Feel the Pain: The True Story of a Forum Poster''s Quest for a Sweet Tattoo

HMXHellion is Senior Writer/Producer at Harmonix. Mattitude is a forum kid, video editor, and creator of the animated series "Boinky the Circle."       

I do believe introductions are in order. My name's Matt, but many of you know me as 'mattitude' right here on the Rock Band forums. Like most of you, I am an avid Rock Band player. And that's it. I don't work for Harmonix, and my involvement with the game goes no further than loudly wailing on my plastic axe through the wee hours of the morning, standing amid a sea of Miller High Life empties and Fruit Roll-Up wrappers, until the fuzz is called on me on a nightly basis. I'm sure many of you can relate.

So you may be wondering what a Johnny No-Significance like me is doing penning words for the 'Zine. I've embarked on a fable which Harmonix deems worthy enough to share with all of you. And somebody more important missed their deadline, I assume. It all started when I felt the urge to self-mutilate.

Perhaps I should explain. I have tattoos, many of which I even received while sober. And I was thirsty for more. And no tattoo magazine, artist's portfolio, or Tiny Toons sticker book could quench this proverbial thirst with the inspirado I was seeking. That all changed a couple years back when I got my grubby little meathooks on a copy of Rock Band. If you're anything like me, you've noticed something mighty special about the game, beyond its great music and mind blowing fungasms... a certain pizzazz, a special zing, or some other third thing with a 'z' in it.

I'm talking specifically about the smokin' hot art style. I was immediately smitten with the various skulls, flames, tentacles, two-headed tigers and what-have-you that adorn the game menus and loading screens, and on this very website. Gears turned. A light bulb illuminated. I think I farted. I knew that I wanted this iconic badassery spattered all over my arm for all time.

It's important that I take the time to clarify, and to stroke my own ego, by reminding you that a few months ago I first crossed paths with none other than Harmonix's own HMXHellion. Her band VAGIANT's tour brought them to my hometown, and she swung by my place to hang out with me, a move that deemed me "the luckiest son of a hooey in the entire hemisphere" on the forums for several weeks after the fact. And rightly so. When I was able to muster up the courage to string more than a couple words together, I informed The Hellion of my tattoo plan. She deemed it officially rad, and offered to put me in contact with the man responsible for Rock Band's visual smorgasbord, a very talented artist named John Dee.

Not one to let somebody else have all the fun, The Hellion informed me:

"You know what? I think I'm gonna get a tattoo as well."

"Oh, that's cool," I responded. "What were you thinking of getting?"

"I dunno. Something awesome, probably."

Fair enough. I figured accusing her of tattoo envy(1) on the spot wouldn't have been the smartest move, so I kept my mouth shut. It was decided that The Hellion and I would ride shotty with each other to our respective tattoo appointments, and we could share our tale together. I was pretty intimidated to have such a talented rock goddess along for my every move, and one responsible for the radness that is Rock Band no less. But, come on. She's wicked hot and awesome. Are you going to turn down an opportunity to hang out with her? No. You're not.

I contacted Mr. Dee, pleading with him to whip up an original design for me and my poor barren right arm. I was more than willing to compensate him for his troubles with as much Camel Cash or Denny's coupons as he could carry. He wrote back politely declining my compensatory offer, but was more than willing to indulge this fan boy. A couple weeks later, I held in my hands the artwork that was to become the raddest tattoo ever to grace my skin; a variable potpourri of tentacles, skulls, and barbed wire that have made Rock Band the visual feast that it is.

Okay, over to me (The Hellion). I got my first tattoo when I was 13 in Jersey. I brought a cool, older friend with me and "borrowed" my older sister’s license in order to fake my age. This was a particularly smooth move on my part because a) despite my friend’s attempts to solidify the fakery by calling me "Sue" repeatedly, I never remembered to answer to the name and would instead look around distractedly while she shouted, "Hey SUE, come over here SUE, remember how your name is SUE?" and because b) my sister is only three years older than me, making my fake age two years short of the actual requirement.

