A Life Story: Told in Tattoos

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The guys at Miami Ink in Florida donated the cost of this tattoo to the Melanoma Research Foundation.

If you ask 10 different people about tattoos, you’ll likely get ten different answers, ranging from the inked aristocrat who believes that they’re art to the conservative person who believes that they’re a regrettable and passing fad. I’ll not weigh in on where I stand (although it might be obvious) but I’ll share the story of mine, save one, and I’d love to hear yours.

Catch a Cure: I’ll start with my most recent, a fishing hook through the melanoma ribbon on my left hand. Rick Roth is a guy who designed the T-shirts we’ve been selling to raise funds for the Melanoma Research Foundation, and the design he put over the back shoulder was so cool, I decided to have it tattooed on me permanently. I didn’t know when I made that decision that the guys at Miami Ink. would donate half the cost for the tattoo to the MRF, but it was a great addition to the story.

Zane Grey: When I first read the Zane Grey quote, “The lure of the sea is the same strange magic that makes men love what they fear,” I knew it articulated a sentiment about the sea that I’d had for almost my entire life, and better than I ever might.

The Hold Steady: The Hold Steady is a band that I love, and one of their songs contains the lyric: “Heaven is whenever, we can get together.” When I lost my Dad I thought a lot more about what heaven might be like, and came to the conclusion that if… all it was was seeing those who’d gone before us, that’d be as good as it might be.

Bruce: I’ve been a Springsteen fanatic for more than a decade now, and having his Telecaster with the sneakers hanging from the headstock (an image pulled from the back of an album) was a logical decision when it came to choosing the next tattoo.

Pearl Jam (1): I once drove for 14 hours from New Jersey to Wisconsin to see Pearl Jam play their 20th anniversary concert. Suffice it to say, I love Pearl Jam. Perhaps my favorite song is “Given to Fly” and so I had those lyrics, with a feather pen containing the ‘Given to’ and writing ‘Fly’ on my hand, tattooed on me when it became evident I’d be a Pearl Jam fan for life.

Pearl Jam (2): One thing that we learn as we get older, is that try though we might, we can’t control every aspect of our lives. That lesson came hard to me, but it finally did. Pearl Jam’s song ‘Release,’ is about Eddie Vedder losing his father, so the lyrics “I’ll ride this wave where it takes me” around the famous stickman from the Alive single seemed like a logical conclusion for my inner right arm.

Ireland: ‘Bach’ might not sound Irish, but my ancestors are almost all from the Emerald Isle. My mother came from a long line of Gillorens (after Killorglin County, Ireland) and my father’s mother’s side were McCabes. My first tattoo was the Irish words for ‘Hope,’ ‘Love,’ ‘Faith,’ and ‘Strength’ on my right shoulder, around a cross with a shamrock at the center. Muinin, Gra, Dochas and Neart… in case you were wondering.

Striped Bass: When I was an intern at Field & Stream, now-Fishing Editor Joe Cermele helped design my second tattoo, a striped bass over a nautical star. Suffice it to say I’ve loved stripers for the two decades that I’ve been chasing (and sometimes catching) them.

The Red Sox: I got the Boston ‘B’ when I moved to Boston. ‘Nough said, right?

Writing: One of my favorite bands is a group from New Jersey called the Gaslight Anthem. In a song called “Handwritten,” they sing: “From heart to limb to pen, every word handwritten.” I’ve loved to write for as long as I can remember, so having lyrics from a band that I love articulate a sentiment about writing seemed only logical.

Redfish: When I was a kid, we used to vacation in Florida and the house we’d rent was on a saltwater canal. Throwing a shrimp-tipped jig from dawn to dusk might get a hit from any number of species from ladyfish to jacks, but the one that kept me casting was redfish. I’ve been lucky to catch them in every state where they swim, but when I caught a 30-plus-pound red with Emerson classmate and friend James Spica, I knew it was time for a redfish tattoo. I have the redfish tail, with a bit of blue at the tip (a coloration they get from an oyster diet), and the signature black false eye.

Foo Fighters: Again, Dave Grohl has produced some of my favorite music in the past twenty years, but it took me about that long to understand the lyrics “Times like these you learn to live again.” During a period of my life when I was…. learning to live again, I had those lyrics, around the now famous double F, tattooed on my forearm.

One More: My father was a man of few words, but one thing he said to me that I’ll remember forever, whether it was regarding push-ups, hours of work, or attempts at something you cared about… was: “Do as many as you can, and then one more.” When he was diagnosed with melanoma in 2010, I had those words tattooed on my arm. He kept fighting, one more day, week and month, long after doctors predicted the disease would beat him. And I’ll keep fighting, in his memory, to raise one more dollar to beat the disease that took his life, once and for all.

It’s easy to look and someone and pass judgement based on appearance, and we’re all guilty of this at times, but if that’s going to be the case, I’d at least like to share the story and the inspiration underlying the ink. So there it is.

Any fishing, cancer-battling, or musically inspired tattoos out there? I’d love to hear about ’em.

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