Ink-Stained Wretch

I’ve once again been thinking about getting a tattoo, after my genius friend Jack Miller reminded me the other day that I once had a plan to get a tattoo on my back saying, “If you’re a heart surgeon, flip me over.” Anyway, I started trolling the Web for designs related to classical music, and came up with, well, next to nothing. I mean, I wasn’t expecting a full-sleeve portrait of J. S. Bach with a flaming skull (although that would be pretty lovely), but given the predominance of popular music logos, lyrics, and album covers I’ve seen permanently disfiguring various club denizens, I was hoping that at least a few adventurous souls were holding up the highbrow end. (Frank Zappa did turn up, as did La Divina—we’ll give Nietzsche an honorable mention.)

The most common classical tattoo seems to be the music itself: This guy opted for a Bach suite, and here’s an interesting cross between the Ravel Pavane and an Earle Brown score. Also Brahms 3, although if you’re going to ink up your foot, Winterriese might be a wittier choice. My favorite is this guy, who will never, ever forget the fingering to the Chopin First Ballade. (All links via the inexhaustible BMEInk.)

I considered tattooing my hand in a Guidonian manner, but palm tattoos are, from what I hear, comparatively excruciating. Maybe I’ll go with the lion from Marc Chagall’s Zauberflöte poster.

Ah, maybe not—that face kind of creeps me out. See? This is why I still don’t have a tattoo.


  1. Yes, best to be sure (I speak from experience) before committing ink to skin. I don’t know about classical music tattoos, but I will share with you that the best tattoo I have ever seen (and as an aging punk rocker, I’ve seen many) was on David Yow, lead singer of a band from Chicago called The Jesus Lizard. It was a comma.

  2. Why not try the Guido hand with henna for a special occasion? It will stay for a while, it won’t hurt, and you won’t have to live with it for your WHOLE LIFE.

  3. I once toyed with the idea of getting Bugs Bunny as Brunnhilde, sliding off the big fat horse. Doubt I’ll ever do it, so you can use it if you want!

  4. I have a tattoo of a mesostic from John Cage’s <>Sixty Two Mesostics Re: Merce Cunningham<> on the small of my back. I like to show it to other Cage scholars at conferences, just to intimidate them with my commitment to the subject.

  5. I also have always balked at getting a tattoo. I need something that really means something to me. Something like the DSCH motive is nice but I don’t love Shostakovich’s music that much!! Anyways I’m not the type that wears his heart on his sleeve (heh).

  6. I’ve had a non-musical idea for that tattoo I’ve never gotten around to getting for years and years, but now that you mentioned Earl Brown I thought the score for “December 1952” could be a good idea, particularly because it can cover a large area with relatively little ink (= pain and $$$).Then I realised it would probably come out looking like a skin disease, so forget it. Perhaps a passage from Cornelius Cardew’s < HREF="" REL="nofollow"><>Treatise<><> instead?

  7. Oh, don’t get a tattoo. You’ll look like Andrea Gruber.And working in graphics for the last three decades, I can’t imagine ANY logo design that I’d want to wake up to every morning.As John Waters has stated, if you’re looking for a growth industry in the coming years, tattoo removal is going to be huge.

  8. I have an alto clef tattoo on my left ankle! The ultimate goal is to get the first phrase of the last movement of the Brandenburg #6 around the ankle. Rock on.

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