If You Could Get an Audio Tattoo, What Would It Be?


Here’s a thoroughly silly hypothetical question that is nonetheless lots of fun to think about: If audio tattoos existed, what would yours be?

Before we go farther, let’s define our terms. For the purposes of this thought experiment, an audio tattoo isn’t something that’s constantly playing (if it were, it would probably take less than a day for your favorite chorus to become a tool of psychological self-torture). It’s not that literal. It’s more like a snippet of sound you’ve decided to permanently associate with yourself. Whether you share it with others — whether you place it on your arm or your neck or at the small of your back — is up to you. In that sense, an audio tattoo is sort of like a marriage: it’s a lifelong, personal commitment that’s only as visible as you choose to make it.

Your audio tattoo can be any kind of sound — music, speech, animal noises, the screech of rubber tires on asphalt. The only caveat is that, unlike typographical tattoos that quote song lyrics or literature, the actual sound is at least as important as the words here. Also, like real ink, your audio tattoo can only be so big. Let’s say the average one, the aural equivalent of a big ol’ “Mom” heart on your bicep, runs ten to 15 seconds. Five seconds is a tiny symbol on your ankle. At upwards of two minutes, you’re edging towards a full-body tattoo.

With all this in mind, dear readers, we’re asking you to indulge us by letting us know: What bit of audio would you get tattooed on your body?

To get you started, here are some selections from your Flavorwire staffers:

Sarah Seltzer: I’d have to say the opening celesta notes of the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning.” It’s the sonic equivalent of light streaming through a window, waking you up, a mix of new promise and weariness. I’ll never forget hearing those notes the first time, and feeling like my mind was expanding.

I tend to be really lyrics-oriented, so in that sense, my choice would be Dylan’s opening line (probably about Joan Baez) from “She Belongs to Me”: “She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist, she don’t look back.” None of those statements are particularly true about me, but I wish they were, which is kind of how I imagine a tattoo.

Alison Herman: My favorite tattoos on other people tend to involve references to one’s hometown — one friend has the number of the house she grew up in under her ear in Roman numerals; another has an acorn on his ankle and a leaf behind his ear for Raleigh, the City of Oaks — so I’d have to go with the sound of seagulls. They’re the rats of the sea, sure, but I kind of miss running away from them with a binder over my head during high school lunchtime, now that I realize how abnormal that was…

Tom Hawking: The intro to the Stooges’ “Dirt”: the drum roll; Iggy making some sort of strange, animalistic noise; Scott Asheton’s slow, deliberate beat; and then that moody, looping bassline. It runs to about 16 seconds, so I’ll get this as a nice big piece on my not-especially-big bicep.

Jonathon Sturgeon: Mine is the part of “Michael and the Slipper Tree” by The Equals that repeats, “Michael / Michael and the Slipper Tree / Slipper Tree, Slipper Tree / Brand new shoes for you and me!”

Alison Nastasi: The contented noises my cats make — tiny sniffles and squeaks, chirping, meows, yawns, and purring. They’re the most soothing noises I can think of right now, which would be a requirement for any kind of audio tattoo.

Pilot Viruet: Because I’m committed to being the most ridiculous person I can possibly be, I would get the two seconds of Will Smith laughing at the beginning of “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.”

Shane Barnes: I’m probably more hesitant about this than most people are about real tattoos, but oh well. Do you need a “reason”? Animal Collective’s “Fireworks,” from 5:08-5:30, as a forearm tattoo.

Jason Bailey: “Permanently associate” is a tough turn of phrase. It’s an idea I’d require quite a bit of conversation to embrace, for the same reason I’ve never gone for an ink tattoo — permanence is scary. Who knows what I’ll listen to 20 years from now? Will I find it as problematic as some of the stuff I was listening to 20 years ago?

But, in the spirit of the thing, I’ll pick “Funky Drummer” by James Brown featuring Clyde Stubblefield, one of the most sampled pieces of music ever, less for the song itself (though it’s SICK) than for what it represents: a foundation, and a flexibility. It — and, particularly, its solo drum break — is a piece of music that can seemingly go anywhere and do anything. Sometimes it’s front and center; sometimes it’s one of the elements; sometimes it’s buried so deep you can’t even hear it. I like the idea of being able to be all of those things at once.

Judy Berman: In the 48 hours or so that I’ve spent obsessing over this question, I’ve entertained plenty of possibilities, all musical. There are the instrumental parts I’ll never get sick of: the teasing bassline to New Order’s “Age of Consent,” the eviscerating riff that opens Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers’ “Chinese Rocks” (because I like a brutal guitar attack, not because I like heroin, promise). There are the great confluences of lyrics and vocal delivery, from the chorus of X-Ray Spex’s “I Live Off You” to the bit of Brian Eno’s “Burning Airlines Give You So Much More” that goes, “How does she intend to live when she’s in far Cathay? / I somehow can’t imagine her just planting rice all day / Maybe she will do a bit of spying with micro-cameras hidden in her hair.” (Eno’s decadent drawl is the ultimate English accent.)

I’ve narrowed it down to three, which seems reasonable: 1. The part of Hole’s cover of “Gold Dust Woman” where Courtney Love is screaming “black widow,” one of the all-time bravest utterances in music; 2. Times New Viking’s “Teenage Lust!” (0:52-1:07), because I never want to forget what it feels like to be that young; and 3. the kick-drum and tambourine intro to VU’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” which always makes me feel like my next great adventure is just beginning.

Now it’s your turn: let us know about you dream audio tattoo in the comments, and we’ll publish a list of the best responses.