Since moving to the Land of Enchantment, I’ve noticed something. So far as I can tell, there are more tattoo parlors then there are black people. This speaks more to the fact that there are far too noticeable amount of tattoo shops, while the African-American population of this country seems far under-represented. This also means that Albuquerque is probably per capita one of the most tattooed cities and the most poorly tattooed cities in this country.
It will come as a surprise, especially after this little pictorial that I have planned that I adamantly am against people getting tattoos. Some people will tell you that tattoos are deeply personal and have a lot of meaning to the people who get them. And this can be true. For me, this is true as well. But that’s not why I got my first tattoo and it’s not why I have committed my body to the art form.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to get tattoos. Much to my wonderful, loving mother’s chagrin, I was drawing on my skin since I can remember. I think I wanted tattoos before I even really saw tattoos on other people. They weren’t too prevalent in my life until I discovered heavy metal at age nine. This of course only heightened my desire. Oddly enough, it took me until the age of 20 to get a tattoo, an om kanji on my right arm. The reason I got that was because I wanted a tattoo and was studying Tibetan Buddhism at the time. I still like the tattoo, wish I had gotten it bigger and placed better, but it’s sat on my arm nicely in an unfinished ring next to a DC Flag and a rat bones scrawl, co-opted from the Dog Town boys. That particular one was done because I used to draw that on my arm all the time as a kid. So it just made sense.
The reason I don’t think people should get tattoos is because they aren’t something to be taken seriously or lightly. I have a lot of tattoos that are silly and stupid. They are great tattoos and I don’t regret them. I don’t regret them though precisely because any normal, thinking person who did this to themselves would and should. But I don’t feel like Tattoos are something that can just be applied without consideration to who you are as a person. If I see one more tramp stamp, butterfly, kanji, barbwire or cartoon figure on an otherwise bare and standard looking body, I might just start the final war and wipe out this failed experiment we call humanity.
So in honor of that, I thought I would give you a tour of my body. The art here varies from really good, to really bland and terrible. Some of these tattoos are deeply personal, others were and their meaning has faded. Some of them I just think are really cool or are really funny and ill-advised. Enjoy, and let this serve as a warning should you be considering a Care Bear or a dolphin or something as equally stupid. Your tattoo won’t mean shit to you in a few years and you’ll either forget about it or regret it. Also, it will be trendy for like five minutes (See: Massive Unicorn on left Pectoral) and then it will just be laughable, another branding of the herd.
These beauties are the beginning of a very large, very funny and very expensive concept. See, one of my favorite bands right now is this band called Too Many Daves. They have this song called “The Night The Light Went Out in Chattanooga”. It’s 39 seconds long. Let me repeat that, it’s 39 seconds long. It’s a blink in the eye of even their short attention spanning songs. The majority of the lyrics for this song are “You can’t slay the dragon, one more fucking dragon, until you ride the unicorn. Unicorn, unicorn.” Now, I could sit and say how this is like a metaphor for conquering your fears by capturing your dreams and shit like that, but the fact is, I just think it’s really funny. To the tune that I have mutilated a significant part of my body. This is not what I originally imagined but when Leo Gonzales at Stay Gold here in Albuquerque drew up this Dungeons and Dragons art work, I got psyched. $600 in and I can’t wait to finnish it. Unfortunately, I really need a job and can’t justify spending any more cash on this until I have a steady supply of cash. Leo and his shop partner Marie Sena do some amazing work. If you’re gonna get your body modified for life, at least be smart and have them, or people like them, do the work. They are passionate not just about tattooing, but art and are more well-rounded then most tattoo shops and artists I’ve come across.
Fredericksburg, Virginia has been really good to me in terms of body art. There is an amazing shop down in that not so small anymore town that does, as far as I am concerned the best tattoo work on the entire east coast. After all the years of punk rock shows in DC, Philly and even NY every now and then, I have never seen work as good as the work that comes out of Jack Browns Tattoo Revival. Honestly, if I had been going to shops of this quality the entire time I was getting work done, my tattoos would look a lot cooler. But I didn’t start going there until relatively recently. I’ve had four different pieces done there, all of which are amazing. I first saw Kenny Brown, part owner of the shop to do some cover up work. My initial design idea was simple and stupid. I just got really tired of people grabbing my wrists to read the non-sensical words I had added to my wrists. I liked those tattoos a lot by the way, but if I had known a lifetime of assholes would be grabbing my arms without asking, I would have thought differently about their placement. Anyway, Kenny knocked out these two awesome lotus flowers on my wrists. These were easily done over five years ago by now and the color is still as amazing and vibrant as when I first got them (this photo sucks, taking photos of your own tattoos is really hard). At that point, I was sold that this was the place I would always go so long as I lived in the DC area. Sure it was an hour drive, but the pricing was better than any shop in DC or the surrounding area, the guys were way more approachable, cared more about the work and it made the drive totally secondary.
After Kenny did my wrists, I made another appointment to get some more work done. I decided to get an interpretation of some artwork from Thurston Moore’s Psychic Hearts, which I own an original LP pressing of. The art work was originally by Rita Ackermann, but I wasn’t too keen on the coloring choices. So Kenny and I reworked them. It was the first time I had blood lines etched in my skin. This tattoo has absolutely no deeper meaning to me whatsoever. I just thought that the art work was really cool. It remains one of my favorite tattoos that I ever got in my life and was the first time I really saw the beauty that modern tattooing was capable of.
