At 10:30 AM on Thursday, I was awakened by an ominous text message. “The Black Lips are ready to do the tattoo.” I’d been out boozing most of the week and could barely roust myself to leave the safety of my hotel room, and yet we had all been struggling to make this fucking thing work.
When we arrived in Austin for SXSW, our mission was to find an artist willing to surrender their tattoo gun to the Black Lips so that they could brand my friend, Los Angeles comedian, Budd Diaz. Budd has a plethora of terrible tattoos, including one uniquely bizarre issue on his arm. In a fit of youthful enthusiasm, Budd got “Kelsey,” his fiancé’s name, on his wrist. After the relationship went south, rather than erasing it or covering it up, he added “Grammer” at the bottom and his arm became a shrine to the man who made “Frasier Crane” a household name.
None of us felt sorry for Budd once we heard that story. The Black Lips couldn’t do anything worse than what Budd had already done to himself. The only problem was, tattoo artists are not keen to allow amateurs to use their equipment. A hot ink gun that pierces human flesh isn’t exactly a toy. In terms of secrecy and paranoia, tattoo artists are on par with Freemasons, Catholics, Scientologists, and Republicans.
Call after call was rejected, from not only a professional respect angle, but also due to concerns over health and safety. No one wanted to be the tattoo artist who gave the Black Lips AIDS. One of the Black Lips, sure. All of them? That’s a burden no one wants to carry.
We even tried a pedicab operator who purported to be a professional tattooist. If you have to carry a second job ferrying drunks around Downtown Austin, you probably aren’t in much demand as a tattoo artist, but even he balked at the notion of giving a band the machinery necessary to maim another human being for the rest of his life.
The night before we were supposed to meet the Black Lips, I had made a conscious effort to give up hope. It wasn’t going to happen, and it seemed like the rest of my trip to Austin was better spent taking shots of whiskey and pissing on various Texas landmarks. I cried a lot, punched various walls and cursed the Lord for ruining the grand ambition for my trip.
When the text came in that we had found a tattoo gun, I was hardly prepared. I wanted to vomit up my own spleen, and on top of that, I had to watch my friend get carved up by Black Lips bassist Jared Swilley. Despite my trepidation, Jared could not have been a nicer guy and really took his time to come up with a crackerjack tattoo design. After discarding various dragons, tigers, sailboats, fighter planes and bare-chested women, they settled on a classy design that married both the Lips’ DIY aesthetic and Budd’s “party first” mentality.
We were all terrified that if we let Budd know what the ink would be, that he’d have second thoughts, so we blindfolded him prior to getting started. We didn’t have a proper blindfold handy, so a shirt wrapped over his head with gaffer’s tape had to suffice.
Surprisingly, there was very little squirming, not a whole lot of crying (other than from me) and nothing got infected. Jared was instructed to use gloves, which would protect him from any stray bodily fluids, be they tears, blood or whatnot.
Budd had to wear gloves too, which didn’t quite make sense to me. If it’s your blood, what does it matter if it gets on you? I suppose Jared could have cut himself on the gun, but he’d either have to be high on something or purposefully trying to wound his body. I spent the majority of the day pondering the extraneous pair of gloves; long after anyone still gave a shit.
We escaped without any significant injury and the tattoo came out “perfectly”:
For those that are unclear as to exactly what that is, it is a snake with a marijuana cigarette for a tail, wrapped around a dagger with a peace sign for a hilt. There’s a B and an L on either side, to signify the Black Lips as the creators of said design. In the grand scheme of things, it could have been much worse. It could have been a series of large cocks, a swastika, Chris Dorner, the 1972 Pittsburgh Pirates or Lena Dunham’s ass cheeks.
Everyone in the lobby of the Omni Hotel in Austin loved it. The rest of the Black Lips loved it. I loved it. Budd seemed genuinely pleased. In exchange, we were only out $150, an hour of our time and a modicum of ink. Budd got a tattoo with real significance, at last and Jared Swilley got to carve a snake with a doobie for a tail onto an oddly misshapen man’s arm.
God fucking bless America.