Keith Alexander, a guitar player for the hard rock band Dee Snider, and owner and senior piercer at Modern American Body Arts in Brooklyn, N.Y., says he won't brand just anybody. Alexander, who writes a monthly column for Tattoo Savage magazine, has been branding since the early 1990s and calls the practice "spiritual."
"I turn down a lot of people if I don't like the symbol," Alexander says. "I get a lot of white kids who want to get a brand for faddish reasons, people who want their horoscope symbol. To me, that's not important enough a symbol to wear for the rest of your life."
Alexander says he does a number of fraternity brands, but adds there is no typical client profile. "I got everybody from 21-year-old frat boys to 70-year-old S&M; leather daddies."
Although Alexander realizes that most branding goes on informally, he says he's gone to great pains to learn about the nuances of scarring and practiced his technique on potatoes and chicken breasts. "It's not like the Alpo commercial," he says. "It sounds very brutal, but it's not. It's done lovingly and caringly. If I get a hint of it being self-mutilation, you're out the door. I've been called an elitist because of that."
Alexander says when he brands he has candles and soft music in the background. "It's getting in touch with the innate urge to customize your body," he says. And while the 34-year-old says he's been branded, he won't tell where. "It's in a very private place and I really don't care to discuss it," he says.
Nancy Heitzeg, a sociology professor at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., who wrote a textbook on the sociology of style subcultures, says branding is a growing phenomenon among white, "hard-core" kids who usually tend to be affiliated with a music subculture.
"In the continuum from clothing and hair to tattooing and multiple piercing, scarification and branding seem to be the new edge. They say, 'These are my marks, my style, my individual thing that nobody else has,' " Heitzeg says.