Wednesday, March 06, 2013

RIP Betsy

Back in the late eighties, I was an early member of what we called back then the Modern Primitive scene.  Nowadays piercing and tattooing are banal, but back then, it was difficult to pursue these things.  I got pierced in a leather shop's basement by a visiting pioneer of the scene, for example, whereas now the young people just go to the mall, and Haight St. is littered with piercing salons.

In those days one of the most strange and amazing things I ran across was an article in one of the earliest issues of PFIQ, which showed the most famous Modern Primitive, Fakir Musafar, before Re/SEARCH made him famous, doing something very bizarre.  The Fakir and a friend of his were chatting at the friend's tattoo parlor when another tattoo artist's wife had a brainwave:  these two men had stretched out their piercings so far that a neon tube would fit through.  She was a neon artist, and she decided to create neon which these men would wear.  The results were photographed at the Fakir's request, and he wrote an article about the experience.  The pictures were striking and weird, and I never forgot them.  (Incidentally about thirty years later, the Fakir's friend, the other man who sported the custom neon tubes, Ed Hardy, became extremely famous).

Later through a series of oddnesses the neon artist's husband became my tattoo artist.  By then he had divorced her and had a new wife, so I never met the woman behind that strange art during the years I acquired tattoos from him.

Fifteen years or so later I was at my cat rescue's annual kickoff, and a woman with striking brown eyes and a lot of tattoo art was there.  She was new to our rescue but not new to working with animals, and she was introduced as Betsy Berberian.  Feeling a bit like a stalker, I cornered her while she was enjoying a glass of wine and asked if she were the Betsy Berberian who had done the weird neon art I'd never forgotten, and she was.  We reminisced about the Modern Primitive days of the late eighties and early nineties; we talked about her ex-husband (I'd represented him as an attorney as well as being a client of his).

Betsy became a vital figure in our rescue, running the website and photographing our kittens.  I ran into her from time to time and always enjoyed talking to her.  She was making jewelry, and I bought the earrings right off her ears once at a rescue meeting.  Every time I talked to her, I thought I should try to spend more time with her, go out drinking with her, but our relationship remained at the Facebook friends and chatting when we ran into each other level.   I heard a month or so ago that Betsy was ill, but I didn't grasp the seriousness of it.  After all, Betsy was not old, she was energetic, she was full of life.

Today Betsy died.  It's a loss to the animals here in San Francisco and to the people who work to save them, and more than that, it's a loss to the world.  Someone so unusual and sprightly, so creative and passionate and odd, is no longer with us.  I'm so sorry I didn't buy more of your jewelry, Betsy; I'm so sorry I didn't pester you to come out with me.  I'm very glad I wasn't afraid to be thought a stalker and brought up your Modern Primitive escapades.  RIP, Betsy Berberian.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, she was a good friend of mine and we went back to those good ole days getting our tats and enjoying the scene. I miss her very much.