Happy Birthday, Sailor Jerry!
Grab a drink and make sure it has some Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum in it. The rum company is celebrating iconic Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins’ 105th birthday all January long with a screening of Hori Smoku and you can stream it for free.
The documentary provides an inside look at the hell raiser’s legendary life. For example, do you know how he first learned to tattoo? It was during a visit to Chicago-based tattooer Tatts Thomas where he was taught proper use of the needle (before this he was supposedly tattooing with handheld needles and whatever he could get for ink). Thomas told Jerry, “The way you learn to tattoo is you tattoo stiffs at first.” This led to a trip down to the morgue, you’ll have to watch the documentary to see what happens next.
For the duration of Sailor Jerry’s life, with the exception of that time in the 1950s when he quit tattooing and skippered around the seas giving tours on a catamaran because he was fed up with paying taxes to the IRS, he tattooed in Honolulu’s Chinatown on Hotel Street. For economic and reclusive reasons alike, Honolulu was the hot spot for tattooing and for Sailor Jerry, as it attracted the military men during World War II and forever after.
A stop in Honolulu meant the servicemen were getting three things: sex, booze, and tattoos. Because of war time, this kind of behavior was only permitted in the day—all of Hotel Street shut down when the sun did. At that time there were 250 licensed prostitutes spanning across 15 brothels. Each brothel was expected to service 100 men per day. These quickies were usually followed by a trip to the tattoo shop. At Sailor Jerry’s, these trips sometimes included a hangout with Romeo, Jerry’s pet monkey who once drank an entire bottle of Pelican tattoo ink and then released it all on a sailor’s whites.
Tattooers, you’ll be especially happy to hear Sailor Jerry’s opinion on bargaining clients. When a man walked into the shop and asked, “What could cover this for three dollars?” Jerry’s response was often a version of, “A Band-Aid you fucking hooligan.”
You don’t have to be a diehard tattoo collector to appreciate this flick. It’s not a boring history lesson and it’s not a phony tale of what used to be. In fact, stories from Don Ed Hardy, Mike Malone, and more of Sailor Jerry’s closest friends will probably make you jealous. The partying will certainly force you to recognize the changed times. And the changed times will make you grateful for the cleanliness studios maintain today—you won’t believe the unruly habits these guys used to have.
Pick a night to cut the Netflix, keep the chill, and head over to sailorjerry.com to stream Hori Smoku. It’s time we celebrate the rebel who moved mountains for our industry, Sailor Jerry.