Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist

Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist

Of course I first heard of Bob Flanagan because he starred in the Happiness in Slavery video by Nine Inch Nails. The song was on the Broken EP, the first album by NIN that I purchased, and has been one of my favourite songs ever since. The news of the video shoot, directed by Jonathan Reiss, must have surfaced in Kerrang! magazine back in 1992 when the video was being made. Much like today the chances of seeing the video on terrestrial television would have been remote to say the least. That is if the broadcasting companies dared show it, which they didn’t.

Channel 4 showed Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist by Kirby Dick and I watched it purely because he was ‘the guy in the NIN video’. I sat through it all and the video wasn’t to be seen, but it was listed in the credits at the end, so it was too gruesome to show.

Bob had Cystic Fibrosis. A genetically inherited disease that is nearly-always fatal. The lungs of a sufferer produce an excess of mucus which has to be more-or-less beaten out by slapping the chest and back to dislodge it. This affects the breathing and, because a certain amount of this mucus is swallowed, the stomach also. His sister died of the disease when she was only young. Their life expectancy usually is not much more than early twenties and yet Bob didn’t die until he was 43.

The book (I bet you never thought that I’d get round to it) is a collection of interviews with Bob, and later a chapter with Sheree Rose, by Andrea Juno and V. Vale. Sheree was his long-term partner, photographer and Mistress over many years. Bob recollects how his masochism started, initially to alleviate the pain of Cystic Fibrosis, later pushing the boundaries of sexual experimentation through piercing, whipping, bondage, endurance trials and the non-standard use of clothes pegs. Nothing really shocked me but it was interesting to see Bob progress, from doing these things in the privacy of his own home, to ‘performing’ in front of an audience, to having an exhibition in a museum with Bob as the centre piece hung-up naked by his ankles over a hospital bed. The book contains numerous black and white photographs, which, because of the nature of the book and its subject, are not for the faint of heart. Any male readers won’t be able to use a claw-hammer again without thinking about Bob and the time he missed the nail.

  • Reviewed on Sunday, 26 February 2006
  • Tagged with book review