It turns out that I overestimated the amount of concern that the tattoo artist (whose name was something terrifying like "Snake" or "Larry") had for his shop’s reputation. Because I was such a worldly 13 year old, I wanted to get something meaningful enough to have on my body for the rest of my life... something that would always be important to me... something that summed up the very nature of who I am. And that is why I have a f**king retarded rune symbol forever etched onto my hip. I think it was supposed to symbolize "life" or "sex" or "pancakes" or something – I really don’t remember. And thus, in my adulthood, I have learned that the best method of selecting a tattoo design is just to just slam a couple of Jim Beam and Hi-Cs and go, "Hey, you know what I sort of like that would look sort of cool as a tattoo?" And thus, I settled on a design: the cover of the adorably bad Godzilla flick "Destroy All Monsters."

I had heard fantastic things about a studio called "Off the Map" in Easthampton, MA. They’ve got top-notch, world-famous artists, and unlike Snake/Larry, they do actually give a hot potato about their clientele. In discussing this with the many tattoo aficionados at Harmonix, I learned of a bizarre coincidence: the shop’s owner, Gabe, is an old friend and former coworker of none other than Harmonix art legend John Dee. In an additionally bitchin’ coincidence, the studio’s superstar artist "Tattoo Andy" was a big fan of Rock Band. I couldn’t have been more excited if 1978 Joe Perry showed up at my house and begged me to let him do a nakey sleepover and then make me a batch of churros. So Matt and I hit the road to Off the Map.

During my second session, there was another gentleman getting a cover-up job by an artist named Ben. When Tattoo Andy casually asked, "Oh, what was the old tattoo, a Ghostbusters logo?" (and by the way, it DID look like it used to be a Ghostbusters logo), the gentleman scoffed – this was scoffing in the literal, old-timey movie definition of scoffing – and replied in a haughty tone, "NO, it wasn’t a Ghostbusters logo. It was a primal design that I created."Matt and I shared a look which clearly conveyed: "Um, it would've been way cooler if it HAD been a Ghostbusters tattoo, buddy." I tried to ignore the gentleman for the rest of the session, and loudly talked about my awesome career as a video game developer, certain that the jerk-scented fellow would be humbled and awed to be in the presence of someone as unassailably rad as me.

After he left the studio I found out that he was Augusten Burroughs.     

That was pretty weird.(2)

After several minutes of me shouting, "WHAT? NO WAY!" and then a long, awkward silence, Tattoo Andy muttered, "What’s wrong with having a Ghostbusters tattoo? Ghostbusters is cool." I knew I was in the right hands. 

 I really can’t say enough about how great my experience at Off the Map was. The place itself is beautiful and cool and has tons of awesome art on the wall – mostly paintings featuring dead birds, but also a truly excellent portrait of Krang and another of a madonna devouring her infant.(3) Gabe is a super nice dude, Ben is hilarious, the receptionist chick is a megafox, and Tattoo Andy is the real deal – a tattoo artist with incredible technical skill and also a great eye for composition and detail. After three sessions totaling around fifteen hours of work, I ended up with what I believe to be probably... nay... definitely... the Greatest Tattoo in History:

Back to me (Matt). My search for a competent tattoo artist eventually led me to an awesome fellow named Chris at Good Faith Tattoos in Boston. He loved the design and felt like he could do it great justice. I strapped in and started what was to be a very long process that I can only describe as "hurty." While John Dee's iconic solid black flames look way cool on paper, they're easy to curse and temporarily loathe when they're getting needled into your flesh. The Hellion didn't even bother to try to hide her amusement at my variety of pained expressions.

"I suppose you think you're tougher than me," I said between grimaces.

"Oh, I know I'm tougher than you," she replied quickly and confidently.

I thought back to her tattoo session and realized that her face was mostly one of pure delight while getting inked, her eyes transfixed to a TV on the wall playing 'The Karate Kid' the whole time. So fine, The Hellion's tougher than me. Big deal. Out of the two of us, only one has an arrest record and willingly eats haggis. And it sure as hell ain't me. I accept my fate as the wuss of the duo.(4)

The best part about getting a tattoo is the celebratory "thank god there are no longer needles driving into my skin 150 times per second" post-session cocktail. After my first session, Matt and I hit a local dive bar for a pint (him) and a really sh**ty bourbon Manhattan (me).

"You know," Matt informed me coolly, "I could drink you under the table."

