Letters to Strangers: Face Tattoo

Danger of Death Metal

Dear Face-Tattoo,


Five Finger Death Punch is a shitty favorite band.  That’s where you lost me.  Admittedly, I was caught off guard by your sudden approach and desire to strike up a conversation about my t-shirt, but it wasn’t until that moment that I checked out.  That’s not to say they are a shit band (they are), people pay them money to make noise so they must have some redeeming qualities(?), just that as far as favorite bands go, they are a poor choice.

But let me backtrack a bit.  I’m not often approached by folks with elaborate, colorful face and skull tattoos.  That’s not really my clique.  Honestly, even for Hawaii where a certain amount of cranial tattooing is not entirely uncommon, yours were a little on the excessive side, so, yeah, I was a little guarded when you suddenly sat down across the aisle from me and started talking about my t-shirt.  A Perfect Circle is a great band though, so it’s clear your musical tastes aren’t completely terrible.  If you’d told me they were your favorite band, I think things could have continued more smoothly.

Actually, now that I really think about it, I’m having a hard time getting a handle on the conversation as a whole.  Did you actually want to talk?  Or did you want to just compliment my shirt and escape but somehow feel like you got roped into a conversation?  Because I would have been fine just not talking at all.  I had my headphones on, blasting out some Tragically Hip (which you interrupted), and was perfectly content.  You could have accomplished that goal by just pointing at my shirt and giving me a thumbs up. Then you’d have gotten a quick \m/ and we’d have been done interacting.  But instead you took this wild, shotgun approach to small talk which I, as a general rule, dislike.  So I tried to engage, anywhere I found something interesting, but you kept bouncing around.  Let’s do a play by play here:


YOU: Hey man, I like your shirt.

ME: Thanks.

YOU: You ever seen them in person?

ME: Uh, yeah, once. When I lived in Portland.


So far so good.  I’m a little hesitant at this point because, again, I was in the zone and you have a face tattoo.


YOU: You lived in Portland? I’m moving there October 13th.

ME: Oh yeah?

YOU: Yeah. Some other people have said I should move there.  Said I’d fit right in.

ME: Yeah, I can see that.

YOU: How long have you lived here?

ME: About ten years, now.

YOU: Yeah?

ME: Yeah, moved out in ’06.

YOU: Been here about six years myself.

ME: Oh? Where’d you moved from?

YOU: Houston. Texas.

ME: I hear you guys have your own Portland down there; Austin.

YOU: Yeah. I’ve never been to Portland so I thought, “Fuck it.” And I bought a ticket.

ME: (chuckled)


Then there’s this long pause.  If you wanted out, this was your chance.  Full disclosure; at this point I was still itching to put my headphones back in.  Could have made a clean, not at all awkward break right here.  Just a quick, “Well, it was nice talking to you.” And this all could have been over.


YOU: I sing in a death metal band.




ME: Oh yeah?

YOU: (Voice noticeably deeper than before) Yeah, I just have one of those voices that works better with growls.

ME: Okay.

YOU: I also sing, like clean vocals.


Okay, completely left-field info here.  I don’t even know what to do with this; so we get another weird pause.  I’m not sure if you really want me to inquire about your band, or if you’re trying to justify the face tattoos, or just trying to impress me.  I can understand where you might be trying to justify the aesthetic because, at this point, I’m having a really hard time looking you in the eye.  The ironic part is that it has nothing to with the designs on your skull.  See, you have these super light blonde/ginger eyebrows that just disappear completely on your face.  I was really trying to figure out if that was the color or if you had shaved them off.  It’s really off-putting when you can’t see someone’s eyebrows; there are so many facial cues stored there, so being unable to see what yours were doing was making it really hard to read your face.  You know, aside from the actual words on your face.


YOU: So, what kind of music do you like?


Ugh, the dreaded question.  Here’s the thing.  I like music, I like talking about music, I’m a snob about music.  I have a really hard time classifying music.  I’ve got a personal distaste for labels when it comes to certain things; books, music, politics, philosophical or religious leanings…  Labels are for objects.  Things which are static and unmalleable in their nature; 1/4” Wedge Anchor that’s an acceptable label.  Labels create assumptions in everyone, they try to tell you in as few words as possible huge amounts of information about a person or thing; they lack nuance where as people, their beliefs and their arts are constructed entirely of nuance.

It’s because of this that you end up with shit like this, and this, and this, and this, and this.  Everyone wants to be and feel unique, but there’s also this desire to belong to something.  At the same time, we love to categorize things.  So you end up with as many musical genres as there are bands to embody them and people who say things like, “Well, it’s really sort of a grindcore-jazz infusion with country-hip-hop accents and a strong inner-city Motown vibe; but the greatest inspiration comes from 80’s era Neil Young.”  That shit’s exhausting (also it sounds terrible, nobody do that).


ME: Oh, I’m on a pretty wide spectrum.  I stay mostly in the “hard rock” area, but my tastes run the gamut.

YOU: Cool.  How old do you think I am?


Okay, man, you gotta work on your segues.  And what a strange question.  It’s like  asking, “Hey, you wanna try to offend me?”  But I guess I’ll play along.


ME: Uuuuuuuuh, 28?

YOU: I’m 24.

ME: Okay, not too far off.

YOU: Five Finger Death Punch is my favorite band.


Shit.  Here’s the issue, despite the awkward lack of conversational transitions, up to this point I was at least partially interested in this discussion.  We had some common ground musically, you’re moving to a place I had lived, so there was stuff to talk about there, and, though it’s a little awkward to learn before even learning someone’s name, you sing in a death metal band; I’ve never known anyone who sings in a band… Death metal or otherwise.  There’s surely some artsy fartsy conversation that could be had there as well.  But Five Finger Death Punch? I mean, you’d think that if you sing in a death metal band, your favorite artist would at least be within the commonly accepted bounds of death metal like Opeth or Paradise Lost, both great bands that I love… My reflex was to pull a twisted up face and say, “Really?” but I held off.  I’ll try to be diplomatic about this…


ME: Oh? Yeah, I’ve got a few years on you, more of a ‘90s music guy.  I’m 36.

YOU: Oh… You don’t look 36.


Long pause.


YOU: Anyway, sorry for bothering you.  Just wanted to say I like your shirt.

ME: Alright…


And then you went back to your original seat.  So, I’m not sure what killed that conversation.  Maybe I screw my face up a little at Five Finger Death Punch.  Maybe you decided that a dude 12 years your senior wasn’t someone you could relate to?  Maybe you ran out of awkward segues?  I don’t know.

Whatever the case, I can promise you this, I’ve had time to process and regain my footing.  You caught me by surprise last time, but the event that we met again, there’s gonna be a rematch and you’d better be ready to defend that choice of favorite band.  Because you’re wrong.


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