It was because of a memorial that I initially met Shannon Larratt. My mentor had passed away, and new to the ways of social networking I posted a brief obituary notice on rec.arts.bodyart (R.A.B.) that caught his eye and shortly after I initially posted it inspired him to email me. “I didn’t know Jack personally, but his list of modifications was impressive. If you’d like to post something on my website, I’d love to have it.”
BME was fledgling at the time. Still hosted on the ~io.org server and while the biggest body modification site on the internet (then and now) was still severely lacking in content. I replied, and, thinking I had just met one of the nicest girls in Canada, our friendship started to develop.
“No. Not a girl. I get that a lot”.
Our emails became frequent; at the time there weren’t a lot of people our age interested in heavy body modification; in Shannon I found a kindred spirit who’s willingness to push the boundaries was equal to mine, someone who read weird comics, watched weird sci-fi movies and also had a passion for modification. I was a paid member of Unique at the time, spending $70 every six months to meet folks three times my age via a mail exchange service, meeting clandestinely in hotel rooms at tattoo conventions and brought together by our shared interest in modification but not much else.
I started submitting content to BME to help flesh out the surgical sections, the ‘advanced’ modifications and eventually received an email from Shannon just shy of a year after Jack’s death telling me that he was working on something new and needed my help and input. Our mutual desire to expose surgical modification to the masses had WORKED, with more new people becoming interested in the extreme modifications than we could have imagined. But more surprisingly, it was also bringing people with existing modifications out of the woodwork. Photos and videos were pouring in- some relayed through me (at the time most folks didn’t have a scanner for their photos, digital cameras were still not in common use and video capture was still impractical) to avoid possible seizure at customs. Sections were filling up, NEW modifications were being discovered.
There were more people interested in ‘our’ world than we thought possible, and with the anniversary of Jack’s passing coming up, Shannon rolled out BME/Extreme complete with a password ‘guarding the walls’. The price to enter? Submit photos of your own advanced modification. Lurkers came out in droves- “I’m not sure if my subincision will get me a password, but…”
The small communities that had sprung up via postal exchange- Unique, BCQ, Enigma- none of us could have guessed how many people out there were doing these procedures. Shannon didn’t invent the game, but he sure as hell gave us a room to play in. These communities were closed; hard to find. They came with a great deal of secrecy and a signup fee. BME/Extreme leveled the playing field. Turned on all the lights.
I finally met him in person in Detroit, 1998. Lankier than I expected, emerging from a Greyhound Bus with his hood drawn up like a monk and smiling his half smile with a hand extended. “We have to get out of here. Let’s find a hotel”. It turns out Detroit was much sketchier than he was used to, and he booked us a suite in one of the nicest hotels in the city, earning a few stares from the patrons not used to stretched lobes and heavy visible tattoos. Over the course of the night we talked. And talked. The getting to know you phase of our friendship was all virtual so we were able to dive right in and talk shop.
Extreme was now several years old, joined by it’s twin /HARD, and Shannon was ready to move on to something new. “So we’ve got all of these people talking via /extreme. What do you think about a modification convention? No hotel rooms or sketchy practitioners… just a chance for people who may not know how to find willing artists to get worked on, and who can show off their modifications for BME?”
Several hours later, MODCON1998 was being discussed. We’d host it in my area of Florida. BME would fund it. Ideas were flowing. Shannon wanted to contact Joel Peter Witkin (and later, Alejandro Jodorowsky) to document it. The invite list would be strict, the rules stricter and finally a community would have an outlet. We wouldn’t feel alone.
That event never happened, but a year later MODCON was held in Toronto. To date it’s one of my single proudest moments. A monument to Jack’s legacy. A home for people who always felt like outsiders. We met, took photos, performed modifications, risked life and limb and even managed to be a bunch of goofball tourists.
The groundwork was there to do something bigger, and in 2000 Shannon rolled out the IAM subsite of BME. Inspired by Livejournal, IAM was a diary site where BME readers unfamiliar with HTML could start their own home pages; free of any stigma for posting body modification content. It was also a tool to increase submissions to BME. The community and the site would grow together.
Thirteen years later I feel that the impact of IAM was Shannon’s greatest contribution to the body modification scene. Relationships were forged on that site that remain with 1000s of us today. Spouses met. Events planned. So much excess that Dionysus would be impressed. ModCon was very niche, but IAM… your nose piercing carried as much weight as someone else’s facial tattoos. You had friends all over the world who were there to support you through your hardest times as well as your happiest.
BMEFests happened. Suscons. Zombiethons. Scarwars. The Weirdos, god bless us, went bowling, gambling, rafting… All with Shannon constantly one upping the site code or the party or the community. The room he provided us grew into a playground.
