Mane of Steel

Whenever someone tells Joe Aylward he's got holes in his head, he doesn't argue the point.

"Many people look at me and the first thing they say is 'stupid kid!'" concedes Aylward, a 33-year-old apprentice body-piercer in Tempe. "It's always like, 'This guy has got to be the biggest moron on the face of the Earth.' Then they talk to me and they find out, 'Wow, he really does have a brain!'"

The proud owner of what is believed to be the world's only "metal Mohawk," Aylward has five metal inserts embedded in his shaved pate. Implanted during a 90-minute procedure last year by a Valley body-modification professional, the threaded holes allow Aylward to screw a variety of decorative surgical steel spikes into his scalp. Although the spikes vary in length from a quarter-inch to an inch and a half, Aylward confesses he rarely uses the smaller-gauge headwear anymore: "If you're going to have spikes in your head, have spikes in your head!"

But why?
Aylward says it's for "personal expression"--pretty much the same reason that also drove him to pierce his tongue, his lower lip, his nipples, his genitals--and even core out the lobe of his left ear, which features a one-inch-wide eyelet.

A fashion trend setter, he hopes he's not. "If they wanted to, anyone could have a metal Mohawk just like mine," says Aylward. "But what would be the point of that? Where the creativity comes in would be if they arranged the spikes in a different configuration that would be about them. Believe me, this is not something I did on a whim. A lot of personal time and effort went into this by [piercer] Steve Haworth and I."

Owner of the HTC piercing salon in Tempe where Aylward is studying, Haworth had reportedly been exploring the feasibility of installing a metal Mohawk for several years when Aylward volunteered for the project. The procedure--which involved shoving threaded plugs into a channel his boss had burrowed under his scalp--was relatively painless, resulting only in a "minor headache."

Aylward took antibiotics immediately following the procedure "just in case," but beyond that doesn't take any special precautions to prevent infection. "I use common sense," he says. "I don't go around sticking my head in piles of cow shit."

Without going into details, Aylward concedes that the procedure was controversial within the national piercing community, primarily because practitioners say it raises questions about where piercing ends and surgery begins.

"It is a gray area," says Aylward. Claiming that he believes implants are not a medical procedure, Aylward reasons, "What doctor would do this?"

Haworth was unavailable for comment.
Although his own interests run more toward skydiving and dirt-biking than slam-dancing, Aylward admits his spikes inadvertently act as lightning rods for punk-oriented publicity. Last fall, Newsweek ran a "What next?" blurb about his unorthodox coif. On a Jenny Jones episode titled "Don't Discriminate Against Me Because of the Way I Look," Aylward shared airtime with griping teens who'd been kicked out of school for fashion faux pas.

And at airports, he's regularly baffled by security employees who insist on waving a metal detector over his scalp.

"What?" he wonders. "I somehow planted a bomb in my own head


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Dewey Webb