Tattoos (March 16th and St. Patrick’s Day 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I never wanted a tattoo. Not before they began to seem obligatory; not after “tattoo removal” became a thing. When I was young, they were still seen as a mark of likely dark experience, something I was fascinated with but a desire I didn’t necessarily want to advertise. Joni Mitchell sang it best, writing about (her) songs but nailing tats in an expert simile: “You know I’ve been to sea before.” Also, I was (and still am) so little inclined to aggressive engagement I didn’t think I could back up a tattoo. You know?

Later, in the midst of the tattoo boom–there was one of those, right?–two things stayed the ink. The first was (and is) my allergy to bandwagons. When everyone’s doing it, I tend to not wanna, even when the crowd is right, as they sometimes are. But, second and most important, though what tattoos represented seemed to have changed (heck, choirboys and cheerleaders were getting them–even teachers!), I could not imagine any word, phrase or image I’d want to be permanently marked with. I knew if I chose to take the plunge, I would suffer an unbearable dignity to have it removed, so I wouldn’t. I also knew that whatever spoke from my shoulder, or ankle, or forearm (my chest? hilarious!), it would have to really be purely me. And “I” is just not pure.

HOWEVER, one night speculating with my wife, I hit upon the answer. I wasn’t then nor am I now any closer to revealing how far out to sea I’ve been, but, were I forced, here’s what I’d do. First, I’d write these lyrics down on a piece of paper:

Last night as I lay dreaming

My way across the sea

James Mangan brought me comfort

With laudnum and poitin

He flew me back to Dublin

In 1819

To a public execution

Being held on Stephen’s Green

The young man on the platform

Held his head up and he did sing

Then he whispered hard into my ear

As he handed me this ring

“If you miss me on the harbour

For the boat, it leaves at three

Take this snake with eyes of garnet

My mother gave to me!

This snake cannot be captured

This snake cannot be tied

This snake cannot be tortured, or

Hung or crucified

It came down through the ages

It belongs to you and me

So pass it on and pass it on

‘Till all mankind is free

If you miss me on the harbour

For the boat, it leaves at three

Take this snake with eyes of garnet

My mother gave to me.

Next, I’d shop around for the smartest best tattoo artist in town, slap down those lines on her counter, talk her through my justifications and specifications, and say, simply: “I want an image of that specific snake right on the ol’ atrophied bicep here. Feel free to succinctly augment it with a symbolic image or two. Take a couple of weeks to let it marinate, then call me when you’re ready to operate.”

I’m not Irish. But that image, representing those words (not that the uninformed would instantly associate them with the image–Nicole’s the only one I’d need to know), reminding me of that voice and that impulse–well, I’d be happy to see it distorted across saggy skin, if I am lucky enough to be old enough to have it. I think at this point I could even back that tattoo up.

Oh, by the way, Happy St. Patrick’s Day! If you don’t know Mr. Shane MacGowan’s classic tune that’ll never die, raise a glass, and click:

Short-shrift Division (what I actually listened to yesterday, since Shane’s for today):

Some of that new funk!

Mysterious (Young Fathers’ brand-new Cocoa Sugar):

Not-So-Mysterious (Chopteeth Afro-Funk Big Band’s Bone Reader–I’m a sucker for anything with a Basquiat “tattoo”):

Narrative-Free Takes (March 5, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Sara and Maybelle Carter: An Historic Meeting–Something about the Carters’ stoicism hypnotizes me, as does their hard-earned authority. You do wonder if the hand that rocks the cradle can change the world (again), and do they have some kind words for immigrants (in a song that’s a sister to their stunning “Hello Stranger”). And: Maybelle’s autoharp is up in the mix, a wise choice.

Wu-Tang: The Saga Continues–And I almost wish it didn’t. While for a new group this might raise eyebrows, the multiple absences lead me to a regrettable conclusion: those who never thought the group had soul in the first place will have to acknowledge its presence then as a result of its absence here. If that makes sense.

Bettye LaVette: “Things Have Changed”–After nailing my ass to the wall with I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise and a Memphis show I saw on the subsequent tour, LaVette’s raw magic has quit working on me. She often sounds so in love with the effects she used in just the right places on that album that she’s just used them as much as possible since, though if the material is just right, it just doesn’t matter. This lead cut from her coming album, a set of Dylan covers? I love the song so much I can’t really tell, but the world-weary fabric-rip in her exhortations suits the lyric.

Young Fathers: “In My View”–“In my view / Nothing’s ever given away / I believe / To advance, then you must pay / … When I leave / You’ll be dancing on my grave / … I wanna be king / Until I am.” Pretty intriguing, until the video (above) ruins it, if you’re watching it. Or does it? The thing (that last line, the video’s close) takes a weird, telling turn.

Janelle Monàe: “Make Me Feel”–I’m right about next to nothing without hindsight, but I once told a classroom of students (six years ago) that Janelle was going to be a big star, and even if that didn’t happen, she’d never be boring. I seldom need confirmation–but I’ll take it!