Years from now, when nursing homes fill with tattooed and grommet ed punks pushing 70, Kearney Nick Jones, now known as Nick 13, the singer/guitarist of psychobilly juggernaut Tiger Army, won’t have any regrets. “If I were a guy sitting in my bed in a nursing home, I would rather have sleeves, even if they’re incredibly faded and blurred, than be the guy sitting next to me that has no tattoos,” says Nick 13. “I think there would be more respect and affection from the staff because it’s evidence that you’ve actually lived a real life.”
If ink in the skin is emblematic of a real life, then Nick 13 wanted to start living much sooner than he actually did. Crediting his father’s wishes, he didn’t get his first tattoo until his 18th birthday. “I wanted to start getting tattooed when I was 15 and I almost did. My dad was always cool and didn’t ask that much of me, but he asked out of respect that I wait until I was 18, so I did,” he says. “I probably would’ve gotten something much worse if I hadn’t waited.” Worse than a Celtic arm band? He chuckles a bit when asked about that first tattoo, but not with regret, just the faintest hint of embarrassment. “If you were getting tattooed back then, chances are you have something Celtic. And I didn’t just choose it without any thought. Definitely the ancient Celts were of considerable interest to me, human sacrifice and what-not.”
These days, Nick 13 doesn’t find much time for contemplating past tattoos. Now on tour in support of his band’s fourth album, Music From Regions Beyond, he is joined by stand-up bass player Geoff Kresge, who left the band in 2004 and recently returned, and drummer James Meza. When time permits, Nick 13 frequents shops in the Bay Area, seeing Scott Sylvia at Black Heart Tattoo, in San Francisco, or Jason McAffe, in Oakland, CA. “It’s been a while since I have actually been tattooed,” he says. “Touring [makes it] hard to set the appointments and do it.”
Though Nick 13 admits there are pros to tattoos becoming more popular, he believes there are just as many cons. “The downside is you have more stupid questions these days. I’ve always been a pretty antisocial person and I gener ally want to be left alone. If there was a positive side to things before, [it was] that often times people would not talk to you. Now [tattoos are] more accepted so you’re more than likely to answer the same five stupid questions: Did that hurt? How much did it cost? Is that real? Does that come off? Are you going to regret having those when you’re old?” Apparently not.