The New Tattoos

ANDREI CODRESCU

September 28, 1992|By ANDREI CODRESCU

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans. -- David Graham and I were watching the summer night mobs milling on both sides of the street by Cafe Brazil. A local band with a big following, Tribe Nunzio, was playing in there, and we were getting to listen outside without paying the cover charge. At some point, a brass band appeared out of nowhere on the corner and people started second-lining. My friend Ade, who owns Cafe Brazil, came furiously out the door to tell them to move. It was a fine New Orleans evening with all the funk and craziness we've come to enjoy and expect from our blossomy burg.

David, who lives in Pennsylvania, was pleasantly startled by everything. At one point, he noted the extraordinary number of tattoos that young people were sporting. And not people you'd expect. From the round shoulder of a demurely dressed young woman of 16 there shone forth a brilliantly gnarled sun on whose rays were impaled a number of flowers. A kid on a skateboard had pre-Raphaelite vines curling about his wrists. On close inspection everyone under the age of 20 seemed tattooed with a variety of mostly floral motifs with a psychedelic twist to them.

David confided to me that he had always wanted to shave his chest and to have a lawnmower tattooed there. I confessed that I wouldn't be adverse to having a Campbell soup can of cream of asparagus on my upper arm. I became quite convinced that we were the wedge of the future. The kids were bound to get tired of the conventional fantasies of MTV-style psychedelia soon enough. And then they would start being Americans, having Mig Macs tattooed on their backs, slices of cherry pie engraved on their bottoms, candy bars and Coke cans everywhere else.

Reaganism and Bushism had encouraged their current escapist fantasies. When this country was going to turn, as it inevitably would, back to its working-class and suburban-class roots, we will see Americans illustrating themselves accordingly. Irony will return to the land, along with the products that make us free. And crazy. David and I saw the future. Andy Warhol was back.

Andrei Codrescu is editor of Exquisite Corpse.

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