Have you ever struck up a conversation with someone and thought, “Wow. What an incredible human being. I want to tell everyone about them”? I began playing with the idea of an interview column after my mother called me one day to tell me about a delightful conversation she had with a waiter at Gold Street Caffé. She had never met this man before he served her a cappuccino, yet it was a moment of real human connection. He spoke, and she listened. She spoke, and he listened.
There are so many amazing people in Albuquerque—from hot air balloon pilots to high priestesses to the cashier at McDonald’s—but we are often so busy telling our own stories or chatting about nothing that we pass up moments to really see the whole of someone. That grizzled, homeless man Downtown might have an epic Vietnam story to tell you. That nerdy medical intern in the corner of the bar may write award-winning poetry. It takes a certain combination of empathy and acceptance to ask someone who they are and what they believe. It requires a whole other level of courage to bare yourself to your community and offer up your tale. I believe that everyone has a story to tell if we would only ask and be present enough to hear their truth without judging.
With smartphones, Facebook and MTV, we sometimes forget about the people closest to us—the people in our communities—who touch the lives of so many and offer up their talents with a generosity and kindness that astounds. These three people, each of whom impacts our community through art, music or medicine—have been chosen as the first subjects in this ongoing series of interviews about the amazing individuals in your city.
Shane Acuff, 33, owns SA: Design, Art & Tattoo on Rio Grande near Old Town.
What’s the main reason people get tattoos?
People get tattoos to immortalize change. When they've experienced something. That's [at] the root—to not forget. Whether it's a reminder to themselves or other people.
How do you think tattoos affect society?
Well, they're art, and art inspires society to change. So with [tattoos] being such a personal thing, like literally attached to people, it shows others something about that person. Thus, it affects society on a micro-scale in interpersonal relations, and that becomes large scale, with it becoming more acceptable overall as people continue doing it and get more bold about it.
What is your favorite tattoo that you've done?
I think picking a favorite is beyond me. I have so many that do different things. It's like asking someone to pick their favorite child. I mean, you're proud of 'em for different reasons, and each of them is really neat because they're attached to specific people.
What would you say to those who think you are desecrating people’s skin?
I would say that people often let themselves get distracted and worried about many different things, but the most tragic are those that don't have anything to do with them. So as long as I'm not desecrating their skin, it shouldn't be that big of a priority for them. And the religious aspect of that—it doesn't actually, in any religious text, say not to tattoo. They say not to desecrate your body. So scribbling on it might be considered a desecration, as would scribbling on a church, but creating a beautiful, stained-glass window in a church is considered a very beautiful thing. So if you believe your body is your temple, then do it that way, and put the time, love and energy that you would put into your temple of worship into the temple that you reside in.
Other than drawing ability, what is the most important skill for a tattoo artist?
Communication. People are trying to make change in themselves, and they are in a very vulnerable state. Being able to communicate with people so that they can have a better experience of getting the tattoo is very important. It's necessary in guiding them to a very rich realization of what it is they're trying to express through the tattoo and how to place it well on their body.
Who has been the most influential artist in your life?
I would say the Master Architect or God or whoever. The world is rich with variety. Even the base layers, like the geometric building blocks of everything, are very beautiful, and they translate into a wide spectrum of things that feel pretty inspired—even the mishaps and decompositions.
Advice for the world?
Practice unity. You always notice the people who seem there in the moment and at peace with themselves—with their minds, feelings and body. And when people are united, they can do amazing things as opposed to when you're just alone.
Arnold Bodmer, 70, is a multi-instrumentalist, piano teacher and professional piano tuner. He’s played all over the world and with famous groups like The Drifters, The Coasters, Ben E. King and Cadillac Bob and the Rhinestones. He can be found at various music scenes throughout Albuquerque, from jazz workshops to rock ‘n’ roll gigs, always teaching, learning and pushing the envelope of music.
Where are you from, and why did you choose to live in Albuquerque?
I was born in Zurich, Switzerland, and I grew up in a small town about 30 miles east of Zurich, along the lake. Growing up, I was more interested in music than school. It was the mid ’60s, and the music was so electric at the time! So I went to Hamburg and joined an international folk group called The City Preachers, and we became quite big in Germany. I had the chance to go to California, so I spent two years out in Hollywood trying to make it. I met a bunch of Albuquerque musicians, and when the scene ended, they told me to come visit New Mexico before going back to Switzerland. I did. I loved it, and I've been here for 45 years.
