“I got those just about the day we started our first U.S. tour,” Bennington says. “I always said I wouldn’t get my forearms done unless I knew I was going to have a job where I didn’t have to care about having tattoos. And once Linkin Park signed our deal and went out on the road, it was legit. The funny thing is, within days of me getting the tattoos the first really big poster of the band came out, and it was an image of me holding onto the microphone, all sweaty, with both my forearms up. That was pretty much the first image besides the Hybrid Theory album cover that people really saw of the band. And so the flames quickly became a symbol for Linkin Park.”
They became so much of a symbol, in fact, that Bennington says he now sees plenty of fans with the same design on their forearms. “And that’s really strange to me. Because in my experience, if you walk into a studio with a picture of somebody else’s tattoos and you’re like, ‘I want that,’ the artist kind of groans. The whole purpose of having flash is for it to mean something to you personally. It’s not a t-shirt.”
He points to one particular flame-tattoo-wielding fan who took the homage to a whole new level. “There’s a dude in China who has all of my tattoos,” Bennington says. “Every time I get a tattoo this guy gets a picture of it and goes to his artist and gets it done. And it’s like, Wow, that’s dedication. In some ways it’s cool, but in most every other way it kinda pisses me off. Because those are mine!”
This superfan even has a replica of Bennington’s most personal piece, a crest on his chest with the initials of his family members incorporated into the design. “There’s a scroll across the top that says ‘CB TB,’ which are mine and my wife’s initials,” he says. “And then underneath there’s a rose and a scroll that has the initials of my four children. So this guy has my family’s initials on his chest. And now I have twin girls that I have to add to the piece. He’ll probably get those too. He has everything.”
Everything would include, among other tattoos, the six-armed alien on Bennington’s back. “A tattoo artist friend told me, ‘When you’re onstage you have an ability to reach out and make every person in the room feel like you’re performing for them,’” he explains. There are also various dragons, koi fish, flowers, skulls, and other images on his arms, torso, and legs. Though Bennington says he has had work done all over the world, most of his tattoos—including that first Pisces design—were inked at Club Tattoo, the Arizona-based parlor run by Sean Dowdell and his wife, Thora. Bennington has known Dowdell for years—in the ’90s the two played together in the Phoenix-based band Grey Daze. After that band broke up, Dowdell went on to focus on Club Tattoo while Bennington hooked up with Linkin Park and moved to Los Angeles. “There was a period of time after Grey Daze where Sean and I weren’t very close,” Bennington says. “Had we been closer I probably would have ended up at the shop, apprenticing in piercing and tattoo design. I’d probably be working there today.”
Things worked out a bit differently, of course, although Bennington eventually found his way into the Club Tattoo organization. Years ago, the Dowdells invited him to be a partner in the business. “They were doing fine. They didn’t really need a partner,” Bennington says. “It was really just a way for us to participate in something fun together.” Bennington’s vision was to expand the business beyond the handful of shops in their native Arizona and forge a national presence. “I wanted to put the shops up in areas where the world would come to us,” he says. “And out of that came our Las Vegas location, which has been hugely successful, and also the new location in San Francisco, right off Pier 39. That’s a place where I think something like 50 million people a year will walk by our storefront.”
One area of the business he hasn’t delved into is the actual tattooing. “Different people have asked me to tattoo them, but I won’t do it,” Bennington says. “It freaks me out. They’re permanent!” But not entirely permanent: Though Bennington says he still has a lot of work to get done—“There’s some real estate on my left arm, and my left leg, and I want to add some color to my chest and back pieces”—he also has plans to rework some of his existing tattoos.
“I’ve contemplated lasering some of them,” he admits. He’d start with the Pisces. “That one never quite lived up to what I thought my first tat- too would be, which is something that looks good! But that’s one of the great things about the tattoo industry today. The technology exists to go back and improve on what’s already there.”
He laughs. “Or maybe I’ll just fade everything down and start over completely ...”
It’s a thought that would likely drive one particular Chinese fan to the depths of despair.