In 1977, on her deathbed (approximately), an ancient great-aunt gave me a piece of life – advice:
“Stay away from men with tattoos. It means that they’ve been in prison, or they’re sailors. Both are no good.”
I assured her that I would. I didn’t think it was a big problem, since I’d never even met anyone with a tattoo. I think I had a friend whose grandad had a mermaid on his arm, which probably made him a sailor and not an ex-con.
But then I went to college and met my first proper proper punk – a West Runton Pavilion, Vivienne Westwood, pierced and tattooed punk. He told me that he’d done the tattoo himself; I think there was an upside down cross and a band name. He’d used a safety pin (naturally) to scratch the words and then inked it in. As someone who like to call herself a punk, I realised that I was not anywhere near this league, and felt sick at the thought of it. I think he did another tattoo during freshers week. I was thrillingly impressed but also horrified.
Roll on 40 years and attitudes have changed. Those growing up now may think that there’s always been a choice of 3 or more local tattoo parlours, or that a tattoo is a fine way to express yourself or celebrate something. But in the late ’70s women and girls most certainly did not get a tattoo – unless you were in a circus, maybe? The lack of tattoo parlours outside of port cities means that a lot of punk band tattoos you see are relatively recent. I’m not sure whether many of the original punk girls have tattoos – it’s not apparent in photos online. But on trains, buses and at concerts, it’s certainly difficult not to rub tattooed arms with people on a daily basis – so sorry, Great Aunt!
So, to finish with a totally tenuous link, here’s Tattooed Love Boys by The Pretenders!
1 thought on “Punk Tattoos”
Thanks so much for that clip. I have not seen that [with the old gentleman intro] since 1979! Boy did it stick with me. As far as tattoos, I’m right there with your ancient great aunt! I cannot imagine how self-defacement has become so widespread in these, the end times. Growing up the only people I ever saw with tattoos were my ne’er-do-well cousins and uncles. Lots of prison time, there! Of course in Asheville, North Carolina where I live, my wife and I are among the handful of people who live here under 70 without full sleeves.