A musical young friend of mine, who is honing his tuneful talent, showed me a design for the tattoo he intends to add to his own personal body for an extra boost up the ladder of fame.
While I have my doubts about permanent pictures painted on the walls of my house or on the skin of my body, a part of me understands the urge to adorn yourself in ways that attract attention. Decoration is often a part of the package in showboat jobs like writing, acting and music.
I remember a time when I mistakenly assumed that appearance looms large in the needs of a professional writer. I let my hair lengthen and made a few feeble attempts at growing a beard. Writers like Ernest Hemingway grew beards so I assumed I would need a beard if I wanted to become a writer.
Of course that had the cart before the horse, the hairy face before the writing. The best move for a person who wants to become a writer is to start writing. The beard comes later. The beard is a consequence of becoming so obsessed with pounding out a story on a keyboard that you forget to shave and bathe and wear trousers if you’re not careful. A beard isn’t actually necessary. A lot of people write really well without a beard. Women, for instance.
I gave up on the beard early on. I didn’t resume wearing a beard until I was in my 40s and going bald in a cold climate. If I couldn’t keep my head warm on top, at least I could clothe it in hair on the bottom. Besides, a brainy beauty had taken a liking to me and said she preferred a bearded man.
I preferred not letting her get away. I immediately grew a beard. Before long, she asked me to marry her. We were too old to have children, but that beard of ours will be 30 years old next July 4. My beard is a Yankee Doodle Dandy, born on the Fourth of July.
But I want it on the record: The beard doesn’t make me write any better, though my muse, the wife who wanted the beard, probably does.
Similarly, I wonder about the necessity of a tattoo for my young musical friend. There is one stark difference between a beard and a tattoo: A beard is easily removed. Not so a tattoo.
Permanent decorations aren’t like clothing. Clothing fashions change from year to year. If a shirt or a hat or trousers go out of style, you replace them and save the world and yourself from the same old same old.
There certainly is such a thing as a classic and beautiful work of art imbedded in human skin, but they aren’t all gems, and, unlike the Mona Lisa, even the best of them don’t last hundreds of years.
But in truth, some professional music careers are enhanced by creating a rebel identity, letting your fans know that you are a wild and crazy guy. A musician might sell a few more concert tickets by having an extra eye tattooed in the middle of his forehead, or some such bow to the gods of gaudy showmanship.
Maybe when it comes to tattoos, the best solution for everyone would be for someone to develop a false skin made of some kind snug flesh-colored Spandex. Tattoo the phony skin and then change the design with a new Spandex skin from time to time.
And so I say to my young friend, there’s more than one way to skin a musician, you wild and crazy guy.Bill Hall can be contacted at email@example.com or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501