My First Tattoo

I’ve been tattoo shopping for a while now but could never make up my mind what to do. I talked to a lot of people and ran many a design past them to gauge opinions. The usual stock answer was always something like, “You have to pick it because it has to mean something to you.” Sure, that’s true. But a little help is always welcome. I had picked out a few designs that my wife cringed at or my friends would say were too cliche and generic.

I was at the diner one night, probably a year ago or something, with my friend Jim. We went to grammar school together and he has a really cool Jaws tattoo. We started talking about ideas for me and all of the sudden he just lights up and says, “I got it!” He knows I’ve always been a big fan of The Police. The band, not the law enforcement agency, though I have nothing against them either.

My Police Tattoo

Anyhow, Jim suggested the cover of The Police’s album called Ghost in the Machine . It’s the one with “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”, “Spirits in the Material World”, “Invisible Sun”, and some others. I always loved the cover of that album (which was designed by a guy named Mick Hegarty) because at first glance, it looks like just a bunch of weird seven-segment display symbols or digital runes or something – but they’re clearly not numbers.

Now, the seven-segment display had been around a while but it wasn’t until the 1970’s that the LED thing really went mainstream. If you’re like me, you remember when “digital watches” came out. These used that seven-segment display where you turn on or off any number of those segments to create numbers or letters.

In 1981, when Ghost in the Machine came out, the digital thing had been around a while but I don’t recall if it was ever used in “pop art” the way it was used on this album cover. There are no letters or numbers here and the segments are customized as if the design incorporates a strange hybrid of traditional seven-segment display and the more versatile sixteen-segment character block.

In any case, what you’re really seeing on the album cover are three faces of the three members of the band, The Police (Andy Summers, Sting, and Stewart Copeland). Look again – it’s them. In fact, I’m pretty amazed how many people have never noticed this…but more on that in a little bit.

So I carefully considered this as an option for a long time but I really wanted the first tattoo to be something with my kids’ names on it. I even put together a little something in Photoshop with two guitars crossed at the neck with banners on each side with the names on them. On top, there’s a winged heart with some music notes. Pretty nice, but pretty big, pretty expensive (I assume), and probably not a one session job. So I figured I’d keep saving until I got up a bunch of money and get that done one day.

Then, last week, I went to Las Vegas with my high school buddies because we all turned 40 this year. While walking around on Sunday night, I spied a tattoo shop and the bug hit me again. I knew I couldn’t get that huge thing I wanted but at the same time I felt like I should go home with more than a key chain or some other souvenir. I wanted to say, “Oh this? I got it in Vegas with my buddies!” I figured it would be small enough so it wouldn’t be too expensive and I could probably have it done in an hour or two. The guys were all going to see a show so the plan was simple. While they were gone, I’d meet up with an old friend of mine who lives out there and she’d drive me over to the place to get it done.

That’s pretty much how it went down. I even talked the guy down a little in price. There was no one in the joint on a Monday night so I guess he didn’t mind helping me out, which was nice. The whole thing took under an hour to do.

First he went online for a better photo than the one I had saved on my Crackberry. He printed one out and made a bluish stencil, which is sort of like one of those temp tattoos you put on kids. just slap it on the arm, peel it off, and there’s a light blue version of what’s going to end up on your arm. Then he started working on outlining the segments in black. When that was done, he filled in the rest with red. Pretty simple!

I have to admit that I was really braced for a painful experience because sometimes you hear these horror stories that make you nervous. Whatever this guy did, though, he did it well because it hardly hurt at all. It doesn’t feel like needles. It almost feels like scraping or light slicing or something like that. You’ve probably had worse in a doctor’s office. People’s tolerance to pain varies, I suppose. The guy was done before I even knew what happened. He just said, “OK, get up and take a look.” and there it was. No major pain, no tons of blood everywhere, no fuss, and it looked great!

He covered it up for me, said to leave it on for an hour and then just gave me some final tips and pointers for taking care of it. I was in and out in no time. It was a very pleasant experience, I’m glad to report.

Oh! But I forgot. Talk about feeling old…

When I showed the design to the tattoo girl at the desk (who was all of about 19), she had no idea what it was. I talked her through it. The artist who actually did the work on me, however, didn’t look like a young guy. I was guessing him in his 30’s. I was a little shocked to see that he also didn’t know what it was. I explained and even after that he held it up and said, “Does it go like this?” I replied, “Uh…no…that’s upside down, dude.” Am I really that old now?! He was a good guy though. Very friendly and no-nonsense at the same time. Plus he had a Mohawk. You gotta love a guy with a Mohawk.

