Thom Piston from Berlin


I can say all my life experiences have made me who I am now. And contrary to my youthly assumption not to trust anybody above 30, life is much more pleasant than I thought it would be now that I am above 30. My teenage life began in the late 70s of the last century. As a cross between a hippy and something undefinable, I remember there were only a few of us with long hair. We used to carve anti-nuclear signs with the help of a jigsaw. We rejected fashion and wore work clothes with our long hair. Punk rock entered my life in 1980 and has shaped it until today. Punk rock in the GDR had nothing, nothing to do with the Punk Rock that was happening in West Germany or probably even in Britain. In this case, punk-rock meant being in a city of millions – like Leipzig – and being only one of six and being attacked by everybody because of our looks. There was no pop and no disco. Nowhere were we welcome. We had trouble with the cops, and the trouble with the authorities was none stop. The anarchist’s attitude, which was, of course, completely noncompliant with the state, is still my attitude today. Besides, being punk meant you looked different. It was very political and, in retrospect, very erotic. We always had the most and the prettiest girls going. But I wouldn’t have admitted this 20 years ago. Well, Sarah, a guy got older… all of this had a price; in my case, I paid for it with my youth. Which I spent in prisons and work camps because the former GDR state didn’t think my behaviour was funny at all. So I ‘moved’ to West Berlin in the middle of the 80s. What I associated with punk didn’t exist over in West Berlin. Bought, not hand painted, t-shirts, expensive leather jackets, fancy boots, bullshit!
Hard-core came to me at the end of the 80s. Its reputation with punks was as being metal. It was started by young groups of people from all over the globe and made sense to me. It was political and against animal cruelty, and my step toward vegetarianism was accompanied by the soundtrack of bands like Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, Nausea, ABC Diabolo etc. But Vegetarianism was frowned upon, and accompanying the music was always the politics and the music was deemed unlistenable at the time. But hunting posts in the woods were being torn down, and animals were being freed. The first organic markets emerged…
A few guys and I opened a record shop that only sold Hard-core and punk. I worked for many years at CorTex, the first major German Hard-core shop. It did well and by becoming a commercial success, ‘Die revolution frist wohl immer ihre KINDER’ (the revolution eats its own children). I became bored by youngsters in white sweatshirts who’d never done any drugs and didn’t even smoke trying to explain the world to me. So I left the scene and the business and started my own gallery in Kreuzberg – of course, Kreuzberg – at the end of the 90s. Did I have a clue about it? Of course not. A friend of mine gave me a crash course on the basics.
At this time, advertisements in Germany were somewhere between grey and black. My idea was to bring American poster artists to Germany, or rather to Europe. At the end of the 90s, my Flying Pistons Studio was the first pop-up art gallery in Europe. The art that I exhibited was loud, colourful and always limited edition hand-pulled screen prints.
Many thought that people in Germany would not understand the artwork because they have never heard of it. The first artist is Emek from San Francisco, and the exhibition blew up like a bomb. The gallery owners in the area stopped by and wished me luck and stamina because they said a gallery takes ten years of work before it is successful. Well, three months later, I hook up with a team from Firehouse (also from San Francisco), and they become the next exhibition. As far as I know, there were only four newspapers in Germany that didn’t write great reviews about it, including television and radio, from major news outlets like DIE WELT and Der Spiegel to Hustler and Rolling Stone.
Commissions soon followed from the likes of Rolling Stone, German Metal Hammer, Die Aerzte, Die Toten Hosen, Alice Cooper and Bad Religion, who all speak for themselves. A couple of years later, I closed down the gallery and celebrated the closing with an exhibition called Gang Bang. Six different artists from the USA were there, including David Perry – a Hot-rod photographer – and in collaboration with the Parkplatzraver (later to be known as Moto Raver magazine) we organised a huge party in Hamburg in an old factory with more than 350 posters. My opinion was that after that, it would be impossible to achieve anything better. So I ended the 3 years of exhibition madness that I had surrendered myself to. It had begun to bore me how artists had the ambition of wanting to become stars. I lost interest in dealing with Divas.
So, Too late to die young? I can answer this with a yes. What I have told you are merely key points in my life without any explanation. And that was by no means everything. Why am I writing this? In fact, I’ve been thinking, the last few years, how it all happened. No matter what, in retrospect, it all turned out positive. It shaped me and turned me into what I am and what I do today. All my life, I was fortunate to do or not do whatever I wanted with an immense amount of effort, of course. My brother enjoyed the same upbringing as me but leads a completely different life. I never had the intention to be different. I never wanted to be hip or whatever; I just wanted to do my own thing. That’s all.


