The LV, believe it or not, is RICH with history in not only the tattoo scene, but the punk scene, the indie rock scene, the skate scene and the BMX scene… Here at WINK Pinup, we are sifting through the stories and the photos and the details of the scenes we’ve spawned so all the new young children may realize and learn to respect the little town from which they hail. To begin,
The Beginning of Punk Rock Tattooing
in the Lehigh Valley
When I was 17 in 1992, I had a boyfriend who was 21. He had a tattoo of biomechanical eyeballs coming out of the side of his neck and I was like “WHAAAaaaaaaattt??” I WANT. Immediately, and I mean immediately– all of my friends were getting cool crazy awesome tattoos. They were all different- but mostly dark. Finally there was actual ART being done. No more Tweety birds, dolphins, indecipherable sailor tattoos that became black blobs- I
personally never thought about getting any until now. Eyeballs coming out of someone’s neck? Crazy skulls with insane eyes and totally whacked out backgrounds? Yeah I’m listening..
Where was this crazy shit coming from? A girl I kind of knew was getting original art
pieces all over her. Sure we all had celtic and tribal crap because that was breaking through at lightning speed, but we were surrounded by awesome work and it was new. The shop was called the Vampire’s Den and all of the sudden it went from a garage in Alpha, to a shop on 2nd st in Easton. It was like a whirlwind for those of us who weren’t planted directly in the middle of what was growing so quickly, and all of our heads were spinning.
The name Mark Degerolamo was being said by every single person I knew that was getting tattoos. The rumor was that he was into Satanism and that he had put a hex on his girlfriend after buying him his first tattoo machine. The truth was, he was into Satanism, but he bought his own equipment. He was mad at her for calling him “gay” or something so he and some friends did a huge ritual on her and the next day she was in a car accident.
They say that when you practice black magic/ Satanism or whatever, that you get it back 7 times. Well he did. Let’s start from the beginning- first of all, he’s been tattooing since he was 9. Yes, 9. They made their own machines after seeing bikers and people in bands having full sleeves. He and some friends would sit around tattooing themselves and each other. As he got older he got real equipment, around 1987 or so. He was doing it out of his room until his father, a Catholic minister and his best friend and apparently only family member who really cared about him, gave him the garage to use as a makeshift tattoo shop. There was born the Vampire’s Den.
His art was amazing. He was doing tattoos no one had ever seen before. He was drawing the sickest, most evil stuff and EVERYONE was getting it put on them. He had a beautiful young girlfriend and they eventually opened up their shop on 2nd street in Easton. She was still in highschool. I looked up to her silently, and at the same time feared for her because everyone knew he was getting really serious into drugs and was taking anyone near him down with him…
When one approached the Vampire’s Den, the first thing you might notice was the sign on the door that stated their hours of operation. It was a normal sign with the days of the week on it with blank spaces for you to write in your open to close times. It said something like “Tues- whenever I fucking feel like waking up to whenever I feel like stopping”, “Weds- If I have valium to I may throw up”, “Thurs- when I get here to who gives a fuck”. It was more than funny- it was genius and weird and frightening and kind of sad.
Once inside, you were bombarded with stuff to look at- TV screens with weird shit playing on them, pictures of the infamous Bat Boy, a sign clearly stating NO PANTHER OR TAZMANIAN DEVIL TATTOOS, and a whole bunch of other random things. He was in the back, always surrounded by people getting tattooed and hanging out watching. This was before tattoo shops became some beacon of sterility- gloves were not worn, things were wild and crazy, and no one got a tattoo before 4 pm.
Magazines were breathing down his neck– he was in over 60 mags in those few years, whether it was interviews, his work being featured, covers and centerfolds, or pics from conventions. Everyone was sweating this dude, but at the same time, they were terrified of him. It was all about this hot guy that all the girls loved and all the guys wanted to be like but didn’t want to really be like… He is like no other person on earth- he’s like G.G. Allin, Charles Manson, and Satan himself, all wrapped up in one. But his art is what kept him going strong.