What inspired you to teach music?
To be brutally honest, it was for economic reasons. Then when I got into it, I realized that I serve a purpose. It's very rewarding to see somebody really get interested. When an old student sends me their first album, it's good to know that I was the one who lit a fire under that kid's ass.
What is the hardest part of being a music teacher?
The hardest part for me is separating playing from teaching. When I teach all day, the worst thing I can think of is to go out and play 'cuz I'm so drained that another sound will drive me crazy. It seems impossible to go from pushing the edge of music with a group to taking a beginner through scales and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” But I've learned to be incredibly patient. I'll sit there with them until hell freezes over—it's my job.
What makes a truly great musician?
There are musicians that are great craftsmen who can play monstrously well, but at this point, I'm more interested in people who are searching for something that might not sound all that polished but is new. When someone plays something very unique, but clumsily, like a student who wrote a little song, I ask myself, “Is there anything original or great?” Even if it's not pleasant at all.
What do you think music will sound like 50 years from now?
Music always swings like a pendulum. In the late ’70s, there were incredibly polished disco groups like the Bee Gees, but the sound was getting more studio-produced. The essence was more and more diluted. Then up came Eric Clapton's Unplugged, and it was all back to “me and the guitar.” That still seems to be the trend now. It's a reaction to excess in one area. Music is always an expression of the time.
What is the one piece of music you wish everyone could hear?
I asked my wife if she would play this album at my funeral: Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. That would be a quintessential album for me.
Advice for the world?
Stop beating each other up. Clearly, I'm a hippie from the old days, and our thing was “Love is all you need.” As trite as that sounds now, it was a powerful thing then, and we really believed that we could stop this madness.
Doctor of Oriental Medicine
Dr. Jill Stape, 41, is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and a Fellow of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine. She and her husband own Natural Life Acupuncture and Wellness in the Northeast Heights.
What first got you interested in acupuncture?
I was going to UNM and wanted to become a vet. Then I realized that I couldn't handle the smells in a vet clinic, so I switched to pre-med, but it seemed really hypocritical to tell people to take drugs that I never would. At a career fair, there was a table with acupuncturists. I found that with acupuncture, I could have a family and my own clinic and not work myself to death at a hospital.
What is the biggest difference between Eastern and Western medicine?
Eastern medicine treats everything as a whole and is preventative, whereas Western medicine generally only treats something once it is full blown.
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture stimulates the nervous and circulatory systems through certain points along the body called meridians. Stimulating these points resets the nervous system and tells the brain to heal its own body. I also often give herbs in conjunction with acupuncture. Herbs are whole, so they have healing constituents as well as other substances that help the body handle those constituents.
What would you say to people who are afraid of needles?
I wish we could call them something other than “needle.” They are so tiny that they actually move between cells and don't really damage the tissue. They aren't like hypodermic needles. If someone was really afraid, I could place the needles on their back so that they wouldn't have to see them, or we could explore other options such as herbs, massage, moxa (burning herbs over meridians), etc. I can usually talk people into the needles because it's worth it—it will help if you just try it.
What is the most amazing improvement you've ever seen in someone?
There was a young man in his twenties with cysts in his kidneys since age 7. When I met him, he had more than 95 cysts. He was in horrid pain and had nickel-sized kidney stones. I treated him, and we got the number of cysts down to six. I didn't know until later, but his quality of life was so bad that he had wanted to commit suicide. I saved his life.
What would you say to people who think this kind of medicine is a bunch of “hippie voodoo”?
Eastern medicine has been around for thousands of years—perhaps since 2000 BCE. It's still around because it works, and it just keeps getting more and more refined. The problem is that people want a magic pill or a drug to take away symptoms, but acupuncture works on the root of the problem, and that takes time. Every time your nervous system resets, you're teaching your body to heal itself. It's not magic, and it's not instantaneous—it's a process. Also, it requires people to take an active part in their own health—diet, drinking water, exercise, etc. People have to be taught how to take care of their bodies.
Advice for the world?
Love God, and love each other. Do what you can for God and others. If everyone did their one small part, everyone would be elevated.