“Oh Walter ran, and did they kill Evelyn?
He had his token in his hand
But he jumped over the turnstile
And he ran down the platform
They were hot on his heels
An outbound was bearing down on him
Walter jumped in front of it
“Just step in one direction
Stutter step for one split second
Faster through the intersection
A jackknife to a swan…and he was gone.”
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ tune “A Jackknife to a Swan” is the first track off of their album of the same name and one of my favorite ska songs. The opening drum hits under the palm muted guitar strokes and fires up a heavily distorted punk rock-style guitar driven opening to the song. The verses, which I’ll describe later, are layered on top of a bass-driven groove before going back into the punk-style power chords and palm mutes. Finally, a nearly victorious sounding chord progression and arrangement accompany the chorus, coming to an end after a smooth, classy horn section, sometimes including up to 5 or 6 people, plays several measures for a wonderful jazz-influenced touch.
And the lyrics? It’s very much debated. The song describes a man coming home from work very early in the morning, who apparently is having some issues with a group of folks, possibly the mafia or some type of gang. We hear of a character named Evelyn, who we assume is more than likely his wife, who gets set on fire early in the song. The same group of burned Evelyn to death spotted our character about to board the subway home and gave chase. Not wanting to be caught, our character takes his life into his own hands and dives in front of the moving subway train. “A Jackknife to a Swan and he was gone…”
It’s been said that Dickie Barrett stated that this is a retelling of a true story that took place in the Bosstones’ hometown of Boston, Mass. But even if it is a true story, can one not look at it as a series of metaphors? I certainly do. Reading through the story, of the song (lyrics are here) I identify with the character in many ways. The character’s wife “Evelyn” has been taken away from him, forcefully and brutally, by a group of people who had the power (but not necessarily the authority) to do so and were coming for him next. Realizing they were going to take him down, too, he had the last laugh as he took himself out, not giving them the pleasure of doing it themselves. I have a similar attitude as something that meant a lot to me was taken away by people who acted only in a vulgar display of power. They were aiming to take me down, too, but I wasn’t ready to go down. And I won’t be for a while. Just know that when I am ready, I’ll do it myself, no one will have the pleasure of doing it except me.
That being said, the image of a “A Jackknife to a Swan” is very powerful and meaningful to me. There happens to be a physical image of the metaphor that accompanies the track title on the back of the Bosstones’ CD. What a sad, yet beautiful image to stick in one’s mind. It appears that the swan was still in it’s own water, where it was comfortable and happy, doing things its way.
I contacted Rob Jarrett at 2Ton Tat2 in Kingsport, TN shortly after he finished my last tattoo (the ska pin up girl, described here) and informed him that I was ready to rock out the Jackknife design that I had submitted to him. At the time I only had the small icon on the back of the album as a source, but luckily for both of us I was able to track down a larger version of the same image. Ska half sleeve part 3 was now scheduled.
No alterations were made, as I wanted the image to appear exactly how it was on the album, only without the type. Rob had already made a print for himself to use as the stencil and quickly knocked out the type, leaving a piece that was quite a bit larger than I anticipated originally. This was cool, though, as when we placed the stencil on my arm, I realized that how I was seeing it in my head wouldn’t have worked very well, since the design is more intricate than I thought and would have lost a lot of detail had it been smaller.
I assumed the position of laying flat on my back with my right arm stretched out over another cushion-top bar where Rob would be working (the tattoo is on the inside of my right arm). A seemingly comfortable position at first, one that I thought I could lay in all day. We got started at about 12:30, I had just eaten lunch, we were listening to Jack Johnson and I was ready to relax for a while.
Despite the comfortable position, I wasn’t able to see much of the work he was doing from where my head was and how my arm was laid out. I saw just the edge of the outline on one side and occasionally some smeared color that had been wiped off, colors that I thought were gorgeous. I couldn’t wait to see what he finished with. I felt Rob get closer to my arm pit as he was working on the top of the piece and he said “We’re getting to the real tender spot, man.” so I braced myself. When it didn’t feel as bad as I thought it was going to, I tried to move my fingers and barely could as my arm was stiff and numb. No wonder it didn’t hurt any worse than it did.
We finished in just a little over an hour and when he asked me to take a look at it, I struggled to bend my arm back down and checked it out. My bleeding was minimal on this side of the arm for whatever reason, so it looked beautiful immediately after finishing and even as soon as I took the bandage off at home. After a nice cleaning it seemed to sparkle in its beauty. Though it didn’t hurt bad while he was working on it, I quickly realized that it was much more sore than any of my other tattoos after the fact. It’s been hard to deal with but after 2 days, the pain is almost completely gone.
I told Rob I’d see him in 2 months (which was about the time between now and the last tattoo) so be on the lookout for ska half sleeve part 4. Coming to a theater near you!
One more time, here’s the song:
Enjoy today’s haiku:
So I wrote this blog
I wait while the water boils
Cheese-filled meatballs, y0!