Back then, the people who are very well established in the tattooing industry around here were either still in highschool and hanging around his shop, or knew of him and knew exactly what kind of stuff was coming out of there. Whether or not they choose to admit it, he was a force and he set the bar incredibly high for a small town that wasn’t even on the map. Paul Booth even came down to see him. He prides himself in saying that he didn’t even bother to show up to meet him- that this master of tattooing came all the way to Easton to see him and he didn’t give a fuck.
Rumors were swirling left and right- rumors that he had Hepatitis C, that he had AIDS, that he was going to parties and shitting in peoples’ living rooms (G.G), and that he was self- destructing and taking everyone with him. I used to go to Perkins and write silly stuff in notebooks with my nerdy, non- drug doing friends and in July of 1992, I wrote “The world will fall to shit because of Mark Degerolamo.” To say we held him in high regard is an understatement. We all worshiped him and were terrified of what he could do to us.
It should be said that he had a penchant for doing messed up things to peoples’ tattoos. It was Easton in the early 90s and it was a time of extreme racism and hate. Fighting at shows, full on riots, KKK marches down Northampton street, and a lot of my friends had decided to become Nazi punks. It was not uncommon for a person I knew to get an insane evil skull tattoo with a swastika in the eye, or something full on like a portrait of Hitler or a huge 88 tattooed on them. The messed up part was, he enjoyed putting pseudo swazis on unsuspecting customers (I was one of them- I handed him a drawing and ended up with a weird, semi swastika on the back of my arm that I’ve been dealing with for 20 years. I was 17 and just graduated high school. It was my first tattoo.)
As he continued to downward spiral into a life of drugs and insanity, he decided the Valley was no longer where he wanted to be. He wanted drug money and he had been teaching someone how to tattoo. He sold the guy his business and it has lived on as Pleasure and Pain on Northampton street. After that, he moved around from city to city, doing whatever it is he did. No one heard from for years and years. The rumors were that he was crazy, dead, in jail, fat, stopped tattooing, you name it. Truth was, he was becoming more and more of a powerful force and was finding himself in and out of jail, in and out of rehabs and loony bins, gaining weight, yet all the while, he was constantly drawing and tattooing and surviving. At one point he was in a motorcycle accident that put him in a coma and ruined his body. He has been addicted to anything and everything and has suffered more loss than most people I’ve known.
The last time he got out of jail, (January 31st, 2012) he had nothing. He is clean from hard drugs for over 4 years, and everyone he ever loved was either dead (the love of his life, his best friend, and his father all passed while he was in prison this last time), in jail, or married and terrified of having him back in their lives. He is a leader in the prison system, receiving letters from high profile murderesses, exchanging art with them and stories of pain and suffering, and still has the authority to get anyone in the system to carry out orders for him if need be. He is still a brilliant artist and manages to get people banging down his door for tattoos. Some people got work done by him in the 90s and haven’t gotten a single thing since then- til now. They WAITED for him. Are they true friends who appreciate his art? Yes. Does a tattoo he did over 20 years ago still look mind blowingly good? YES. Are some of these people Manson-like followers? Oh hell yeah…
So now, since late March of 2012, he is back. Mark Degerolamo “died” a long time ago and Demon is the moniker he now requires people use when referring to him. He’s been going by it for as long as he can remember- he was just too out of it back in the day to realize everyone called him “Deeg” and still do. He hates it. So please, if you see him, do NOT call him Mark, Deeg, or Degerolamo. He will cringe and yell at you. Get a tattoo by him- he is a true master and the way he treats his customers is with great care and understanding. He no longer adds swastikas I don’t think, but he will take your idea and run with it. Everyone loves his work. And if you like evil and have a sense of humor about the dark side, he is your man. He is tattooing in the area for the time being so now is your chance- he may be gone tomorrow- who knows? Get it now. And the next time you walk into a tattoo shop that has been around for over a decade, know in your mind that this crazy person with outstanding skills, helped shape and influence the amazingly talented artists within it. Know now, before it’s too late, that we had a stellar superstar here doing shit no one had seen before, and his legacy carries on long after he left us all.
Current pieces from the last few weeks: