Tattoo Age: Thom deVita (Part 3/5)

Uploaded by vice on 05.12.2012

THOM DEVITA: Speaking of movies, what kind of
movies do you like--
let's say from the old days?
-From the old days?
I like Japanese movies.
THOM DEVITA: No, really, I've seen maybe five Japanese
movies, and I disliked liked all of them.
I've seen maybe 10 Chinese movies.
I disliked all of them.
-This one's very calm.
It's basically--
THOM DEVITA: Yeah, I don't care about calm.
I like good acting.
-Maybe it was good to them.
No, it's not.
I really like film noir movies.
There's nothing like them.
I like Edward G. Robinson--
nobody like him.
-No, I like him.
THOM DEVITA: He's an actor.
Is he different from the other actors?
-Yeah, he's good.
THOM DEVITA: I think he's the best.
-They were good, but a lot of that stuff was like
THOM DEVITA: No, it's not over-acted.
-Some of it was.
-It was.
Compared to what they do today, it was over-acted.
-Marlon Brando changed that with the--
THOM DEVITA: Oh, that's why I didn't like Marlon Brando.
I didn't like Marlon Brando.
I'm not a great fan of Marlon Brando.
THOM DEVITA: I'm not a great fan of the director of "The
-Francis Ford Coppola.
THOM DEVITA: Yeah, I'm not a fan of his movies.
ROBERT RYAN: No good movies were made after the film noir
period, as far as Thom's concerned.
THOM DEVITA: What you want to see is Orson Welles in "A
Touch of Evil." What film noir movie have you seen?
-I saw one about a nun.
ROBERT RYAN: He's definitely very particular about what he
likes when it comes to art, music, film.
But he's got great taste.
THOM DEVITA: I hate rock and roll.
No Rolling Stones.
-Yeah, yeah.
THOM DEVITA: Stupid Rolling Stones.
-They call--
-You don't like rock-- you a big rock and roll fan?
THOM DEVITA: What'd I tell you before?
I said '20s, '30s, '40s.
That is it.
Everything after 1949-- all popular culture--
went downhill.
I told this to Scott, and Scott says, you just threw
more than half a century out the window.
ED HARDY: He's got this totally rigid thing.
And again, he's 12 years older than me.
But I've hung out with a lot of people a lot older than me
that I had a real rapport with, or
had more common ground.
But deVita just--
that's it.
This is what it is.
ROBERT RYAN: Then no good jazz music was made after they made
hot jazz, cool.
When it became cool jazz, Thom stopped listening to it.
-So you don't like John Coltrane?
-I know.
Just making sure.
You know who likes John Coltrane?
People who don't like jazz.
They say, oh, now, that's nice!
You want to hear some?
Put on that tape over there, and you'll hear
some real hot jazz.
-Mitt Romney has had nothing to do with it and--
-Who's this, Thom?

THOM DEVITA: Oh, Earl "Fatha" Hines on piano.

