After its 12th poke through my skin, the needle drew blood and ink in equal measures, and I knew the design had begun to set. But along with the upper layers of my thigh's skin, the needle cut through my buzz just enough to allow anxiety to settle. After all, this tattoo was being executed by the untrained hands of Doomstar singer/guitarist Spenser Gralla. It was performed using a sewing needle tied to a pencil. I had no tattoos, and Gralla had never given one before.
So I drank another beer.
The idea began a month ago, when production partner Addison Post and I thought it would be great to interview a punk band while receiving a tattoo. Part of the Phoenix's recent "Class of 2011" feature, Doomstar are a Boston power trio who play with the messy disregard of Amherst forebears Dinosaur Jr., and though not strictly punk, they fit the bill with their three-chord, two-minute-song approach to rock and roll. Doomstar's songs present suggestions of form similar to how we imagined our tattoos, the imperfect lines of our designs complementing the frantic devolutions of their music. For a night based on impulse, whimsy, and, ultimately, rock and roll, the match was beautiful in its capacity to be totally fucked.
So on the last Sunday of January, we invited Doomstar and some friends to a local anarchist college in Cambridge. We cooked a pasta dinner to build strength and drank beer to build courage.
>>SLIDESHOW: Doomstar gives out amateur tattoos<<
For the project, we did our shopping entirely at a convenience store. To start, we sterilized sewing needles in a pot of boiling water and, after five minutes, dumped them into a cup of isopropyl rubbing alcohol. That way, we'd have a stock of clean needles on hand without having to boil more water. We took individual needles, stuck them between the metal guarder and the eraser on the end of the pencil, tied them securely with sewing thread, and left one eighth of an inch of each needle bare.
"I figured it out," said Gralla, after sticking my leg nearly 50 times, on the way to affixing a permanent Triforce emblem on my thigh. "The purpose of the thread is to trap the ink so it slowly drips down the end of the needle, at which point I puncture the skin."
Almost like the quills with which scholars of old penned their works. Only significantly less elegant and with a purpose inherently twisted.
As the first to go, I had no context for my experience. So I interviewed Gralla as he worked.
"Noah [Bond, drummer] and I started . . . I'm just getting the hang of this," Gralla said as he paused to puncture my skin. "We had no name and a show in Western Mass, and there was a bookstore with a science-fiction pulp called Doomstar. And the name just stuck . . . kind of like me to your leg!"
Over questions of origin and touring, I had to wonder, as tremors ran down my leg, was he doing this right? Maybe this actually was a bad idea. Ink-stained blood sprouted from a strike as I asked him about the band's history.