Over the years my friendship with Shannon evolved. We didn’t always agree; far from it. As I got older my views became increasingly conservative and his progressively more radical. We’d butt heads privately and publicly about the safety of a procedure or the ethics of a practitioner, but we’d always respect the other’s opinion and by the end of the argument we’d be smiling. We went through good periods and bad together, the balance shifting depending on the year, but through it all, he remained someone who’s impact on my life is so thorough that it’s impossible to imagine my life without him.
Had you told me, almost 18 years ago, that one day I’d be writing a memorial for him…
Shannon Larratt passed away in Toronto, Ontario. He was 39 years old and is survived by his daughter Nefarious, his fiancé Caitlyn and his former wife Rachel who carries on the BME family of sites. He was so many things to so many people- mentor, teacher, inspiration… but to me, he was my friend.
Rest in Peace, Brother.
Since writing this entry I was tasked with eulogizing Shannon at the 2013 APP Conference Banquet in Las Vegas, Nevada. The following is the speech I gave, surrounded by loved ones who also felt the loss of our old friend:
Seize every opportunity that’s in front of you and live life to the fullest. Even with everything I’ve done, there is so much more I wish I’d squeezed in. Don’t let a single day (well, maybe a single day) be idle. Have every adventure you can, and explore every street — although treat the one-way streets with caution. Don’t fritter you life away into television, random browsing.. We have such a glorious future, but never forget that your part in that future could end at any moment, so live a life that you can be pround of. And of course love and treat each other well.
Most of us will always remember where we were when we read those words.
To some, Shannon Larratt was a larger than life presence; someone who’s influence was a beacon in a dark world of parents and of friends who judged them because of their modifications- a voice that said “it’s ok to be you- there are people out there who understand” and who spent the majority of his life bringing people together.
To others he was the ultimate devil’s advocate; someone who was willing to push the boundaries so far in the name of personal freedom that it seemed he cared more about the modification than the modified.
To me, Shannon was a treasured friend. He was my cheerleader, encouraging me to do more than just submit to BME by helping me create the SPCOnline site, encouraging me to host the first ModCon (that never happened) and later the Scarwars events. His legacy will ultimately be tied to body modification, but I feel that’s missing the point of his contributions to the world:
Shannon was a historian, a published author, painter and a sculptor. He wrote code like other people write poetry. Shannon was, at heart, an artist. His favorite medium was life. He could see the human form as a canvas for expression. Human emotion as music to dance by. Human experience as performance art and divinity. He believed in forging your own path and he blazed a trail that can never be ignored, whether you chose to walk that trail with him or not. For the length of our friendship, Shannon never stopped creating. He created one of the earliest widely adopted social networking sites on the internet, before social networking was even a concept. It is because of BME and iAM that I know many of you here today.
Shannon flirted with many other industries in his accomplished career. Among them technological advancements in the realm of computer science.
If you look around at the people sitting near you, you probably know them as a direct or indirect result of BME or iAM.
Anyone with access to the internet and a search engine who had even the slightest interest in body modification, found BME, and there we found each other. There are married couples who wouldn’t have met who are together because of iAM. There are children who wouldn’t exist without iAM. iAM gave a voice to the voice-less, friends to the freeks and weirdos, and a family to the emotionally orphaned. BME built careers and legacies.
Shannon was one of those people who just had a certain “something.” You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you either loved him or you fiercely hated him. I think he was happy to inspire either, as long as he made you feel something, think something, do something.
Like Cobain, Van Gogh, Hemingway and many men with a burning flame of passion inside of him, his life was touched by suffering, and he left us much too soon. There will never be another “Shannon’s next big thing.” And frankly, I’m so mad at him for that, that sometimes I don’t know if I can ever forgive him. Then I remember, Shannon’s not in pain today, and he’ll never hurt again.
When you’re writing this sort of thing, a eulogy, you’re supposed to talk about your loved one’s background. Shannon was born on September 29th, 1973 in Victoria, BC to Richard and Kathy Larratt. He had both brothers and sisters. He never finished college, although he attempted it at least twice if my memory is correct. He married a beautiful woman named Rachel and had an equally beautiful daughter. He leaves behind thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people who’s lives he personally touched. And that, my friends, is a legacy worth remembering.
We could all stand to be a little bit more like Shannon. Bringing people together and creating lasting bonds of love. Exploring the boundaries of what we are capable. Always starting with the opposite of what the masses believe, and see if you can prove the contrary to be correct. He almost always could. The world could use more Shannon Larratts.
Thank you all for giving me the opportunity tonight to tell you a little bit about my friend Shannon. I still feel the pain of his loss every day, but it is getting to see all of your beautiful faces looking back at me that reminds me that although he is gone, he will never ever be forgotten. He has changed the course of human history, he turned the paper over and wrote on the back side and didn’t care if the marker bled through, he took the fabric of society, cut it into pieces and sewed it back together into the shape of a better world. I encourage you to find me or another loved one this evening and tell us a story about Shannon or about how he touched your life.
And of course, Love and treat each other well.
Thank you for reading,