No self-respecting rock star – or would-be rock star – can be seen in public without at least one skull on his person, preferably in white metal.
Who started the skull trend? In the rock world, many attribute it to Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones who has sported a skull ring since way back.
“Keith has worn that skull ring since the early seventies,” says Gerard Marti, co-owner of Célébrités Galleries in Maui and former EMI record producer, referring to the ring custom-made for Richards by London goldsmiths Courts and Hackett. “The skull ring is Keith’s trademark. Every single musician in rock and roll wears a skull in one way or another.”
The craze for skull jewelry has died down a bit in the last couple years ago but skulls are still a reliable seller, according the designers of Borgioni jewelry, a favorite of rock stars from Steven Tyler to Axel Rose. “We have a bracelet with a little skull and we sell a lot of those,” says Rhonda Bartolacci. “Men love that. So I don’t think the skulls are going anywhere.”
Of course, as Marti pointed out in my last post on how to wear jewelry like a rock star, the skull symbol predates current fashion and the Stones: “The skull is a rock staple, it comes from the image of the pirate, the black flag, and that’s been around for centuries. It’s an image of being a rebel, an outlaw, someone who lives life by different rules.”
In Keith Richards’ case, it’s hard not to see that skull as more of a flirtation with death. Rumors of his debauchery are often exaggerated but there’s no doubt he’s cheated death many times.
In the decadent seventies he was arrested five times on drug-related charges. If you love stories of rock’s hedonistic heyday, read Richards’ autobiography. You’ll be as surprised as he is that he’s still alive.
In their prime, Aerosmith was another notorious example of rock-and-roll excess. Steven Tyler underwent rehab for alcohol and heroin addiction in 1986 and other members of the band followed suit.
Tyler stayed clean for a couple decades but didn’t exactly abandon his wild ways. In 2009, he fell off stage and seriously injured himself, split with Aerosmith and eventually went back into rehab to kick an addiction to pain killers.
Last year he went back on tour with the band. Now he’s a judge on American Idol. Is this a man with a death wish?
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, or at least wealthier, and that includes stints on American Idol and – in the case of Ozzy Osbourne and, apparently, Axel Rose – reality TV.
After a few decades of rock and punk, wearing a skull has become not only a symbol of rebellion but a symbol of survival.
Guitarist Dave Navarro has earned the skulls he’s covered in below, having pulled himself out of heroin addiction at least once. It’s probably not easy staying clean given the company he keeps on tour. He’s about to hit the circuit again with the band he helped make famous. Jane’s Addiction has an album due out this year, their first since 2003.
The symbol rockers chose as their brand is traceable back to tombs of the 4th century. The skull appears throughout Christianity, closely connected with crucifix and saints, as well as the devil.
Assuming most rockers see themselves as modern-day pirates – as do Harley riders – the skulls they wear are also a kind of danger signal. Scull flags were a pretty effective deterrent back in seafaring days. Pirates had such a bad reputation, many ships surrendered without a battle when they spotted that flag.
To some extend, we’re all flirting with death – even in this health-conscious era. Maybe skulls and snakes appeal to our dark sides? Or maybe we just find that image of the hard-partying rocker too sexy to resist. Just bear in mind as you indulge this fantasy: The skull flag was also used as a warning to avoid a plague-infested ship.
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