Astronomer Dr. Carl Sagan is credited with saying, “You have to know the past in order to understand the present.” The people behind Sailor Jerry have clearly taken the advice to heart, modeling the iconic brand’s 100th-birthday Hawaiian celebration after the idea. Sailor Jerry is backed by people who love the rum, but who also love its storied past, taking great measures to introduce the continental US to the life and times of Sailor Jerry and the huge cultural impact wartime-era Hawaii had on the world. It’s been fascinating to visit the Tiki Supper Clubs and see classic sailor ink (both of which are experiencing major comebacks in pop culture), and it’s surprising how closely they’re related. Homeward Bound: The Life and Times of Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, does a fantastic job outlining this connection, and recalls the era and artistic legacy of Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, the father of the old-school tattoo.
The book is released today, in honor of what would have been his 100th birthday. The coffee table book is an accompaniment to the critically acclaimed cult film Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, by the talented and whip-smart Erich Weiss (who is also on this trip, acting as an unofficial oracle for all things Sailor Jerry). The book contains 128 pages of unseen photos, ephemera, and essays collected during the making of the film, and explains the way tiki and tattoo culture made it big around the world.
Most interesting to me was the amazing collection of photographs of Pacific sailors lining up to get “Stewed, Screwed, and Tattooed” at Sailor Jerry’s shop at 1033 Smith Street in Oahu’s Chinatown. The images characterize the mentality of the time — miles from home and ready for war, fueled by devil-may-care attitudes and a lust for life, the sailors found solace in the bars and tattoo shops in this raucous port-side neighborhood. It was the place to go to meet prostitutes, get drunk, get their customary tattoos, and “sow their oats” during the daylight hours before lights out on the island.
Tonight we’ll be celebrating what would have been Sailor Jerry’s 100th birthday with a party and performance by the Black Lips in Sailor Jerry’s old stomping ground, a neighborhood that’s by all accounts still bustling. Nothing, though, compared to the vintage images from the film below.