it sort of came back under your wing again?

[JIM WARD] In the late 90s the business got into financial trouble. A few years before I'd hired a general manager for the company because it had gotten pretty unwieldy. The main store was in West Hollywood, we had a branch in San Francisco, in New York, Seattle, and a franchise store in Paris, France.

I needed a general manager. And I hired a man who unfortunately, was probably embezzling money. The business went into serious financial decline. My health was in a bad state at that same time, which didn't help. And I got conned into turning controlling interest over to a man who was basically a con artist.

[BOINGBOING] When was that?

[JIM WARD] In 1997. He basically pumped as much money out of it as he could, drove it into bankruptcy, tried to play some games with the bankruptcy court. Because he'd filed a Chapter 7, which allows for some reorganization. He tried to play these games, and they said to heck with you, and converted it to a chapter 11, and closed the business. And when they did that of course, all the property came under the control of the bankruptcy court. I no longer owned it. They sat on that for some years and sold off the machinery, the inventory. They were going to sell off the intellectual property including the name, and the copyright, as a separate sale. They couldn't find anybody who was interested. Finally, two or three years ago, the trustee decided to put it up for bid on eBay.

[BOINGBOING] I'm looking at the gauntletenterprises.com website, the winning bid was $6,623.32, an anonymous bidder.

[JIM WARD] Well, he asked to remain anonymous at that time, but has since said it's not a problem to say who he was. Barry Blanchard, and he owns a body piercing and jewelry manufacturing company in Santa Cruz. He bought the intellectual property and then basically gave it back to me.

[BOINGBOING] Wow. What was that like, to regain control over that, to regain possession over something that had meant so much to you?

[JIM WARD] It really -- I cannot describe what a tremendous feeling it was. I felt that my child had died. By losing the intellectual property I didn't have anything to remember it by. I didn't have any mementos. So it felt like [re]gaining something that was a part of me. It also freed me -- I had wanted to write a book about the history of the modern body piercing movement. And I felt like if I didn't own the intellectual property and didn't have control over it, I didn't know what kind of problems I might run into in telling the story. Since that's come back, that gives me the ability to draw on some of that material in telling the story, the history of piercing.

[BOINGBOING] And are you working on that now?

[JIM WARD] Yes. I'm trying to find a literary agent. If you hear of anybody who's interested, let me know! (laughter)

[BOINGBOING] What's it like to look around you, all over the world now, and see what a huge part of popular culture body modification and piercing has become. Something that was so rare and foreign when you first encountered it in the late 1960s. What's that like?

[JIM WARD] I have very mixed feelings about it. Because it's like a child growing up and taking on its own personality. When I started the business, I saw body piercing as a means of erotic enhancement. It has long since gone far beyond that. Where that is definitely a secondary or tertiary interest for people. Now, it's so much more about the aesthetic, making a social statement, rebellion, a lot of things -- but the erotic enhancement aspect is down on the list. I wish that this were more a part of it these days, but I have to be realistic, it's not. And I'm honored that I did create something that captured the imagination of so many people and has enriched their lives. Constantly people tell me, you made a big difference in my life, and that is a really wonderful feeling. The only downside is, it no longer supports me. (laughter) But that's life.

[BOINGBOING] And the Gauntlet brand and the goings on around that are now managed by both you and your life partner Drew Ward.

[JIM WARD] That's correct.

[BOINGBOING] One of our readers who read the BMEzine essay about Louie Rove wrote in to say they felt it was sort of ironic, or strange to think that this man's son is credited with being the architect of so many policies that would limit the lifestyle freedoms of gay men who want to be committed to each other formally. And I wonder if you have any thoughts on that? It's kind of interesting that with your life path, and the fact that you have a long-term, committed relationship with someone you love very much, there's this odd wrinkle in history you're a part of there.

[JIM WARD] It's sort of difficult. In families -- you can always have rotten children come out of the best families. There's such incongruity between Louie, and the outgoing warm human being that he was, and this architect of evil as I see him, that Karl Rove is. I mean the disparity is just mind-boggling. I'm incredulous.

[BOINGBOING] So what's next for you now? The book is what you're developing then, right now?

[JIM WARD] Yes.

[BOINGBOING] And I was just reading online that you and Drew are thinking of republishing some back issues of Piercing Fans International Quarterly, PFIQ -- doing a new edition of the publication?

[JIM WARD] I don't' think we'll ever bring the magazine back. You know, as an ongoing thing. We've talked about the possibility of reprinting back issues, that remains a possibility. But I have to find out about the legalities of issuing them, and I also want to be able to draw on that material for the book and I don't know if it's reprinted, you know -- what copyright issues might arise. So I'm just taking it one day at a time.

[BOINGBOING] Well, I for one very much look forward to reading the book. That's going to be a fascinating account of history. I can't imagine anyone more qualified to tell that story.

[JIM WARD] Well, (laughter) I don't think anybody can, because a lot of those people, unfortunately, are dead. People who were around at that time, there aren't that many oldtimers around. And being one of the key players I can tell things nobody else can.

[BOINGBOING] If there's one thing you'd like people to know about who Louie Rove the individual was, what would that be?

[JIM WARD] He was a man who was not afraid to be himself. He realized that he was a gay man. He ended a marriage that was a lie. He lived openly as a gay man. He was very true to himself.

[BOINGBOING] And years later, here we are thirty years after you started the Gauntlet, what would you like people to know about that time that you think is missing from public awareness?

[JIM WARD] I suspect that a lot of people don't realize there is a history. Especially young people, they just think it's something that's always been there. And they don't realize unless they do some research, that there is some history. Before that, this was the world of hardcore fetishists who were doing it in secrecy in the closet. They don't know how far they've come.

[BOINGBOING] It's not like there were websites or messageboards back then, huh.

[JIM WARD] There was no internet then.

[BOINGBOING] No real ways for people to connect around those kinds of lifestyles that were frowned upon at the time.

[JIM WARD] It's very difficult. You could put ads in fetish or gay publications. When we published PFIQ, for many years we included a classified ads section, a separate piece of paper stuck into the magazine, and sent only to subscribers. That was one of the reason we started PFIQ, so people who were interested in piercing could meet one another. It was very hard in those days.

[BOINGBOING] A lot has changed since then. I wonder how you feel about the fact that the internet is just this -- instant, pretty much free way for people to connect with an infinite number of others who are into body modification around the world.

[JIM WARD] Like everything, it's a mixed blessing. You never know somebody until you actually meet them face to face. And there are plenty of kooks in the world regardless of what they're doing, whether it's piercing, or you're a banker, a lawyer, whatever. You can have the most bland, conservative lifestyle, and you can still be very strange.

[BOINGBOING] You never know, huh.

[JIM WARD] You don't.

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