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Jazz legend Peter Appleyard on tattoos Add to ...

Celebrated jazz vibraphonist, percussionist and composer Peter Appleyard received the Order of Canada in 1992. He came out of retirement this year to release The Lost 1974 Sessions and a new album of jazz standards, Sophisticated Ladies. He’ll be performing live to air on JAZZ FM in Toronto on Dec. 17 and at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre on Jan. 24.

What do you think of tattoos?

I don’t think I’d like to have one. I guess to some people they’re attractive. My mechanic had his done 15 years ago. It’s in the older inks they used in those days. He was going to get an MRI and, with an MRI, if they are not covered, they can explode and go into the lymph nodes.

I gather you don’t find tattoos attractive?

Well, I think with women it’s gilding the lily. I don’t know why anyone would have them put on their back. Or on their behind.

I grew up in a port, Grimsby, in England, and the only people who had tattoos were sailors. Later on, when I came to Canada, the prisoners in the jails started to get people to do them for them. They weren’t, of course, as decorative as they are today. My friend the mechanic wants to get another one done in commemoration of his grandfather.

I guess it does indicate, if somebody does put your name on their body, it’s okay. But what happens if someone puts on “I Love You, Marie” and the next year they’re going out with Shirley?

I gather you have no tattoos and won’t be getting any soon?

No. At my age, it won’t improve the body.

Suppose you had to get one. What would you get and where would you put it?

I’d probably put it on the back of my hand. It could be a treble clef sign, maybe with a pair of mallets, crossed, underneath it.

Getting tattoos can be expensive, painful and limiting in some job sectors, not to mention the problems of unsafe needles and infections. What are the upsides of tattoos?

I don’t see any upside. I can’t see putting something on your body for eternity and not being able to remove it. That would be the downside. I don’t think I’d like to see it every day if I began to dislike it.

Have you seen any remarkably beautiful or notably vulgar tattoos?

Not really. I see some of these Chinese letters that people put on themselves and I wonder what they say. You never really know unless you know Chinese and the [tattoo artist] has been truthful about it. Who knows what they write?

I can’t say I’ve seen one that I really admire. The mechanic, he races cars, and he has all these racing car drivers’ names there and he put his cars’ engine numbers there. With him, it looks okay, but I wonder how someone can put all that on their arm – it completely covers his arm. But he’s a great guy and a wonderful mechanic. His heart and soul is in it, so it’s an additional sign of devotion to his profession.

What about the fad nature of it? Short skirts, long hair, wide lapels and pointy shoes all come in and out of fashion with time.

It’s become de rigueur and very casual, and people are very comfortable with it. What will they turn to if they don’t have tattoos? I think of Charles Manson with a tattoo of a swastika on his forehead.

In the high-tech 21st century, can you speculate on the appeal of something so primitive as a tattoo?

I don’t think it’s anything to do with [technological] times. It’s another avenue of expression with some people. It creates an image. Maybe it makes the males feel more macho.

I’m old-fashioned. It might be okay if you want to do it for yourself and you’re really sold on the idea. Older people don’t particularly like change. We like to hang on to the status quo. [Tattoos are] something we have to live with. It’s become acceptable.

There were times when people used to [stare ] at blue hair and green hair. Today, nobody turns their head. I can hear my father saying, if he were alive today: “Doesn’t she look a devil!”

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