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NAILING THE SNAKEMAN

AN INTERVEIW WITH PETER WORTHINGTON

MUSCLES, VERSACE AND COLD-BLOODED VERTEBRATES HAVE MADE SNAKEMAN
A BIG HIT AT DIRTY DIVES AND FASHIONABLE EVENTS ALIKE. PETER WENT IN SEARCH OF
THE TRUTH BEHIND THE MAN BEHIND THE SNAKE.

 

A TRIP TO THE SNAKEMANS SALON I'd seen Snakeman around town quite a bit but I didn't realise his problem. Now, here he was sitting across from me at his beauty salon, telling me how Michael Hutchence's demise had relegated a recent Snakeman pictorial to the back pages of the Sun Herald. While this didn't compute as a major problem, I certainly got the early warning signs of a steely determination to be at the top of the heap. He has the physical ability to get there:1.6 metres, smooth muscular body, firm jaw, white-blonde hair, piercing blue eyes and as you'd expect, nifty nails. Being someone who involuntarily chews his nails until they bleed, I always look at other mens' hands to see how we measure up. I generally lose unless the guy is a mechanic in which case I win because chewed nails without grease beat chewed ones with grease.

Snakeman's nails looked especially good holding a 10 foot python around his neck in the picture on the wall behind him. It was this picture which originally lured me into the salon because even though I'd walked by it -- most days on my way to the supermarket, I'd never spotted the snake pictures because the salon has so much else going on. With its shiny 60's lights, zebra skin couches, mirrors that repeat and repeat, the curious sexy smell of varnish, smiling faces with eyes intent on that perfect porcelain finish, and a long tunnel of cubicles giving the premises an X-rated feel. And Snakeman himself holding court in front of his nail shrine. If ever there is something to get a nailbiter nervous it's this; layer upon layer of trophies tracing his career from the 1988 Inaugural Australian Fingernail Competition at Sydney's Hilton where he swanned off with Australia's Most Creative Nail Technician award, showcasing his work by wearing a mesh g-string and wheeling in his model dressed as a mermaid on a baggage trolley. To me this seemed like an auspicious start but apparently it wasn't that way at all. "People started bitching about me because I was a man and up till then it was a female dominated industry. After I won that award they accused me of only doing nail art so I entered a big Queensland competition and came first in 5 technical sections. After that, I'd proved myself as an innovator. Anyone else who came along would only be copying me." Snakeman's quest for the real he was well underway.

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED  Snakeman wasn't born with a silver nail in his mouth. He started as a chef but needing public approval set his sights on a career where applause would constitute a major part of the reward. Saving a girlfriend in Newcastle from being ostracised for having bad nails, he bought a pack of fake ones and spent the next five hours putting them on her. Four years later, he was The Nailman, traveling the country, running advanced nail workshops. The industry had a bad name because people would say stuff like, 'Oh I had those awful fake nails and when my real nails grew I just bit them off!' At that time there was just no client education and they didn't know nails have to be professionally applied and professionally removed. if you're serious about your nails, you have to have them done every 2 or three weeks. It's a commitment." As I watched, I could see a manifestation of true evangelical zeal and was reminded of similar work from a heavily mascara ed Tammie Faye Baker warbling for Ruby Wax in a bathtub how "when life hands you a lemon, turn it into lemonade".

INTO THE SNAKEPIT  As it turned out, his snakes came from drag queens. "I was podium dancing and I kind of got over it and I was after something else to do and I had this friend Laura who had snakes, so I went to her place to look at them on a Wednesday and on Thursday, I was dancing with them at DCM. I got so much response that soon I couldn't use Laura's snakes and I had to get my own." With that he went out and bought two boa constrictors calling them Versace and Valentino but within weeks was charged with snake smuggling. Customs showed up at his salon and frog marched Snakeman around to his house where they took Versace and Valentino and 5 other snakes which were just hanging out and impounded them. For the next 18 months, Snakeman was snakeless until a bit of sleuthing revealed he could legally own 2 carpet pythons. Within weeks he was back in business performing at a gay bar one night, and before Princess Diana at a Victor Chang Memorial benefit the next. But something had started to eat away at him and it still is. "Usually when I'm doing a function I roam around with the snakes for 10 minutes or so and what happens is that one person asks me about them and then another and then another and it's always the same questions. And I go around again an hour later and it starts all over again except now, they're pissed and this time they want to touch me and the snakes. I'm trying to learn patience." It didn't take a quantum leap for me to see how a few drinks in the company of a semi nude spunk with 10 foot of pulsating snake might lead to delusions of intimacy but I don't think he saw it that way at all. "I'd rather perform in a nightclub because I can be sexual with my snakes and not be touched. Right now I'm doing a show where half the snake is between my legs while I'm deep throating its head. It's like watching someone suck himself off on stage. People expect it." Apparently they also expect him to be romantically involved with his snakes. "Channel Ten's Sex/Life interviewed me and they wanted to know whether I slept with them - sometimes people want to come around and have sex with me and my snakes." This seemed like a good time to ask him a few intimate questions about his vertebrates. I learned that they're not hot or cold but neutral taking on the temperature around them, that they only move when adjusting body temperature or hunting and that the ones he has now are not venomous but have razor sharp teeth. I didn't ask but just assumed that they're probably not all that interested in sex with humans. Venerated by his nail clients, lusted after by snakewatchers and adored by his loyal club fans, Snakeman should be happy. "People like what I do, I look good but in the end it goes against you. People put me up on a pedestal because I'm out there but when they talk to me they discover I'm just a regular guy and they're amazed. Like I said, I'm learning patience." So in the end, it might seem that Snakeman's success could well be on the verge of turning around and biting its very creator. I just hope Carl doesn't start biting his nails.

CAMPAIGN AUSTRALIA JAN 1998


Snakeman

First and foremost I should introduce my living accessories Samson and Delilah. Samson is the smaller of the 2, and my favorite. He is extremely tame and has been dancing with me for 3 years,Delilah has a very unpredictable nature and has been known to snap on occasions, however due to her size and fabulous stage presence, she has earned a soft spot in my heart.

both 1.jpg (34862 bytes) del01.jpg (32417 bytes)

Here are some pictures of Snakeman in action,
just click on the thumbnail image to see the bigger version.

 

Me and the kids in my dressing room at Waves Nightclub in Woolongong.

 

The opening of Millennium, a nightclub in Kings Cross.

 


The Official Pet Shop Boys Greeting Party (we missed em, that'll teach em for looking so plain).

 

A snap from a filmclip (Two Tribes), this was in TV Week

 


A picture at a 40th birthday party

Getting down at Byblos

The Latest picture of Snakeman 20/01/98, at Waves" Woolongong.

A magazine shoot for Australian Style

Still waiting for the pictures from Madonnas private party, as well as KD Langs party held in the pylon in the Sydney Harbor Bridge.