Featured Faces: James Raimar
Photo & Interview by Gina Myers
January 22, 2010

Shortly after we sat down at Ewald's to do this interview, the bartender came over to ask James, "Don't you work at Old Town Tattoo?" It turns out James had pierced the bartender's wife. The bartender couldn't stop complimenting him, and before we knew it, we had a free round of drinks in front of us. I asked James if that sort of thing happens a lot, and he said yes. Through his years in Saginaw, his outgoing personality, and his unique facial piercings, James has become a sort of local celebrity, and it only seems right to feature him here.

James Raimar is a lifelong Saginaw resident. He has been working as a piercer at Old Town Tattoo since 1993, and he is a longtime member of the local music scene, playing in many bands over the years. He's currently the vocalist for A World on Strike (A.W.O.S.), and he fills his free time with traveling all over the world, riding roller coasters, and, most recently, skydiving.

Gina Myers: How long have you been working at Old Town Tattoo?

James Raimar:
Since October 1993. I started working out of my house at first. I did four piercings out of my house, and then when I got done with my apprenticeship, I went into the tattoo shop and they said, 'No. We don't want a piercer.' Jason's girlfriend at the time was just like, 'Piercings are gross. We don't want them in the tattoo shop.' So I said okay, and I just had to go out and try to find bodies around Saginaw.

GM: But then somehow it worked out at Old Town...

JR: Yeah, Jason broke up with his girlfriend! [Laughs.] So I went in there again and asked, and he was like, 'Hell yeah, dude.'

GM: You were probably the first body piercer in Saginaw.

JR: Yeah, I was one of the firsts. Todd [now at Adorned with Envy] started a few months before me.

GM: How did you get involved with that? What made you get interested in piercings?

JR: It was an accident really. The best accident that ever happened in my life. I just wanted to pierce myself. When I was probably about 11 years old, I wanted my ears pierced, and my parents wouldn't let me have it, so I kept trying to bug them and bug them and bug them, but they still wouldn't let me have it. My sister had a Rolling Stone magazine that had a "What's Hot & What's Not" section. In the "What's Hot," I saw a picture of a navel piercing, and I was instantly drawn to it. I went into my room that night and tried to pierce my navel.

GM: And how did that go, that first piercing?

JR: It took me an hour—it was hell. It hurt, and it was infected for about two years. It was totally messed up. I stayed home a couple of days from school because it hurt so bad.

GM: Did your parents know that you had done it, or was it a secret?

JR: It was my secret. I had no idea what I was doing. It was a body and I was just going off of what I saw in a magazine. But now it was flesh and tissue and I had to play around until I figured out what worked, and most of what I did didn't work at all.

GM: But then you did go and study?

JR: I had graduated from high school. I had saved up about a grand, and my goal was to hitchhike across the U.S. I wanted to travel more than anything in the world. I didn't want to work. I had no ambition to work or do anything. My mom told me, 'You don't know how to do anything. How are you going to make a living?' And I was like, 'I'll figure something out. Whatever. Fuck it.' So right after my mom put this in my head, I was in Grand Rapids getting a piercing, and I asked the woman, Kim, 'So how do you do this? How do you get into doing piercing?' She said, 'You pay someone about $1,000. We teach you and take you on for a few weeks.'  And I was like, 'I have $1,000."

I had a tent. I was going to camp on Cherry and Division, I mean, I had no idea. She was like, 'No, you're not going to stay there. There are hookers and crackheads.' She, her boyfriend, and her son, took me in. I stayed at their house. The hospitality was great. And I hate to say it, but I learned from them basically nothing. I didn't learn what I should have.

GM: So how did you go through the process of really learning how to pierce?

JR: I wanted to do it so bad, that I kept doing it and doing it. Most of it was done on me and my friends, but I kept doing it until I figured out what worked. That's how we did it back then. And now the knowledge is there if people want it. They just have to ask the right people. They don't have to go through what we did. We've already failed. We know what not to do.

GM: Are there any certification programs for piercers?

JR: There isn't really anything. That's why I go to the APP [Association of Professional Piercers] every year. It's talking to other piercers, finding out what they're doing, sharing what I'm doing. But what it comes down to is, whatever works for you is what's going to work. And I disagree with tons of people on so much. It's like, it doesn't work for my clients. But if it works for you, then that's cool.