Everyone in the bar gasped and froze. The record on the jukebox screeched to a halt. A waitress dropped her tray.(5)

"Um," I casually responded, "Did you eat too many Crunch Berries this morning? You’re out of your element, Flyboy."

"I think I could out-drink you," he responded with a confidant smirk.

Now if there’s one thing I like, it’s a confidant smirk.(6) And I have a reputation to uphold – I didn’t make it through three years of public high school in central Jersey to have some round-headed forum-blaster make a mockery of my whiskey tolerance.

"It’s on, sunshine. You have no chance in Hell," I replied with certainty.

By the time I realized that I had just witnessed the World’s Most-Successful Pick-up Line, I was deep into a bottle of Woodford Reserve(7) and hanging out in a forum brat’s bachelor pad. And I must admit, the boy can put ‘em back. Despite being a skinny young thing, he can drink bourbon like a back-alley hobo with a toothache. It’s almost difficult to determine who won, but judging by the fact that Matt has no memory of our trip to Medieval Manor and that only one of us (hint: not me) woke up on the couch with a half-eaten Stouffer’s french bread pizza in his back pocket, I think it’s safe to say that my reputation remains unscathed.

Having been branded the softer of the two, as well as the inferior drinker (allegedly), I decided it was high time to throw down. By this point, The Hellion's ego had inflated to roughly the size of Pittsburgh, and it was time for her to put her proverbial money where her actual mouth was. I challenged her to a Rock Band competition. All I could imagine was the poetic justice of a forum kid (as we're referred to, I came to learn) quite literally beating a developer at their own game. It didn't exactly work out that way. Each welding our Strats, we booted up "My Sharona" on Expert in Score Duel mode. By the first "My-my-myee-yaey-yaey-WOO!" she had already made mincemeat out of me. Turns out the girl can shred on a plastic guitar just as well as her real one. I sullenly removed my Strat, vowing to never again play a music videogame against that game's developer who is also a musician. Yeah, brilliant, Matt.

Let's review the results of our hastily assembled gauntlet:

Rock Band prowess: WINNER – THE HELLION
Tolerance for imbibery: WINNER – (disputed... probably THE HELLION)

To the untrained eye it would seem that I'd been batting a .000. But there's one more nugget of information that's vital to this yarn:

While all this tomfoolery was occurring, Helen and I just so happened to fall in love. Hard.

Let's recap, shall we? I’m ending up with the most bitchin' tattoo in the galaxy, I supposedly got to visit Medieval Manor for the first time, and I now I get to date a rockstar who happens to have contributed to one of my favorite videogames of all time. And she's just as funny and awesome as you think she is. Pretty easy on the ol' eyeballs, too.

So when all is said and done, I think it's pretty clear who emerged the victor: ME.

Yeah, and now we live together, so "super lucky" Matt gets to clean up after me, pry expired foods from my hands, and listen to endless renditions of "None of Your Business" by Salt-N-Pepa. Sorry, afterstasis; I’m just in it for the Woodford Reserve.

1) Tattoo envy is actually a very grave and serious condition, resulting in many a poor decision. I still scoff at my own "Raisin Hell" tattoo. I don’t even like raisins. Look, I can do footnotes, too! "Ooooooh, I’m The Hellion, look at me, my cleverness is so bountiful that there isn’t even room for it all in my articles. It has to ooze out into, like, a dozen footnotes!"

2) It is worth noting that I am a HUGE fan of Augusten Burroughs’s writing. I have every book he’s ever written – and I’ve read them, too, they’re not just sitting on my shelves so that chicks think I’m hip and smart, unlike "Ulysses" or  "The Dictionary." I think Burroughs is a brilliant writer and an incredible storyteller. He is, however, approximately a four on the scale of one to douchehelmet.

3) That one scared me, so I tried to avoid looking at it, kind of like the monster face on my Man-E-Faces action figure that I would try to spin past as quickly as possible as a child.    

4) For the record, the tattoo isn’t actually done yet. One more session to go. I swear I’ll share it with you all on the forums in a couple weeks! I’ll be easy to find -- just look for the wicked popular kid.

5) Or at least those things would’ve happened if we lived in Saved by the Bell Town.

6) And if there’s two things I like, it’s gummi sharks.

7) Oooh, he had the good stuff!