One of the most common question that those of us with tattoos are asked is -‘Why did you do it?’ Here’s why I did it.
As anyone who travels frequently, either on soul-searching adventures or daily commutes will know, music is the food of the road. How else can you block out the screaming baby behind you, the arguing family on the metro or even the unwanted noise from the bed two feet away? Two hours into my second twelve-hour bus journey in two days, with no phone, no music, and no more books, I began to ponder this question. For the next couple of hours until daylight departed I rambled on in a newly acquired notebook about the subject. Now let me tell you how music is a life saver.
Firstly, finding someone with a shared enthusiasm for your music is one of the quickest ways to form an intimate bond with a stranger. You can never underestimate the importance of this. When you consider your friends at home, there’s a high likelihood that at least some of you have similar tastes in music. The same happens at a gig, you instantly become best friends forever with the people around you due to the combination of good music and alcohol, which is also the atmosphere of a good hostel. There really is no difference travelling.
To give an example, I doubt I will ever forget the afternoon I spent driving through the Tuscan Mountains with my couch-surfing host, both singing out hearts out to Gong, a band I had no idea anyone except me and my Dad still listened to. This led to wine filled evening singing and playing Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Guns n’ Roses. (We couldn’t keep up with Gong.) Another one of my best memories from travelling took place in the summer I spent working in Sevilla with my best friend. Ten minutes of conversation led to a six-hour dancing, singing, andguitar night, on the riverside of Triana, which only came to an end when the increasing morning heat reminded us of a flight to catch back home.
P.S The band are called Triana Paraso Fiscales and are getting quite popular. Perhaps I should have accepted that 4am marriage proposal from the cute guitarist
P.P.S Alejandro if you’re reading this, I never forgot you, and as I no longer have EU citizenship…. hit me up.
Secondly, I grew up with music. To this day, my favourite bands are still the ones my parents introduced me to. I remember driving through the welsh countryside standing on the back seats, my brothers and my heads sticking out of the open roof of the 2CV watching the convoy of those beautiful but terrible cars stretch out in front of us. ‘Knocking on Heavens Door’ was playing I think, but maybe I made that up, I have been known to have an overactive imagination. After abandoning violin because neither my parents nor I had the patience to put up with the screeching until I got better, I began to play clarinet with the promise that if I got on with it I’d be allowed to learn the saxophone, like my hero Lisa Simpson. (I’ve also tried Veganism, Buddhism and being better than my brother too but it didn’t really work out.) Throughout school, I played in three bands and two choirs, and as soon as I had a job saw live music as often as I could, probably contributing towards my minor case of tinnitus these days. When my saxophone needed to be fixed during my A levels whilst I working towards a still unachieved grade 8, I lost a big part of myself and didn’t really realise for at least a year. It was actually my Grandparents who encouraged me to get back into music in the last year, and I’ll always be grateful to them for that, especially my Grandad, who very recently passed away. He was probably my biggest inspiration musically growing up, always singing and encouraging all his grandkids to practise their instruments. Even a few months ago I remember playing my new saxophone to him over skype, and how proud he looked.
Thirdly, music is really, really cool. In much the same way as taste and smell, important songs, small melodies or even a certain key change can fire us back into the past, as we remember the first time we heard that song on a night out, or when we first kissed our partner to that song so long ago. Every time I listen to the Mary-Anne and the Grave Diggers album by Regina Spektor I am transported to Sri Lanka, staring with excitement and disbelief out of the window as my brother’s head annoyingly hits my shoulder every five minutes as he drops off to sleep for the fiftieth time. I can see the colours, smell the trees and feel the shaking of the bus. Bebe’s ‘Siete Horas’ takes me to Rosas Spain, my first real experience of freedom, when my friend and I realised how much it annoyed another friend so decided to play it as much as possible. When I hear that song I develop a slight hangover. Rudimental’s ‘Feel the Love’ reminds me of my best friend and every great weekend we had over the years in London, pre-drinking and wondering aloud if we’d get served that night. Anything from the Kill Bill soundtrack or Pink Floyd ‘The Wall’ instantly reminds me driving to school with my Dad, whilst Coldplay’s ‘X and Y’ album reminds me of my mum working in her studio and ‘Wires’ by Athlete reminds me of the months after my brother was born fourteen weeks premature.
