I’ve been trying to think about when I first started wanting tattoos. I knew about tattoos when I was little (Popeye, duh), but I don’t think I seriously considered what it would be like to have a tattoo until I knew someone who got one.
I’m not sure, but I think the first person who I knew who got a tattoo was a guy named Mike Fitzgerald. This was probably around 1990 or so (I would have been about 16). It was of a crescent man-in-the-moon face in a circle with squiggly black sun rays radiating from it (or did the circle and rays come later?). I remember talking to him about the pain, how the guy messed it up but was going to fix it later, how much it cost, etc. In retrospect, it sounds like he had a pretty typical first tattoo experience. I was fascinated by Mike’s tattoo, and really wanted one, too, but at the time I couldn’t imagine spending $50 or whatever on ANYTHING, let alone something that I was worried I would regret for the rest of my life.
Pretty soon I went to college and became thoroughly entrenched in the punk scene in St. Louis (and beyond), and it seemed like everyone was getting inked, whether it was at a “parlor”, at a party with a homemade “gun” made out of a Walkman motor, or scratched out in a dorm room with a needle dipped in ink from a Bic pen. Even in the middle of all of that, I still couldn’t decide on anything that would be worth committing to or spending money on. At least that’s what I told people; I think I was mostly just scared to do it.
Drawing fake tattoos, on the other hand, was much easier! They could be huge, scary, cool, and/or completely stupid, and even if you drew them with a Sharpie, they’d eventually be gone! You could have a new one every time you played a show!
I can think of half a dozen instances off the top of my head of my friends and I going out in public with crudely scrawled marker tattoos. Pictured here is me “singing” with my band at the time, The Meat Sisters, at a DIY punk show in Springfield, MO in some unused office space, in summer of 1993. The fake tattoo on my arm is a chunky circle-A anarchy symbol flanked by two skulls with mohawks, accompanied by the text “HARD CORE”. On my leg is the burning wheel logo of Krishnacore band Shelter, with the message “KRISHNA RULES”. Both were supposed to be ironic: the skulls, mohawks, anarchy symbols, etc., being total punk clichés, and “religious punk” being a bit of an oxymoron, at least as far as I was concerned.
I still think the “hard core” design, which I originally drew for the label of the B-side of the Meat Sisters 7″ EP “Undermining America’s Traditional Values” (Synergy Records), would make a kick-ass tattoo… But I’m still not hard core enough to get it.