I Got a Free Nirvana Tattoo at a Record Store in Long Island

Categories: Nirvana

The finished product
I was told by my roommate the night before that passing out would be "uncool." "You're getting a cool person tattoo," she said half-jokingly, half-concerned. "If you pass out or cry, that would defeat the purpose."

See also: In Remembrance of Kurt Cobain: The Most Unique Nirvana Covers

Photos: Kelly Schott
Looney Tunes
Twenty years ago, the line "teenage angst has paid off well" opened Nirvana's final full-length album In Utero. For Kurt Cobain, at the time, it had. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" helped push the band to the top of the late '91 charts and into almost mythological esteem in popular music.

At 21, the remnants of my teenage angst paid off in the form of a free tattoo from a pop-up shop in a record store on the release date of In Utero's reissue box set. September 24, 2013 had been my second attempt at getting the band's squiggly-lined, dead-eyed smiley face logo inked somewhere on my body. A year to the day before, the twenty-first anniversary of Nevermind, an arbitrary call for celebration on my part, I gathered some friends and headed to a well-reviewed tattoo parlor in the East Village without an appointment or enough will to actually go through with it. Unsurprisingly, they were booked for the evening, and I successfully dodged the pleas of my friends to just go somewhere along the trash-covered, crust punk infested stretch of St. Mark's to go through with my plan before just calling it a night.

Trapped on the LIRR heading to Babylon, there were no more excuses. I had already skipped two classes and was stuck going through with an idea I had made for myself two years prior when I first began considering the tattoo. A few weeks ago news outlets announced the special trio of promotional tattoo pop-up shops in Long Island, Seattle, and Los Angeles. This was no longer an idea, it was fate.

Entering The East Coast site for the free tattoo event took place at a West Babylon record store, open since 1971, called Looney Tunes. A friend and I arrived almost exactly at noon when the store opened for business. They stopped tattooing at 8 p.m. Anniversary editions of In Utero were displayed near the entrance where participants could purchase anything from the remastered disc to the massive box set in order to get a qualifying yellow wrist band for a tattoo. Immediately the sound of a buzzing needle in the back filled up the store.

The tattoo line
On an elevated stage behind rows of new and used vinyl and stacks of CDs, Jason and Adam of Brooklyn's Three Kings Tattoos were stationed at their tables already inking up two of the first participants of the day. In line in front of us for tattoos were four people--a modest (though understandable) turn out for this type of promotion, especially at noon on a Tuesday. Two men at the front were both wearing blue flannel. The couple in front of us had traveled from Staten Island that morning and offered words of reassurance for the first-time tattoo-getter (me) as we waited in line. They received their tattoos simultaneously and, as the woman got hers on the inside of her elbow, she explained how she and her husband had met in New Orleans while volunteering after Hurricane Katrina. They'd just moved to New York, and felt the opportunity to get a free Nirvana tattoo was something they couldn't miss. Together we decided that the compilation video the managers of the event were filming and photographing all around us should be soundtracked by the repeated scream of "pain" at the end of "You Know You're Right."

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