I will never be able to listen to ‘St Christopher is coming home’ by Frank Turner without remembering that evening in Rome when I realised how much I missed all my old friends. Being on the road a lot is really tough. You leave your friends, family and safety nets behind, any friends you make whilst on the move are usually (but not always) temporary ones, and it can be really hard to feel yourself when no one you’re with knows the real you. Music which reminds you of old and new friends is one of the best ways to feel in touch, even if you really aren’t.
So, as previously said, music is just tops. I love it. I need it. Having said all that, one of the worst things to happen to me travelling also involves music. Now, I’m the type of girl who can barely walk in a straight line without some kind of beat to keep moving, and the selection of music on my (already cracked and therefore worthless) IPod was a collection I’d spend 6 years building up. Through no-ones fault but my own inability to wake up even during an earthquake, one early dawn my IPod, camera and laptop were stolen out of our tent near Barcelona. Three months of travel photos and 6 years of music, gone. I hate to admit it, but that really threw me. Due to spend the next month walking through mountains and fields, how would I cope without music? Well as it turned out, I treated my (very understanding and very gentle with criticism) travel buddy to 40 days and 40 nights of Broadway renditions.
It wasn’t until three months later walking across a bridge in Rome, after a couple of months of disillusionment and confusion, when I realised what I had been missing. Singing along to ‘Jet Lag’ by Frank Turner and having the wobbly moment about travel and leaving people behind that the song induces, I suddenly felt a complete peace. I worked out that I had barely been listening to or doing any music, explaining my feelings of loss. I think it was maybe 2 days later that I got my first tattoo, a small heart on my wrist made up of a treble and bass clef. In doing this, I conquered three of my biggest fears.
1) Wrists. I’m not sure how normal this is, but I can’t stand wrists. I think they’re fragile points of weakness in otherwise well-designed bodies. Veins? Don’t get me started. They are definitely not something which should be visible, let alone raised! However, rather than beginning to shake and hyperventilate when the sweet talking Italian begin to gently sterilise my wrist, I pushed through, even watching him work the design into my skin. I only got lightheaded once, despite his clever little joke about this being his first tattoo as well when I told him it was mine.
2) Permanence. From Ice cream flavours and pen colours to degree choices and relationships, I think it’s fair to say I’m not the greatest at making decisions, although some people wouldperhaps phrase that with stronger words. More often than not I’m the one who still hasn’t decided when the waiter comes and ends up just ordering the first thing they see when they look down. Important decisions have been struggled over for months, only to inevitably be decided through a coin toss, game of darts or on my better days, a long page of pros and cons. To choose my degree, I applied for five completely different courses at five completely different Universities and then just went with a prettiest campus when the day came. (Spoiler Alert: I dropped off that course after a week.) Sometimes the decisions you make in a rush don’t ruin your life forever, hard to believe I know.
3) Losing my music. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever stop wanting to make music again, but it has happened before and I didn’t expect it then. This is a reminder that music makes me happier, stronger and more creative. It’s hard to describe the rush when an audience breaks into applause in a huge auditorium, whilst you are all standing there trying to recover from what just happened. In typing up this article I’ve realised that the worst thing that could ever happen to me would be sudden onset deafness.
Tattoos, although certainly becoming more popular these days especially amongst the younger crowd, are still not entirely accepted. When it’s pointed out to me that ‘tattoos need to mean something, nothing is so important to be marked permanently on my skin’, I tell them how music has made me who I am today and that without it I would be lost. Every day I have a reminder that life always looks better when you give it a soundtrack.
Written and edited by Beth Naylor