I used to go listen to this here on 2nd Avenue between St.
Mark's and 7th Street when I was 17 years old.
Makes you tap your feet and dance.
I was born in Manhattan--
lived there for 60 years of my life.
NICK BUBASH: I think he was born in 1932, and he was
raised on the Upper East Side in Harlem.
And as far as I know, his dad had a store of some kind--
whether it was a candy store or fruits and vegetables, or
something like that.
THOM DEVITA: My father was born in Sicily, come here when
he was about five.
-That's your first communion photo?
JOHN WYATT: I asked Thom what he did before he became a
tattoo artist.
And he said in the '50s, he and his brother were pickers.
They would go to the Upper East Side on garbage
collection days, that people would put furniture and other
objects out in front of their buildings.
They earned about $200 a week, a piece, and never
reported any of it.
They never had a Social Security number.
NICK BUBASH: Thom told me that his first apartment was $25.
And he couldn't get $25 together every month, so he
moved into an apartment for $15.
And he couldn't get that together, either.
He was an artist's model is what he did.
That was a job he did, I think, on a regular basis-- an
artist's model.
We have one cover that Hardy uncovered, somehow.
It was a picture of him, I think, dressed as like a Cuban
communist or something like that.
THOM DEVITA:Does this look like me?
-It does in that photo.
THOM DEVITA: He's a very realistic artist.
NICK BUBASH: And I can't remember him ever talking
about having a job.
I think he worked in a scrap metal yard
for about 10 minutes.
Thom was not a labor guy.
He had a job digging ditches one time.
He lasted about a couple hours, him and his brother,
and then they just left the shovels there and split.
THOM DEVITA: Worked in scrap metal yard.
I think it was in the Bronx.
Dropped-- was a manhole cover on my foot.
Just lifting it, and it slipped out of my hand and
broke my toe.
-And so you went downtown because you were out of work?
THOM DEVITA: No, I got workman's compensation.
You went down to be with the bohemians.
But he was too late.
They were gone.
THOM DEVITA: I was 30 years too late.
1959 or '60.
-All that was left was the beatniks.
THOM DEVITA: The end of the beatniks.
-It was the end of beatnik era.
The beginning of the hippie era was what was
starting, the hipsters.
There were a lot of social changes going on,
and things like that.
But things were changing.
ROBERT RYAN: Thom told me that him and his brother, I guess
they were probably still living in Harlem at that time,
and they wanted to go downtown--
go to one of the arty places, I guess Thom's brother said.
And Thom thought they were going to see a guy named Arty.
But Thom's brother wanted to go to the art bars.
I think it might have been in the West Village at the time.
-Avoid being a square.
Be an in chick with an out crowd.
Be cool without being cold, and remain young
and never grow old.
Dig my sermon.
My sermon--
ROBERT RYAN: They were just like meeting a lot of people
and doing a lot of stuff and just making good time in that
neighborhood at that time.
ED HARDY: He's had a really, really interesting life.
And he used to hang his paintings or his artwork on
the fence around Washington Square.
I'm very big on the New York school of painting and stuff
from the mid-20th century.
And de Kooning and all those guys are my heroes.
And Thom was around that.
He's been doing art forever.
He knew those guys at the Cedar Bar.
NICK BUBASH: I can remember him telling stories about
Franz Kline having an argument with Willem de Kooning about
something, or whatever.
He used to go there and spend time among them.
THOM DEVITA: I just rubbed elbows, just was in the same
bar with them.
De Kooning is the only one who I spoke with, and he'd say
hello to me all the time, whenever he saw me.
They didn't know I was a tattooer--
just an artist.
I said I was an artist, then I became an artist.
-So it's just like kind of like he was artist, model,
odd-jobber, picker.
NICK BUBASH: Tattooer.
Yeah, exactly.
Just like me.
And how we got into tattooing, I don't know.
I think it was like a switch was hit, I think, or maybe--
I don't know.
I can't tell you that.
I can't answer the question.
I recently learned that he got his first tattoo when he was
17 years old.
Now, I had not known that.
THOM DEVITA: That's Charlie Wagner.
MALE SPEAKER: Did you get tattooed by Charlie?
No, I was 17.
That's when I had gone into Charlie Wagner for
a snake and a skull.
He says he wasn't putting them on.
ANGELO SCOTTO: You hear stories about Charlie kind of
hawking, like a barker at a carnival.
Kind of that hawking, come here and get tattooed.
He's probably one of the originators of tattooing in
New York City--
on the Bowery.
You hear stories, oh, I paid a quarter for this, a bottle of
Sneaky Pete.
The stories were true.
ED HARDY: Wagner was still on the Bowery, and Thom wanted to
get a dagger done from him.
And Wagner said, I'm not doing daggers this week.
I'm doing ships.
That's it.
That's on the wall.
It's a done deal.
That's how the tattoo shops were.
It's like Henry Ford in the old days-- any color you want
as long as it's black.
He had the market.
He had the fucking cars.
And if you wanted it, that's how you got it.
THOM DEVITA: So I went down the block.
I went down the block.
And I got it from Moskowitz.
-The old man, or the--
THOM DEVITA: The old man.
And the next time I went down, he says the
kid will put it on.
And the kid looked like he was younger than I
was, and I was 17.
I wanted a Moskowitz.
Then I met him years later.
He hadn't heard that story.
Figured out [INAUDIBLE].
He says, I remember you.

-Do you find it odd that Thom started tattooing when he was
in his late 30s?
ANGELO SCOTTO: Well, Huck Spaulding told me that Thom
bought machines from him years before--
years before--
and just kept them in the drawer.
That's what Huck Spaulding told me.
ED HARDY: He sent away.
He had Spaulding's address.
DeVita would always go, "Spauldeen." He said, I wrote
away to "Spauldeen" in Albany.
And he gets these machines.
He takes the rubber bands off.
This must be packing material.
I can't get this fucking thing to work.
So he called Huck.
And then it came out in the phone conversation.
And Huck said, well, are the rubber bands adjusted right?
And he went, well, I thought that was packing.
I took them off.
And the needle's jumping around.
He probably never got close enough to watch somebody work.
And people didn't like you asking questions, anyway.
Most tattooers, if you ask questions, they throw you out.
-If you ask him when he started to tattoo, he just
asked, what year did it become illegal?
ANGELO SCOTTO: 1961, by Mayor Wagner.
Charlie Wagner started it, and Mayor Wagner finished it.
JOHN WYATT: I saved a lot of articles, and this is when
tattooing was banned in New York.
That's Tony D'Anessa.
It was banned in 1961, allegedly over a health issue.
And the tattoo artists that were out of business opened up
in other cities.
ANGELO SCOTTO: And there was only two places in the whole
state of New York to get tattooed.
It was Huck Spaulding in Albany and Stanley and Walter
in Long Island, yeah, when it was legal.
-There are very few people in New York in the late '60s and
'70s that were doing tattoos.
There was Tony Polito.
There were the guys in New Jersey.
NICK BUBASH: Mike Malone may have been
tattooing at that time.
And then everybody else was on the outskirts, because it was
illegal in Manhattan.
-Thom was tattooing
underground out of his apartment.
I think he started off tattooing on 8th Street and
then eventually moved to 4th Street.
THOM DEVITA: When I was underground, I worked what was
once a kitchen.
Took out the stove and the refrigerator, and it's no
longer a kitchen.
ANGELO SCOTTO: He just worked off a kitchen table.
Everybody started on their kitchen table.
You're a bootlegger.
THOM DEVITA: I used to have it on one of my cards, "not for
public display in New York City."
-Remember the time you were raided, and you put everything
in trash bags and threw them--
THOM DEVITA: Yeah, that was another time.
-Threw them out the window--
I wasn't raided.
-Or you thought you were going to be raided.
THOM DEVITA: I thought they had helicopters above--
-Yeah, they had helicopters.
THOM DEVITA: Above my house.
-Can't remember the story.
THOM DEVITA: I say what, is this for me?
I threw them down in the backyard.
And they went into the garbage can.
So then I go out the front door, and there's police.
Oh, I said, my God.
What is this?
They were after some rapist.

-Thom thought they were raiding the tattoo shop.