Even back in the day, Flying Pistons Studios had been internet savvy, and I observed a new trend in the US. A Road Devil (Road Devils cc) in the United States launched a magazine named Hot-Rod Deluxe. The magazine featured only old cars, old, meaning ‘30s to ‘60s. The Cars usually didn’t have a paint job, but they did have good, fast engines. The owners of them came out of the punk and skater scene, just like me. On a whim, I decided to start a German Hot-rod online magazine. But I don’t read, am blessed with dyslexia, and I also didn’t know how to do it on the computer. Okay, I had designed a good number of CD covers and posters, but a magazine is quite a different deal. In Germany, in 2001, there was only one Hot-rod car show. In the whole of Europe, there is only one more meet, A-Bombers in Sweden – too far away for me. So I concentrate on what I know; Rat Fink and the only 2 flat painted Hot Rods roaming around Germany at this time. Right after issue number one is done, I wonder what to report on now? That was it in Germany, no scene, no other flat-coloured Hot Rods, no shows. The Subtitle of the magazine was Kustom Kulture, Hot Rods, Pin-up and Punk Rock. Punk Rock was the only thing that people were accustomed to. The rest is completely unknown. That was all about 13 years ago. I still do it. Always a bit different, always trying to outdo me.


Well, No gods, no glory-hunters, no liars!
Let’s say it like this; I let myself be influenced and impressed by many things. What drives me is that I think it’s wonderful when people do their thing 110 %, the same as me. That is why I have respect for Paul Watson (Sea Shepherd’s), the baker at the corner, who gets up every morning a 2 o’clock to bake a loaf of bread for me. Skaters like Caballero, visionaries like Steve Jobs, kustomizers like Gene Winfield or artists like Robert Williams and so on. Regardless of whether they are successful or not. The enthusiasm, stamina, passion, the skill is what fascinate me. Not just doing it, trying to do it perfectly. I think that’s ultimately what’s kept me in the Hot Rod and Kustom scene for so long. You meet these kinds of people all the time. In all the different regions and countries, no matter from what origin, poor or rich… they all try the same – to build their OWN Hot Rod and Kustom Car.
Whether I am a role model, I do not know. I know I am pugnacious. Loyalty, consistency, honesty, and having your own opinion are no longer fashionable and are no longer taught. Neither in kindergarten, nor university. All that counts is money and flexibility. I don’t quite like the time we are living in. What eases the pain is – whenever I need it – I can surround myself with my friends and brothers, the Road Devils Europe. Then I‘m home. This is my family (besides my birth family, which I also love very much). We are not always of the same opinion, but that’s what it’s about in the discussion. To evolve but also to be able to rely on each other. I know that this is wealth; to be blessed with friends is priceless. Not fucking money in any case.


I believe I drink and smoke too much and too often. At the moment, I don’t deal with it at all. There were a few periods in my life, and one of them – not planned, of course – kept me off the booze for 10 years. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind doing it again. These are superficial things. My English sucks terribly. Something I deeply regret. My justification for never being able to learn it at school is also pretty lame. I had enough time afterwards, but on the other hand, I was never really bored either…


Stupidity can make me mad. I do not want to waste my life with it, especially as a vegan. You get faced with so much ignorance over and over again. To the point where it just insults and bores me, and in the end – you just get up and leave. Partying has become difficult for me. I attended thousands of concerts. I have been to hundreds of Hot Rod meets worldwide. Just like I said earlier, for me, it’s now more important to spend some quality time with friends. To eat, to drink, to drive and to laugh.

The ‘Soundtrack of My Life’ doesn’t exist. Too different. Starting with Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Sex Pistols and all the great punk bands of the late 70s and 80s. HC like Black Flag, Minor Threat or System of a Down. Without a doubt, Black Flag are one of my ‘has-always-been-around’ bands. But this also applies to Neil Young.
The Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca hit the nail on the head when he said:
“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much”.

Thom Piston 2
Photo by Spooky Sally

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