So on this show is one character who’s supposed to be really rock and roll. She’s bisexual (because you know, all rock chicks are) and she has one pretty little tattoo of a butterfly on her arm. All rock chicks on TV have one small but visible tattoo.
And then yesterday I was in the gym, surly as always when exercising, and near me is a little girl bossing her dorky boyfriend around the weights. I catch her looking intently at my arm, but I ignore it (being surly and all), then two minutes later I glance over and see that she’s tied her shirt up in the back, revealing an obviously new lower back tattoo of yes, butterflies. I actually like butterflies, but there is no such thing as coincidence.
It’s my theory that the lower back tattoo has become the polyester of tattoos through much overuse and abuse. I also feel that the eyebrow ring is the polyester of piercings. It just dominates the whole face and looks like the person wanted to have something they could take out easily when they go home for the holidays. And I won’t even get started on the belly button ring except to say that if you have one you’d might as well just get some fake boobs and start stripping this very second.
Anyway, I thought it was very cute and flattering that she wanted everyone in the gym to know that she’s a badass, too. I felt like an old crabby lion next to a puffed up kitten. And it got me thinking about tattoos and what they mean now, which is pretty much nothing.
When I got my first tattoo, I only knew one tattooed girl. She had huge, gorgeous red flowers over her shoulder and down her back. It’s still the most beautiful tattoo I’ve ever seen. But we hated each other and never discussed it. Now she works as a personal assistant to someone famous in LA and we email regularly, time healing wounds and all. She just sent me a great recipe for pumpkin bread pudding with caramel sauce.
ANYWAY, at the time I wanted a very tough guy type of tattoo and got a traditional panther on my arm chosen from the flash on the wall. It could have been worse, the guy I went with got a skull with a top hat and a cigarette (rock and roll!). And another friend of mine was a real arrogant ass to the tattoo artist and he ended up with the Zeppelin Icharus logo with six fingers on each hand. I think that’s my favorite tattoo ever.
Then there was a girl I met once during Guns n’ Roses heyday who had gotten a tattoo of Axl on her arm. She’d used a photo where he hadn’t shaved and so it looked like Axl had a pencil mustache a la John Waters. Without a doubt one of the most ill-conceived I’ve seen.
As for Axl himself, I met him at the Pyramid right before G n’ R played their first NY show at the Ritz. He was sitting at the bar next to me and when I looked at his tattoo and he looked at me we both started laughing because it looked so much like me. He said it was his ex-girlfriend. But I digress, as usual.
Then we go on tour with Motorhead and I am in Amsterdam, already addled from a couple of months of steady European beer consumption (weight gain, anyone?) and a day of Dutch hash, and Donna (Honey 1 Percenter) and I decide we need tattoos from the famous Hanky Panky studios to commemorate the tour and our very wasted state of mind. I choose an American Indian type band to go under the panther, and the lumbering oaf that works on me digs so hard that it causes major scarring. Years later someone tells me that the band represents a bird with a broken wing and it’s bad luck. Um, oops.
So now it’s 2005 and I’ve got a bunch more tattoos, each with a story. I’m fairly happy with everything since Mike Ledger was kind enough to spend 8 hours consolidating what had become an ungainly mishmash of separates. The only downside is that one tattoo I have caused a person I care about some pain, which was a definite sorrow. On the flipside it was commemorated in a song and truthfully the person did deserve a little punishment. But that’s all enquiring minds are gonna get out of me on that one.
And my point, you ask? Well, none really, I’m rambling now (now??). But I have been thinking about tattoos and how much they meant to me years ago. It did mean a lot at one point. I chose to get tattooed to declare myself as part of an outsider tribe, one of the people that took the subculture of NYC and rock and roll so seriously that they were willing to ruin all chances of a day job or a nice, straight husband.
Now the point is completely moot because everyone and their mother is tattooed, and sometimes I think it’s cooler not to have any. But then I’ll sit down with one of my close friends, like the heavily tattooed and fiercely ruling Kim Montenegro (“Monty” on my left arm both for her and my extraordinary cat Monty Lemieux) and look at all her ink and her crazy face with her nose and her lip pierced and I’ll remember who I am and why I started the mess in the first place.
It doesn’t matter so much that it’s outwardly meaningless, because we know when we look at each other that it’s an important part of who we are, and it binds us and our friends together. It’s our tribal connection, even if now we are just a tribe of bitchy old rock and roll broads. It has been and still is a wild ride and I wouldn’t change it for all the clean skin in the world. There was a cost and a reward for choosing to live a little bit outside which doesn’t exist anymore. And no puffed up kitten with a butterfly will ever get close to that.
Joey was the first rock star I met when I moved to NY from the sticks of Michigan. He was leaning up against the bar at Danceteria not really talking to anyone. It was the same night Hanoi Rocks played, and I couldn’t believe one of my rock heroes could be found just loitering around the bar. I went up and said, “Hi, I’m Raffaele.” He said “I’m Joey,” and shook my hand. A couple of hours later I picked up Blixa Bargeld for about two minutes, until he tried to dangle me off of the balcony of the Limelight (the fact that he had bits of his wife’s hair stapled to his leather vest should have been a tip-off).
A few years down the road Joey gave my band the Cycle Sluts an opening slot for The Ramones at the Ritz. It was our second gig ever and it put us on the map. He was always such a champion for new bands, he just really loved rock and roll. During that period we were constantly yanking on him and screaming drunkenly, in unison, into his face. We had this drunken, bastardized ballet move we made everyone do with us and Joey didn’t have the greatest balance so he would just lift his foot off the floor a few inches to shut us up.
The Sluts hosted many after-hours parties at “Slutquarters” on 4th and B that featured him as a regular. We all did a ton of coke in those days and one night he had some very friendly South American dealers with him that had mounds of the stuff. One kept waving the loaded mirror in my face and saying, “For you, for you!” Joey was always quiet and we were always really, really loud. I think he liked the noise. Later that night (morning) he fell asleep in a chair and we just continued to party around him.
One night at the Lismar Lounge, where we all worked and hung out, a few members of a certain bike club who also hung out there decided they had a problem with Joey. I don’t remember why, but it was a dangerous situation. There were a few truly terrifying minutes when they locked him and someone else (Daniel Rey, maybe?) into the deli next door. One of the Lismar bartenders, who somehow was seeing both one of the bike club members and Joey at the same time, ran out and threw herself at the door and begged them not to hurt him. It was one of those scenes that make you feel so scared you get nauseous inside, but somehow it ended up all right. I think Joey was so gentle that they just decided not to bother.
Joey wearing only his leather jacket and ripped jeans in the freezing cold at the Pet Sematary video shoot.
Joey on the roof of Coney Island High for a barbeque, eating a hot dog and smiling.
The sound of his voice, saying “Hey Raff…”
Going to the cloisters to film a video for Joey’s protégées, The Independents. I was dressed as a vampire queen and I walked slowly, trying to look very serious without cracking up, down cement stairs in a cape towards Joey, who was standing a few feet behind the camera. He said, “That was great, Raff.” Later in the car he put some money in my hand, which I hadn’t asked for or expected.
Being on the train w/my ex Jesse after we got the news Joey was dead, just staring out the window and feeling sad.
I wasn’t one of his closest friends, but I like to think that he counted me as more than an acquaintance. I know I’ll never walk past the corner of 9th Street and 3rd Avenue without thinking of him with affection. He was a true rock star and a truly lovely person, and I’m looking forward to seeing him on the other side.