In 1978, Jim Ward opened what is considered to have been the nation's first contemporary body-piercing business — the Gauntlet in Los Angeles. His best customer was the late Louis Rove, the gay adoptive father of former Bush "architect" Karl Rove.
The Advocate: When did you first make the connection that Louis Rove was Karl Rove’s father?
Jim Ward: Quite recently, just a couple of weeks ago, when I got an e-mail from a woman at Boingboing[.net]. That was the first I’d heard about it.
Considering the obvious disparity there, did it come as a shock?
Well, I don’t know if shock is the right word; surprise, perhaps. I gather from what I’ve read that there was a great deal of affection between them, but that fruit fell a long way from the tree.
Did Louie ever mention a son who was perhaps a black sheep or bad seed?
I really only knew a small bit about his family. I knew he was divorced and had adult children and that was pretty much it.
How do you think Karl feels about this new attention placed on his adoptive father?
I wonder if he really cares. From what little I know about the man, which is only from what I read, my feeling is that his concerns would be for himself and not for his father.
You’ve stated that Louie had at least 37 piercings, most of which were in his penis. For that many piercings to fit, he must’ve been rather well-endowed.
Well, it was slightly above normal. There are actually photos on Boingboing.
Honestly, I couldn’t quite bring myself to click on the links.
[Laughs] A man I was associated with named Fakir Musafar, who was a photographer, took pictures of Louie for our Gauntlet publication, Piercing Fans International Quarterly. Louie was featured in issue No. 17 in 1983 and a number of those are on the Boing Boing site.
I’ve heard of a Prince Albert, but the idea of over 30 in one penis boggles my mind. Where did they all go?
He had what we called a “ladder” — a series of piercings, one pretty much next to other, through which there were small studs with little balls on each end. There were four of these ladders: one on the top, one on the bottom and one on each side.
I understand that piercing can increase sensitivity, but doesn’t that much bling begin to get in the way in the bedroom?
Well, I don’t know what kind of activity he was into. [Laughs] A certain amount of it might’ve been self-pleasuring, and if you’re involved with someone who has a similar fetish, I’m sure you can find ways of entertaining one another.
Do you have penile piercings?
Yes, but not that many by a long shot!
As one grows older, do you downsize? Because I imagine that piercings tend to encourage sagging. Is that the case?
[Laughs] Not that I can tell. We would sag regardless. I still have the ones that are important to me.
Nipples and noses are one thing, but piercing someone’s penis must’ve been another thing altogether. Were you nervous handling such delicate merchandise?
Well, that nervousness was only during the early stages of my career when I was learning how to pierce. Once you develop a skill, it becomes pretty much routine. It’s like learning how to cook — you don’t get nervous every time you go into the kitchen. If you’ve got the skill, you do what you do. I had a good mentor named Doug Malloy who I met in the early years when I moved to Los Angeles. Doug had developed over his lifetime a set of — well, they were still pretty crude, but — a set of workable piercing techniques. I was able, as I became more familiar with what I was trying to accomplish, to modify those techniques and the equipment to make the piercing process much easier.
Have you since packed away your piercing tools?
Although I've pretty much retired from piercing, I do maybe one or two a year. I get asked by friends and friends of friends if I will do something for them. Fortunately, an old Gauntlet employee has his own shop now in the Castro, and he lets me pierce there on those rare occasions.
The fetish crowd has a reputation for being quite tough, but did you encounter a lot of squeamish queens?
In the hands of a skilled piercer, piercings are not much more than an injection by a doctor. It’s a quick “ouch” and it’s over.
Did Louie take it like a man?
Yes, Louie was a great person to pierce. He had no problem with it and frequently did a number of piercings in one sitting.
You obviously got to know him quite intimately. Was there any romantic connection?
No, it was just as friends and associates.
I understand you’re planning on writing a book about your part in the history of body modification. In light of this recent discovery, will Louie get a special chapter?
I don’t know whether or not he’ll get his own chapter, but he’ll certainly be mentioned!
How has the pierced community changed since your heyday?
When I started my business back in 1975, my focus for body piercing was as a means of erotic enhancement. Today, it’s largely shifted to being more about decoration or making some kind of statement of independence or identity.
So did you ever imagine when you were piercing Louie that decades later you’d be speaking to The Advocate about his “little Louie”?
It’s definitely surreal. I had no idea. But that was then and this is now.