The Nü-Metal Icon Who Left Behind A Promising Career As A Tattoo Artist

the-nu-metal-icon-who-left-behind-a-promising-career-as-a-tattoo-artist, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons cgo2, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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Everyone has an opinion on Fred Durst. Love him or loathe him, the firebrand frontman of Limp Bizkit has occupied the public conversation like none other. 

As the nü-metal poster child for disaffected Pacific Sunwear employees, his persona at the turn of the century was nothing shy of crystalized vitriol. Look no further than your nearest Woodstock ‘99 documentary to see the catnip effect his angst ridden rap metal anthems had on the lowest common frat boy denominator. Although the name Fred Durst might conjure images of toxic masculinity run riot until the end of time, to write him off as the stereotypical angry white guy would be a colossal oversimplification.

By this point, most of us are aware of the Fred Durst cocooning of the past decade and a half or so. He took up directing feature films during Limp Bizkit’s hiatus, highlighting a flare for even-handed pathos and humor. As it would turn out, alternative radio and MTV’s bad boy had a literary leaning soft side all along. Durst’s more recent “Dad Vibes” visage shows a personality hovering somewhere between Danny Tanner and Tony Clifton. Although he has undeniably matured, don’t ever underestimate the man’s capacity for cerebral warfare.

Long before a career in music was ever on his radar, Fred Durst was an up-and-coming tattoo artist. You might imagine him as a kitchen table scratcher (and he did his share of that), but that would again be an oversimplification. In fact, Durst did his apprenticeship under Eric Inksmith of the legendary Florida tattoo shop Inksmith & Rogers. Having worked briefly at Popcorn’s Tattoo Shop in Philadelphia in 1996, owner W.A. “Popcorn” Harris once said of him to MTV News, “He came raw, but you could see he had that potential and with some cultivating could be really good.”  

In the same interview, Harris spoke of Durst’s potential volatility. A common shop policy was for the owner to refund a client’s fee and fix the tattoo if they weren’t happy with the work they received. After explaining this policy to one of Durst’s customers, the young tattooer grew irate.

“[Durst] construed that to mean that was a criticism of his work. And he exploded,” Harris said. “He said, ‘How could you do that to me!’ It’s my shop, so I had to lay down the law. I’m gonna say what I want to say. He was really upset — upset enough to write a three-page letter about it.” 

In a 2013 interview with the French branch of Inked Magazine, he spoke of his love of the craft:

“It was in 1992, I was 22 years old. I didn’t see anything else I could or wanted to do. Studying was obviously not for me, and music was not even considered by me as an activity at that time. But I didn’t see the professional side of things in all this – I didn’t see my activities as a source of income, so I rarely took money for my tattoos. People used to give me clothes, some food, music albums and even a mattress (laughs). It was survival, but I didn’t care, I did what I loved. All this was in the spirit of “do it yourself” – I myself collected my typewriters and needles, drew sketches for tattoos, etc. … Subsequently, I really began to be interested in the art of tattooing and its history. I watched and studied the techniques of other tattoo artists, namely Eric (-a) Inksmith (-a); asked for advice, read special magazines – I wanted to learn all about it, to know everything. I often remember and miss the time when we lived one day, not caring about anything else.”

When asked about the commonality between songwriting and tattooing, the downright philosophical side of Fred Durst comes out front and center.

“If you try to draw a parallel between the two, I would say in both cases you create things that are permanent – it can’t be brought back, it can’t be changed forever. When the song is written, when it takes its place on the media, then the whole world hears it – then you can not change anything. A tattoo is the same – you can’t change the pattern after it appears on your body. Of course, you can correct, block or remove it, but its original image remains forever on your skin and, most importantly, in your soul. All my friends who somehow changed or blocked their tattoos are unanimous: you will always see the original image, it is something that turned out to be stronger than you. Personally, I have never adjusted my tattoos, even those that are already quite old. They are a part of me, and remind me of some special moments of my life – meetings, events. I can never remove or change these moments of my life in my memory, their trace will never disappear from my soul – so why do it to them on my skin? Tattoos have nothing to do with fashion or style. For me, this is something strong that has its depth, filled with a certain meaning.

“When you decide to get a tattoo, you know, it will be with you all your life ! And that’s what makes this thing so exciting and special – when you know that then there’s no going back ! It’s something that has some special magic to you, and only belongs to you. I love this feeling. The songwriting is the same. Often you are told that you could have done something better, but it’s not so! It’s not right ! Since probably there was just not enough emotion, some positive energy or something else exactly at that point in time. Even if the song does not sound very good, but all the feelings in it are real – they are genuine and clean. The same with the tattoo, it could have been better, but at that time your life path was predetermined by this choice, there was simply not enough life experience that was required for this sketch to be better. There is nothing worse than trying to change the truth, nothing worse than something artificial.”

Never underestimate Fred Durst. He will surprise you.