Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tattoo You: Janis Joplin

I hate discussing my generation, the 'Millennials' -- not because I am ashamed to be a part of them (quite the opposite in fact, I think we're rather rad), but because it is such an exhausted topic. Critics, commentators and others of the same ilk have examined, analyzed and attempted to characterize us, to fit literally millions into a tight definition. This is something that occurs in every generation: the older folks warning that their successors will lead this world into galloping ruin. One trend that many who have written about this particular demographic have made note of is the more common acceptance of tattoos. I really love this discussion, because so many dismiss it as body ink becoming 'trendy'. Instead of celebrating how many more people embrace tattoos -- as a way to adorn your body, to celebrate your personhood in a way, to mark a moment in your life -- these people seem to prefer when tattoos were imbued with a certain meaning in regards to class/profession/general station in life. In the olden days, tattoos were marks of people on the fringes of society, people who couldn't be hemmed by rules of respectability. Those who had ink and wanted to be seen as 'proper' had to hide their body art (my grandfather, for example, has never acknowledged the design on his upper arm he got done during his sailor days).

I have tattoos myself, so perhaps I am a bit biased, but why do so many people point to the wider acceptance of tattoos as something to be critical of? The most frequent thing I hear is that I will regret them when I'm old, 'they'll look so weird when your skin ages.' Well, my skin itself will look weirder when it ages (should I cut off all my skin? Live out my twilight years as a living skeleton or something?) so I'm none too concerned about that. Also, I'm so excited because I envision myself and friends as a bunch of grannies all tatted up, and that frankly sounds AWESOME to me. I've written about body art a lot -- a few years back I wrote a little thing on DRG when I was considering whether or not to get one (ahh, youth) and more recently I talked to some girls for Teen Vogue about what it was like for them to get inked, but I wanted to highlight people I admire who have gotten tattoos. Some modern day, but more often those who got them before the body art renaissance (due to this blog's nature as a RETRO-oriented entity).

I wanted to start with Janis Joplin because she was one of the first super-influential celebrities to advocate tattoos, and also because her ink is so in-keeping with her personal style (i.e. it's BEAUTIFUL and ENVY-INDUCING). 

A few looks at Janis's beautiful Florentine bracelet design

Of her ink, Janis has been quoted as saying, "I wanted some decoration. See, the one on my wrist is for everybody; the one on my tit is for me and my friends. Just a little treat for the boys, like icing on the cake." Though Janis only spoke of two tattoos -- a Florentine bracelet design (which, according to this nifty article, is also a symbol of female liberation) on her left wrist and a heart on her left breast -- according to her autopsy report (which I feel really shady about reading, but stumbled upon while doing fact-checking for this post), she had a third design: a small flower near her right heel.  

Only a few glimpses of her small heart design were ever captured in a photo

Lyle Tuttle, Janis's tattoo artist, said about the period of the late 60s & early 70s when celebrities of the counterculture (Janis, Joan Baez, Peter Fonda, Flip Wilson, Cher) started getting tattoos: "Women’s liberation came along, gay liberation came along, kids’ liberation came along. Liberated people [were everywhere]. So then women started getting tattooed, and Janis Joplin, she got tattooed. She ran around at concerts all over the world telling about it. She wrote the best advertisement for tattooing that could ever be written. She got up there, her and her Chihuahua, one time and told them, 'People who get tattooed like to fuck a lot.'"

A rare shot capturing two of Janis's tattoos

With her signature salty humor and beautifully done designs, Janis really ushered in the modern era of body art appreciation, with many of her friends following suit after she got inked. Tuttle also stated in Rolling Stone that after Janis's death in 1970, he gave similar heart tattoos to over a hundred Janis fans in mourning and has continued to replicate for customers eager to pay tribute to their favorite songstress. 

What do you think of Janis's tattoos? Are there any other fab retro icons with enviable ink?