I remember him saying to me, before the first needle touched my skin, “Welcome to your new addiction.” I won’t be one of those people that covers my whole arms or anything, but I’m pretty sure I’m gonna get my original one done (with the kids’ names on it) some time in the future, probably on the other arm.

So when we got back, we started playing penny slots (to waste time and get free drinks!) while waiting for the guys to get back from the show. The cocktail waitress asked what happened and I was tempted to go into this story about being shot for a second, but she realized what it was before I could say anything. I showed her the picture I had on my Crackberry and of course she said, “What is that?” I explained, “You know the band The Police? Sting? It’s an album cover.” She liked it more after that.

The guys got back and we took off the patch. They liked it too. From that moment on, however, it seemed that no one could recognize this design. Now, in a way, that’s kind of cool if you take my meaning. It’s a conversation piece now! I can dig that. I’m kind of interested to see who can recognize it.

We were playing roulette at one point and I noticed the pit boss looking at me. This went on for a while. He finally walked by and said, “I’m trying to figure out what language that is.” I talked him through it. He liked it after that, too.

So the night went on like this but at one point, at a poker table, two British fellows walked up and before they even sat down, one looked at me and went, “The Police!” I was so excited! I had to tell him what album it was but still, that was cool. He was the only person in Vegas to recognize it.

I posted the photo up on Facebook and about 3/4 of the comments were to the effect of “What is that?” Only some of my musician friends got it, of course. Nothing wrong with that though! I’m enjoying explaining it to everyone.

In the end, I’m happy with it and I’m glad it’s starting conversations. In fact, while I was still in “thinking mode” last year, I went on the net to see if I could find anyone else who had the same tattoo done. Believe it or not, I could not find one photo. That most certainly doesn’t mean I’m alone but if you search for something like a yin-yang or a winged heart, you’ll come up with lots of results. So, that’s pretty cool, too.

I have a tattoo that I like, inspired by music and a good band, and I have a fun story to tell. Mission Accomplished, I say.

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7 Responses

  1. sarah chambers says:

    i love your tattoo! im a massive sting and police fan and im looking for my next tattoo to be sting or police related. ive been looking for people with police tats on the net and your the only person i have found!! The ghost in the machine cover was a great idea!!! might steal your idea and go with the same 🙂

  2. Lou Tambone says:

    Hey, thanks! If you do, please let me know and post a reply here so I can check it out! Thanks for visiting.

  3. Peter McDowell says:

    Great tattoo. Also turning 40 and a huge Police fan and going to Vegas soon. Googled Synchronicity tattoo and then did Ghost in the Machine tattoo and found yours. Where did you get it done and how much was it if you don’t mind me asking?

  4. Lou Tambone says:

    Hey there. I actually think I overpaid a little for it. I’ve since gotten another bigger one on my back (in Florida) of something else and it was half the price. 🙂 I think out in Vegas they just charge more. It was around $170 or so and only took about 45 minutes. I don’t remember the place – it was off the strip. I have a friend who drove me there. Thanks!

  5. Carrie Chick says:

    I was going to do this same exact thing for my next tattoo, except I could not figure out what to do about the black background. I can’t say I am going to steal your idea, since I thought of it parallel to you I think!! But I like the black outline that your tattoo artist did. I was trying to incorporate the stripes from Synchronicity too, I was thinking about having them as the background, and just black for the digital display, but I am not sure how that would look. I was also thinking no one would know it was supposed to be a digital display, but you make a good point about no one knowing what the symbols mean anyway!! (how could someone not know its the Police?) Love it, nice job!!!

  6. Lou Tambone says:

    Thanks! Hey, there’s no such thing as stealing here. If anything, we’re stealing from The Police! LOL. I say go for it and post some pics for me here! I saw another tattoo with the synchronicity lines behind the Ghost in the Machine guys and I didn’t think it was as nice. Definitely put the black outline around them. Thanks!

  7. Alejandro says:

    Wow, too funny. I got my first tattoo back in ’97, I had just turned 30. Lately I’ve been thinking about getting another one but only due to how much I love the Police and the album cover for Ghost. And I thought, why not use the Ghost artwork as a tattoo? I started looking for info on Mick Hegarty, I just wanted to know what he at least looked like, when I saw a thumbnail of your tattoo in my Google image results. Great minds think alike 🙂

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