A few years later I was finally financially in a position where I could get more ink done. I decided, I was gonna go for it, the ultimate tattoo idea I had ever thought of. Penguins. Now, here’s the thing. I don’t really have any grand relation with penguins. I don’t like the movie Happy Feet or March of the Penguins. I don’t really know a lot about penguins other than I think they are kinda cute. But I think lots of animal creatures that we share this planet with are cute.
The best thing about these tattoos is they are total soccer mom magnets. I get more ladies complementing them and commenting on them in check out lines then I ever thought possible. If yr gonna get visible tattoos on your arms, make sure you get cute stuff that people can’t argue about. That way if you are discriminated against (and I have been discriminated against by a boss who HAD A FUCKING MARINES TATTOO) then it’s only because the person is a total asshole. I mean seriously, how can you not love these guys. I’m thinking about getting round two done on my other arm if I can come up with some more actions for penguins to do.
The last tattoo I got at Jack Brown’s before I left the east coast was actually a pretty personal one. Since I didn’t have time to schedule, and frankly trusted the work of all the artists in the shop, I drove down super early on a Saturday, the only day that one dude, Kelly Drake, does walk-ins at Jack Browns. Kelly, I have to say, is the man. I mean, tattoo artists are nice, if you are nice to them and treat them like the people they are in a service industry. Tattoo artists have to put up with a lot of dumb shit. Like idiots brining kids into the shop. Idiots asking lots of dumb questions about price and size. Idiots questioning artists about what can and can’t be done well. And then of course they have to take their incredible talents of drawing INTO HUMAN skin so you can have a fucking My Little Pony or a Redskins Logo etched in you for life. I have a rule that if I want to get something done, I want the artist to have input and control. Even if it’s based on something I like, I want it to be good art, like the Rita Ackerman piece. Unfortunately for Kelly, I had a specific, basic tattoo I needed this time. This is my tree of life tattoo, done graciously by Kelly Drake for a ridiculously small amount of money. Thanks Kelly. It means a lot to me, this one.
So all the work up to this point is really quality work. But I have some half-assed, no thought, I walked in and ask for this shit tattoos as well. Now, some of the artists are really good artists. As is the case with the birds on my arms. The problem with this is, ten plus years and I can’t decide what color to get these damn birds. I really want them colored, but I have no concept of what color I want them. The other problem is, the original design had a banner under it but I had that taken out. However, I failed to notice the remnants of the banner ends on the inside of the tattoo. A small, but permanent mistake. I want to get the whole upper arm colored in and I hope those lines can be hidden with some wizard dust trickery, but until those check come in for being an awesome dude. I just don’t see that happening.
On the inside of my left leg I have a version of a Sailor Jerry tattoo. That is the LTD name for any tattoos that resemble the old school navy tattoos. I replaced the blonde bombshell for a Bettie Page looking lady because I was really into (and still love and admire) Bettie Page at the time. This tattoo in concept is pretty good, but I failed to realize that the artist couldn’t really draw faces that well that small. I wish I had paid more attention to that because I probably would have reconsidered it. Again, it’s a small, but permanent detail. Also, over the years the blue has kind of gotten all mushed together and some of the detail has been lost. Not sure if this is just do to age and older ink types, because I liked this tattoo a lot more when I first got it, now it just doesn’t present well. Hence why I am not naming the artist or the shop, because I still think that guy does good work, and have seen tattoos he’s done long after mine that have held up over time.
Finally, for you, my right leg. My right leg is my cosmic leg that basically just doesn’t look good anymore. Never get words tattooed really small on your body. The tattoo artists who did that part of the tattoo should have talked me out of it and redesigned it and worked with me. But he was more interested in my $50 than actually working on something cool, doing some design, taking his time and getting more money. The other stars, are basic. One is in memory of a friend of mine that passed away. She wasn’t a close friend, but it felt appropriate at the time. At this point, my idea with this leg is to get a full sleeve on it and have some of the goopey words covered up and re-do the whole cosmic thing and just get better stuff done. It’s probably another thousand dollars I am looking at, and again, if from the start I had a better grasp of what could be done, I might have already been there. I still like the concept, but the execution came off poorly. Partly it’s my fault, but it’s also the artists not wanting to take time to do exceptional work. Had I never gotten the great work at Jack Brown’s or Stay Gold, I would have never really known that this work was inferior. Further, they are simple and there is no joy for the artists in this kind of work. It’s not that the work itself is bad, again, it’s just thoughtless. Luckily there are no holes and they healed well, but in relation to the work where both the customer (me) and the artist were dedicated, it just doesn’t stand up.
So yes, here we have the pros and cons of actual tattoo work. Maybe I was just dumb, impatient and too trusting when I was young. Sure that’s part of it, but I wouldn’t trade these, or the other experiences I have had with tattoos. I went to one tattoo artists several times just because we had good conversations. I mean if I’m going to pay to talk to someone about shit, I might as well get something cool out of it. But in all seriousness, unless yr willing to donate your money, comfort, life and the vision of your body to another person, who also has economic interests in mind, and you are willing to live a life of visible idiocy, don’t get tattoos.