Hello again dear reader, take a seat and welcome to – what is currently- quite a gloomy place called The Naughty Step.
By now you’ll already be aware of the news I heard only yesterday morning that Chris Cornell, lead singer of Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave is dead, having allegedly committed suicide by hanging myself in a hotel in Detroit. I cannot begin to explain how important Chris’s music was to me and countless others and the shock of his death – that came completely out of the blue – is being felt all over the music world. Another voice cut short and lost forever…I wanted to start this column with some of Chris’s words and strangely, these are the lyrics that came instantly to mind;
I got up feeling so down,
I got off being sold out,
I’ve kept the movie rolling,
But the story’s getting old now, oh yeah.
They’re from Outshined from the amazing Badmotorfinger album but instantly I thought ‘why those’ instead of the countless more suitable lyrics to pay tribute to the man? Well…
I’d just finished a run of three conventions which were all good, well attended but very different affairs when I picked up an injury. An injury severe enough to put me out of work for the next month whilst I recover from the op I’m having next week (I think the cool kids say #fml but I’m not sure what that means;). So I’m currently typing this column curled up in the foetal position in bed on my phone and trying to concentrate through the painkillers (which isn’t actually as hard as you might think if you spent your 20’s in a Rock and Roll band #tolerancelevelup). As you should be able to imagine my mood is pretty dark from this horribly painful part of The Naughty Step and the news of one of my favourite singers death has served to worsen my mood and mingle my thoughts (via morphine) into – what feels like – something approaching a cohesive thought. Strap yourself in this is bat country…
Just like the character in the above lyrics that welcomed and revelled in his fame and success only to find himself disenchanted by the fakery and endless bullshit – tattooing as an industry could well find itself feeling the same way very shortly. What started as on outsider, lowbrow art form that was largely ignore by the mainstream, tattooing has been thrust into the limelight and because no-one ever expected it’s success to the scale that has been enjoyed everyone got off being sold out and gave away so much of tattooing for a few cheap toys, some free shit, and social ‘shares’. Now that we’re all starting to realise that the movie is indeed going to keep on rolling, we’re starting to see that tattooists are no longer in charge of our industry because, guess what, it isn’t our industry anymore. These days tattooing is owned by manufacturers, merchandise companies, share sites and – in one case – investment bankers. All of whom give not one shit what we think about that.
I often make the comparison – as I see it – between where the music business is and where we could be heading if we’re not careful and I’m going to make it again because the two industries are very similar despite what some may think. Trust me I’ve worked in both and I know what I’m talking about.
The musicians in the music biz sold out to big companies in the 50’s and have been walking down ‘a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs’ ever since. When the internet came around they saw it as a chance for freedom. Finally a democratic distribution medium that anyone can use without needing a record company so they heralded it as a new dawn for music in the 21st century but guess what? It isn’t. The internet just cheapened music by allowing any ’have a go Harry’ a chance to release his opus ‘lawmower symphonies for the deaf’ using exactly the same tools and distribution medium and the proper muses to the point where an entire generation now consider music as free and can’t understand why anyone would ever pay for it. No-one gets paid for music anymore? No, just not the musicians. Someone is making money, somewhere…
How is this similar to what’s happening in tattooing? And how did we get here?
By exactly the same route as the musicians we sold our secrets and our tools to the lowest bidder and allowed them to make them available to anyone with a web connection and now anyone can become a tattooist. Forget apprenticeships, just get the info off youtube and once you’ve bought yourself a load of fake followers on instagram (50k will do it) away you go, next, cosy up to a load of share sites and get them to pimp you out (don’t worry about the quality of your work – they haven’t a clue what they’re looking at they’ll just respect you cause you have loads of ‘likes’) then book your first convention – these days (almost) any convention will have you because they only care about the money. Finally, win an award by rigging the voting (anyone who has ever judged a show anywhere in the world will tell you how common that is) and bingo! You’re an award winning tattooist! Now it’s time to open a few shops, set up a convention, release a DVD, a book, a machine etc etc.
If we don’t drop the anchor soon we’ll be heading to exactly same reef. But is there anything we can do to steer our ship away from the same rocky shoreline? Thankfully, Yes there is.
We haven’t gone nearly that far down the road and control could still be returned to it’s rightful place. But it’ll take those of us who care doing something we’re not very good at. We have to work together for a common good. Yeah I know, most of the time we can’t even agree but maybe this is something worth agreeing over, at least if only for a while. Drop me a line if your a tattooist and you give a shit.