Like Sublime suns or Insane Clown Posse portraits, most band tattoos look like complete shit. But Black Flag transcends this rule because even the shoddiest stick ‘n’ poke versions of the punk band’s logo, four rectangular bars, somehow always look great. In fact, a chance meeting between strangers sporting time-weathered versions of the iconic bars prompted geologist Stewart Ebersole and friends to travel North America and Europe for five years shooting photos of others inked with the cult insignia for the upcoming book Barred for Life. Having a crooked and faded set of the bars myself, this compilation reminds me of how meeting others who’ve defaced themselves similarly often means meeting your new best friend or future wife.
What’s the deal with Black Flag tattoos being everywhere?
Stewart Ebersole: The story always goes, no matter where you have the bars, you always make room for them amongst a battery of other tattoos. So, if you have a full sleeve, your bars will stand out prominently with an unrelated halo of tattoos around them. No one will ever tattoo over them. And they also won’t add them into the general motif of the sleeve because it’s just four rectangular bars. What are you going to do with them?
And no matter how faded they get, I find that people rarely get them touched up.
That’s it. They never get touched up. Actually, that’s how the idea for the book came up because my friends and I were all in agreement that they were just the shittiest tattoos that we had all ever gotten. Even my worst tattoos pale in comparison to the fact that my bars are bleeding together and are just becoming one big blob. My friend told me I should just make three new blobs and then it would be four big blobs.
That’d be a graceful save: Black Blob. Are the bars blowing up anywhere in particular right now?
The building wave is coming from Scandinavian countries. I don’t know what it is about Denmark, Sweden, Latvia, Estonia, and places like that, but these people are super hardcore about it. There are like thousands of them, at least from the impression that I get. But Black Flag isn’t theirs. This isn’t church-burning metal, this is Black Flag. It’s totally different.
I was really surprised to read that Bryan Adams has the bars? How did you find that out?
I actually found that out a long time ago through a mutual friend. I also heard that the guy from Fight Club has one.
Yeah. Edward Norton has them on his back I think. Johnny Depp has them too. There was actually a rumour that we couldn’t substantiate about that girl who’s married to the other guy from Fight Club. What’s her name? Angelina Jolie, that’s it. She has a Sick of It All tattoo as well, but I don’t know if that’s a punk thing or not. There’re some other rumours that are surfacing. It’s starting to get kind of out of control in a way. There are so many crazy stories.
We spoke with this guy who was fighting in Afghanistan and got his leg blown off by a mine. After six months of being in a coma, he all of a sudden started hearing Henry Rollins’s voice in his head. But that’s what actually made him wake up out of his coma. Henry Rollins was literally beside his bed, stopping by in the middle of doing an USO tour.
I don’t know how Henry Rollins sounds, you know, like his real voice. But for this guy, the next thing he knew he was waking up from a coma to the sound of his voice and then going to get the tattoo. All inspired by the guy who seems to pretend like he was never part of the band in the first place.
Barred for Life is coming out early this fall on PM Press.