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As a writer, you’d think I would have an endless parade of words ready to describe Frankie Orange. I don’t. I’m quite tongue-tied, actually. Maybe that’s the biggest compliment that I can give Frankie—there aren’t any words that immediately come to mind to describe him, that will do him justice.
The reason is not that he is so bland, or so mind-numbingly vanilla, that I must find complimentary adjectives for him. It’s that his skin, his art, his family, and his personality are all so rich and colorful that any bio, no matter how long, couldn’t begin to touch upon how wonderfully unique and special he is.
He was born in Annapolis, Maryland on June 19, 1971. While the purview of other twelve year-olds merely extend to plans for the weekend, Frankie knew by then that tattooing was going to play a huge part in his life. His collection began when he was eighteen with a phoenix on his upper right arm. In 1990 he began apprenticing as a tattoo artist—three years at Tattoo Charlie’s Place (est. 1938) and two years at Little Vinnie’s. He then began tattooing full-time at a Washington, D.C. tattoo shop, all the while thinking of opening his very own shop one day.
It was in D.C. where I met Frankie. I was eighteen and disastrously shy and nervous, absolutely petrified to be in a tattoo shop with such intimidating looking people. Frankie was the most intimidating. What first got me was the sheer number of tattoos that he had, my eyes frantically bouncing from one to another to another, but then he was intimidating in a way that I had never been intimidated before, and have not been since. He was so…nice.
He is one of the kindest, most generous people that I have ever met. Maybe that’s one reason (to say nothing of his immense artistic talent and his indestructible loyalty) why pro-athletes, musicians, and actors began to take interest in him. Maybe that’s why between 1998-1999 Biohazard took him on their tours of North America and Europe. Maybe that’s why his life changed dramatically in 2000.
It was that year he was invited to spend a week tattooing members of N’Sync during a week-long (and sold-out) stint at Madison Square Garden to film an HBO special. He stayed with N’Sync through 2002 in a personal assistant role. Good Charlotte picked him up afterwards, where he served as their tour manager until 2003, before he finished the year working on the Rolling Stones’ “40 Licks European Tour.” In 2004 it seemed everyone wanted a piece of Frankie. In one year he toured with Michelle Branch and Metallica and was a part of Phil Collins’ “First & Final Farewell Tour North America,” tattooing whenever he could squeeze in time.
In 2005, Rob Zombie invited Frankie to help him tour with Ozzfest, and Ashely Simpson enlisted his services for the North America and Japan legs of her “I Am Me” promotional tour. Throughout extensive touring with music’s biggest names, he would come home for brief periods to visit family and friends. Before I owned a car, he would pick me up from the Metro station, tattoo me, and drop me off back at the Metro so I could get back to Virginia. At one time in our friendship when he was in between tours for several months (and when I finally had a car of my own) I visited him every week to get tattooed. I had a weekly Frankie Orange tattoo for about three months straight, finishing two sleeves. Getting a new tattoo is always exciting, especially when they begin to cover both of your arms, but the real reason that I ventured an hour and a half into Maryland was so that I could hang out with Frankie. I just wanted to spend time with him—leaving with a tattoo was icing on the cake.
Even when he started touring with bands and musicians more famous than I could ever hope to be, jet-setting all over the world, he never became a prima donna, never looked down on me (or anyone) because we weren’t “cool” enough to hang within his new circle of friends. Other people would easily cast aside old friends for newer, cooler people, but Frankie never stopped being Frankie. Of all the people I know, Frankie is the person I most try to emulate because I respect and admire him so much. There have been many times when, in a precarious situation, before I lose my cool, I’ll ask myself WWFD (What Would Frankie Do)? Things turn out just fine.
Things stayed fine with Frankie, too. In 2006, he got reenlisted by Michelle Branch, touring with the Wreckers as they opened for Rascal Flatts, Montgomery Gentry, and Alan Jackson. Rob Zombie tapped Frankie again for the joint Ozzy Osborne/Rob Zombie “Black Rain Tour” of North America and then the promotional tour for Zombie’s Halloween reboot. Adding a bit of color (and metal) to music’s lighter side, in 2008 he worked with the Spice Girls on their North American “Return of the Spice Girls Tour,” followed immediately by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s “Soul 2 Soul” and “Live Your Voice” tours. Later that year he joined Metallica, a band with whom he has since remained.
Frankie missed his daughter Sixx who was often thousands of miles away at any moment on any given tour he was helping. Skype couldn’t bridge the distance that a nearly endless ten-year touring schedule inflicted on the person he cared most about. It’s no surprise that Frankie decided to make a dramatic change for her sake (and his). So, on January 4, 2010, he opened Orange Tattoo Company in Annapolis, Maryland. He finally had his own tattoo shop.
Which brings us to why you are here.
I’ll be honest, there are many talented tattoo artists out there— many that you can visit and get a great tattoo that will look great forever. The reason why I still make the trip to Annapolis, Maryland, however, goes beyond just getting a great looking tattoo. It’s because I still want to hang out with Frankie.