The APP has an annual convention in Vegas. I've been a member since 2005, and it means you follow certain guidelines and your shop has to be up to a certain code. It's basically because piercing has never been legislated. A group of piercers got together who wanted to see piercings get professional, get established, and not be so D.I.Y. punk. I mean, it still maintains some of that, but it needs to have some professionalism, so they set guidelines.

GM: I suppose there are some people out there who aren't really doing the right thing and are giving the profession a bad rep.

JR: Yeah, that's totally it. There are a lot of people giving piercing a bad name. I'm not the one to say they can't pierce, but I have a respect for the industry.

GM: Have you been a lifelong Saginaw resident?

JR: Yes, I have. Since 1974. I've never moved out of here.

GM: And you like it here?

JR: I love Saginaw. I do. Saginaw is my home. It's miserable. It's lovely. It's everything. It gives me everything I could ask for.

GM: But you do travel a lot—

JR: That's my savior. If I couldn't get out of here, I think I would take everyone down with me!

GM: I know you've traveled around the world as a roller coaster enthusiast, but recently you are into skydiving. Can you tell me about that?

JR: I just got my coach training. I'm a USPA coach, which means I can start training people, once they've done their graduation jumps through the AFF program, which is accelerated free fall. I then take them on and help them hone their skills. I am taking on new students now. This has been the most positive thing. The sky-diving community is way cooler than anything I have been involved in. It is just an awesome group of people. It's almost like a band of pirates and gypsies.

GM: Yeah. You do actually travel a lot to do different jumps, right? I remember you telling me you were going to do a Halloween dive in a gorilla suit.

JR: I didn't get to do the gorilla suit because it was my first time jumping from a helicopter. I was going to wear it on my second jump, but someone didn't get to jump from the helicopter that day, so I gave up my second jump so they could. So I will have to save my gorilla suit for next year.

But yeah, I've been to California, I've been down to Florida many times. Anywhere wherever it is warmer, wherever there is a plane going. I've been going down to Ohio all throughout December. It is definitely a new venture. It is a lot harder than I ever thought it would be. Way harder.

GM: Do you think this kind of thrill seeking is related to your work as a piercer?

JR: I still get a high every time I pierce somebody. It is totally a rush. It has never left. It's one of those things that has stayed pure in life. Very little has stayed pure, but that has.

I've kind of put coasters on the back burner for a little bit, just because of the skydiving. I can't afford to do everything I want to. And I am looking into scuba diving now. And I wonder, where else can I go? It's about finding stuff to do to keep you motivated. I'm getting older, if I stop, I'm going to die. That's how I'm going anyway. We'll see how it works.

GM: You're currently playing in A World on Strike, but you've played in a number of bands over the years. Can you tell me a little about your musical history in Saginaw?

JR: I've been in bands longer than I could drive cars. I was skating to band practice with Moon Mist in my hand. 'Dude, I'll be there in twenty minutes!' Skating as fast as I could down Malzahn all the way from the township [laughs]. We always had fun and played silly stuff. I've been in great bands. I was in Flux, Malaise, Absence. I've jammed with bands in Flint and Detroit. I love playing music. If I'm not singing or screaming in bands, I miss it.

GM: Can you talk a little about A World on Strike? I know there was a line-up change.

JR: Yeah, we had a total reformation of it and it's really nice. I love what we're doing now. We have a lot of electronics in it, a lot more samples, going more industrial kind of punk kind of metal. It's a nice little fusion of music. There's a lot of diversity in the band as far as musicians. Every one is writing songs and giving their input.

GM: What is the band working on now?

JR: We spent the last seven months writing 15 or 16 new songs and restructuring, slowly bringing in parts from the old band, but adjusting them so they fit the new band, rewriting lyrics. And we're recording everything to make sure that the way we record it is that way we sound when we play it live. That is our goal. Sometimes you go see a band live, and you can't even sing along and it's your favorite band. It's a different experience than listening to the cd. And it's not necessarily a bad thing. But we're trying to work so that we sound the same as our recordings. We played two shows recently, and people said they couldn't believe how much we sound like our recordings.

© Gina Myers, 2010