Forward, Into the Past

Tattoo historian Eric Maaske is now part of history

His eye for style caught other people's attention: Puente says Eric didn't just tattoo Social Distortion lead singer Mike Ness; he sold him the black-primered 1955 Pontiac hardtop that's pictured in the liner notes for the band's classic "Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell" recording. And at home with Setzer, as the singer recovered from hours of being tattooed, Maaske made the bandleader tapes of obscure new and old musicians he'd uncovered.

"The way he lived didn't jive with someone who uses drugs. Usually someone who uses drugs, their life's a mess. Their house is dirty, their car is broken down, and he wasn't that way," Setzer said. "My memory is everything being straight out of the '50s but immaculate. I'll never forget staying in that backroom. There was a cross above the bed—not a trendy cross that you'd buy on Melrose, but a traditional Catholic cross. I said, 'Wow, I haven't seen one of these in years.' He was definitely not the type of person you would associate with that type of lifestyle."

Friends and family say Maaske struggled with a lifelong depression that ultimately led him to drugs. But even in his final moments, as his life spun out of control, he was still the artist, still the historian. The night he died, Michelle said, he was doing the same thing he did every night.

Maaske—who was single, having recently ended a relationship—was inking a greeting card for someone on thick, handmade paper. He penciled in a rose, then traced it with a pen, his hand making frequent trips to an inkwell. Around the rose, he wrote a last message in "Pike lettering," the elaborate serif font invented at the Long Beach Pike.

The card read, "I Love You From Hear to Eternity"—and of course no one knows what he meant, why he didn't fix the misspelling, where he would have sent it. His sister thinks the card was for her, though she admits it might have gone to her mother.

Eric Maaske didn't leave any clues. Inside the card, he wrote just a single, shaky "M" in scratchy pencil.

Then, he laid his ink pen down and became part of tattoo history.

CLOSED FOLLOWING ITS OWNER'S DEATH, CLASSIC TATTOO, 521 N. HARBOR BLVD., FULLERTON, (714) 870-0805, REOPENED FOR BUSINESS OCT. 22.

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