Music Is My Oxygen: “Juke Joint Jezebel”

Since I started this blog, I’ve been wanting to write a series about music, but I haven’t been able to figure out quite what direction I wanted to take it. I didn’t want to end up posting a bunch of articles that essentially said, “Here’s a song I really like!!!!!” over and over again. That would get pretty boring pretty fast. But I also couldn’t settle on a particular theme. Music, as the title says, is like oxygen to me. The word oxygen is even engraved on my iPod. (Well, one of them, anyway.) How I wanted to handle sharing such an important part of my life deserved careful consideration.

I thought about sharing songs that were so impactful to me that I can remember the first time I heard them, but there’s a limited number of those, and I’d like the series to be an ongoing one. I also considered delving into the world of covers, as I often enjoy them more than the originals. But again, that’s a limiting topic. So is choosing a particular type of music. I mean, yes, I’m a metalhead, but the reality is that I listen to absolutely everything. (Except modern country. Modern country can go fuck itself.)

But now that I’ve got a few months of blogging under my belt, I have a better idea of what I like to write. First and foremost, I’m a storyteller. So my music series will focus on music that’s got some sort of story attached to it. That’s not to say there won’t be the occasional fangirl squee of an article, but it’s not the overall intention of the series.

So, what song to write about first?

Ron and I generally both have our iPods set to shuffle through out entire music collection. Between us we’ve got four of them in total, and in the last couple of weeks, KMFDM’s Juke Joint Jezebel has cycled through on every one of them while I’ve been in earshot.

I don’t believe in signs. But if I did, I’d think the universe was telling me to start with this one.

Now for the story.

It involves tattoos. I absolutely love them. Ron’s more neutral. When we met, I had one, with plans to get more. Ron had none, with plans to stay that way.

At least, he did until he tagged along to the tattoo parlor one day.

Kerry was visiting, and she and I were both getting tattoos. Ron came with us, mostly for something to do, I think, and to keep the one waiting company while the other was getting their work done. And while he was looking at the flash on the wall, something unexpected happen.

He found a design he liked – enough to consider getting it.

Now, I have a personal rule when it comes to tattoos. Whenever I see something I like, I walk away from it. I don’t look at it at all for at least six months. Then I go back to it, and if it looks like I remember it and I still like it, it can go on the body. If it doesn’t look like I remember it, well, I figure that whatever image I’ve made it into in my head is probably what I really want.

Ron liked that idea, so we left the parlor and the flash behind. When we finally returned many months later, the flash was still there, and Ron still liked it. He spoke to one of the tattoists about doing it, a truly wonderful young man named Gordon Sparks.

The tatt would take multiple sessions, in the middle of which Gordon left the parlor and opened his own place with his brother. They worked out of the house they were renting. The landlord in me shudders at what they did to the place – they painted it entirely black, walls and ceiling, with no dropcloths to protect the floor, and the occasional dark purple accent.

But it was the most wonderfully chaotic place. People were always coming and going, the music was loud, and everything was underscored by the buzz of tattoo guns. I don’t think Gordon was ever less than three hours behind schedule, and Ron and I would sit on the sofa in the living/waiting room, watching the mayhem swirl around us. We were a good 15 years older than anyone else there and had some of the best conversations with heavily tattooed and pierced young’uns who were somewhat astonished to see a couple of old folks (ancient in our 30s!) hanging out serenely in the middle of the tumult.

It was here that I first heard Juke Joint Jezebel.

And every time I’ve heard it since, it’s reminded me of a very unique experience in my life. Not only did I get to watch Gordon create a piece of art before my eyes. (Once with Ron straddling a dining chair in the kitchen because there was a woman getting an ass tattoo in the dining/tattooing room and they wanted to give her some privacy. For some reason, that’s always been my favourite part of the whole fucking story.) But Ron didn’t want to see the piece until it was complete – it was on his back, so that was easy enough to do – and it was my job both to photograph it after each session, and to discuss the design with Gordon as it evolved.

The end result was a gorgeous tattoo that perfectly encapsulates the personality of its canvas. I may not be able to show you Ron’s face, but if you want to know exactly what he’s like, here you go:

Except Ron has pupils.

Partway through Ron’s sessions, I asked Gordon if he could do some touch-up work on the tattoo I’d had done during the visit where Ron first saw this piece of flash, and he said sure. It had been beyond the previous artist’s abilities, and while it was certainly good enough for people to see, it wasn’t the dramatic piece I’d wanted.

He said sure and, in contrast to the normal chaotic environment, one afternoon with just Gordon and I in the parlor, I spent one of the most relaxing hours of my life, lying face down on a tattoo bed while he used a pen to do some freehand drawing and figure out how he wanted to proceed with the design. His work eventually led to one of the most amazing compliments I’ve ever received: that I look like a Bond villain.

And since every Bond villain needs a theme song, I think Juke Joint Jezebel works perfect for me.

For more posts in this series, click here.

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