Roberts, Robert E. “Mad Dogs And Queer Tattoos: Tattooing the San Francisco Queer Revolution”, Fair Page Media, 2018.
Every Tattoo Has a Story
Robert E. Roberts was trained as a classical musician but he gave up composing harpsichord music to become a tattoo artist. In this memoir, Roberts, aka “Mad Dog,” describes coming out as a gay man and shared ink stories that document the height of the San Francisco Gay Revolution. He shows us that every tattoo has a story, and the way that Roberts categorizes tattoo images gives their meaning in gay life. The stories provide new insights into the great social changes that were taking place. Roberts details the identities, challenges, sorrows and joys of gay life in powerful images that have come to represent machismo, bear culture, tribalism, and mythology.
Tattoo ink is permanent ink and is eyewitness to the sex, art, and skin it took to create our queer identities after Stonewall. A tattooist is like a barber or bartender in that get to hear secrets of their customers. There is a unique authenticity here. Roberts is a master of anecdote from San Francisco to Amsterdam and he builds gay history from his clients’ tales. He tells all about tattooing and reveals truths about surviving gay human life because our tattooing is “a blood art with needles, existentially suited to rage against AIDS”. He lost his own lover to the disease and this has empowered to put names to faces of men long gone—men on whose skin he inked images drawn by Tom of Finland, Rex, and Disney. This book is a wonderful and alternative contribution to San Francisco gay history that is extremely well written. I would love to be able to say that this is a fun read but it is more bittersweet than fun.
Roberts was dedicated to his art of tattooing as he was committed to live to an openly gay lifestyle in “the very heterosexual tattoo world.” His history is also a history of the gay movement in San Francisco from the 1980s and beyond.