Tattoos show where you’ve been. They tell the story of who you were, what was on your mind and what mattered most. In my early life, tattoos were an act of defiance. If I had known that tattoos were going to become so popular I never would have gotten any. It’s hard to explain to the hipster with the toaster tattoo or the guy at the gym with the quarter-sleeve of koi fish that we are not alike. We don’t relate and we are not friends. These are not art; they are warning signs. They are dedications.
I gave myself my first tattoo at 16 and had the bulk of them by 18. By the time I was of legal age I already had a full sleeve, both calves, my chest, stomach and the banner on my back. I thought my tattoos made me look old and prison tough. But as an adult, I realize that kids with tattoos just look like kids with tattoos.
I am not the man I once was. Because I am so different as an adult, I often forget that I even have tattoos and what they were originally about. Needless to say a lot changes between 15 and 35. But tattoos remain as reminders of your roots. I have long forgotten how important they were to me – that they portray ideas that in my youth I would have fought and died for. They vary in quality, but they are consistent in attitude. I walk down memory lane every time I look at my own body.
Right calf: an angel pouring libations on a tombstone. The tombstone reads “Chris Gatti: 1980-1997” I met Chris Gatti in the 5th grade. He was killed in a car accident on Valentine’s Day in ’97. He was one of my best friends. The tattoos on both of my calves were placed to show above the top of my 14-eye, steel-toed Grinder boots.
Left calf: a tortured soul. This image was take from the cover of the Neurosis album “Pain of Mind.” It is only one portion of the image. My
original intent was to get the entire work as a back piece, but I was too impatient. This piece expresses the torment of personal hell. My personal hell was my anger. I was controlled by it and it consumed me. I am reminded of Dante’s trip into hell, where he encounters the souls of those devoured by anger:
“Thou now beholdest the souls of those whom anger overcame… Fixed in the mire they say, ‘We sullen were in the sweet air, which by the sun is gladdened, bearing within ourselves the sluggish reek; Now we are sullen in this sable mire.’ This hymn do they keep gurgling in their throats, For with unbroken words they cannot say it.”
Left shin: a demon head with “Doom” inscribed on its forehead. The idea came from the Obituary album “Back from the Dead.” The “Doom” inscription was added to enhance the portrayal of despair. Incidentally, this tattoo was damaged in a fall and a large scar now runs through it. I feel it still looks about the same. Perhaps the scar improves it a little.
Chest and stomach:
Inscribed “Pain of Mind, Sickness of Heart.” This phrase comes from the Neurosis song of the same title:
Your mind is restricted from years of obedience.
Thoughts are never your own. Your mind is a trap loaded with crap.
Who decided your life? Not you, never had it in you to look inside and be you.
Living life in a safety belt, nothing inside anymore,
never crossed the line. Just content to whine,
always pay the fine, mind by their design.
It’s time to purge your brain, no question at all.
They’ve constructed the wall, but you had the bricks.
Ever increasing pressure fix,
Pain of mind, sickness of heart.
This song stuck with me more than others, and it’s still relevant today. It served as a commitment to act out against forces I felt were oppressive and a dedication to trust my own thoughts and feelings. I still draw inspiration from this message, although I draw more power from the love of individuality than from the hatred of oppression.
Left wrist: Inscribed: “No Rest, No Hope, No Peace.” More bleak teenage angst.
Left forearm: a punk riot. I was committed to violent resistance. In the background is a protester holding a “The End is Near” sign. Above the riot is a hand pulling the strings of the rioters.
Left upper arm: a nuclear monster. To the left a burning city draped in an American flag. Inscribed above the city is the phrase “World Demise,” another nod to Obituary. Overlooking the scene are two angles on either side of the monster.
Right forearm: at the wrist, skulls and flames – pretty standard stuff. Above, a man with a gun in his mouth. This tattoo embodied my self destructive tendencies. The tattoo was modeled after a photo from the inside of G.G. Allin’s “War in My Head” album. On the back of the arm is Jesus with “Salvation” inscribed beneath him, in recognition of my Christian upbringing. Between Jesus and GG is a radiant letter “I.” This idea grew from my interest in meditation and Eastern philosophies. The I thought precedes all other thoughts. Above GG are two angels pouring out bowls of God’s wrath as found in Revelations.
Right upper arm: On the back of the arm, Shiva the Destroyer, on the elbow the All Seeing Eye. Above them angles and a graveyard. Above that a deranged man chained in a padded room, a likeness of the Iron Maiden “Piece of Mind” cover. On the inside of the arm, an image of God destroying the Earth. My original intent was to inscribe the verse from Genesis 6:6: “The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart,” but as I got older I cared less to finish it.
On my back: a banner reading “Flight song of broken wings.” This is another Neurosis reference from the song “Eye.” Beneath is an Egyptian scarab. My original intent was to have it shaded into a skull like the moth on Silence of the Lambs, but priorities change.
Neck: a dragon modeled after the Sick of it All dragon. This was my first and only martial arts inspired tattoo. If I had it to do over I would get a leopard instead of a dragon. My only regret.
Right Knee: inscribed “RIP.” This was my first tattoo. I did it myself with a sewing needle and a bottle of black India ink. If I remember correctly, I did it while sitting on the john. It was a remembrance of Chris Gatti who had just passed away.
Left Knee: a little letter “R.” I started the “RIP” on the left side first but decided I wanted it bigger, so I started over on the right side. More proof I wasn’t living for tomorrow.
My friends and I went through a phase of tattooing each other whenever we were drunk, which was often. At the time I was doing the least drinking, so I did the most tattooing.
I tattooed an anarchy symbol on my early girlfriend’s ankle. It still looks great to this day.
I tattooed the word “hardcore” along the length of my friend’s middle finger. It faded significantly within a year and now says, hardco,” which we all think is hilarious.
On the arm of my best friend I tattoo a large -16- with a circle around it in honor of one of our favorite albums. He eventually got this tattoo covered with a professional tattoo of the world with a banner running around it that said, “Hate makes the pretty world go ’round.” He had to get this banner blacked out to join the Marines. I also tattooed the word “sick” across his knuckles. Likewise, he had to get this tattoo covered in order to join the marines. He covered the letters with card suits. The red diamond covers the letter “S,” which showed through, making it look like the Superman logo. We all think this is hilarious.
On his girlfriend’s toes I tattooed the worst moon and stars you’ve ever seen. It’s a crescent moon and two stars; they are barely recognizable. We all think this is hilarious.
On my roommate Kenny’s arm, I tattooed the name “G.G. Allin.” He was a big fan and wanted a tattoo. It looked good, but it also looked silly. He just had the name “GG Allin” tattooed across his arm. We thought it was hilarious.
Nothing makes you feel lighter than mocking permanence. What will we all think when we’re 80? Like some comedian said, no problem, no one with this many tattoos lives to be 80 anyway.