Nick Cave shares advice for those considering getting a tattoo

He told the story of getting a skull and dagger tattoo in the Sydney red light district

Nick Cave has shared the story of his first tattoo, and advice for any fans considering getting inked.

The singer, who has just begun a headline tour of his native Australia with Warren Ellis, was asked a question about his skull and dagger tattoo.

How do you feel when you stand before the mirror?” the fan asked. “Do you like your tattoo?” while another question posed: “I came across a photo of a very “younger” Nick Cave, a Nick Cave as you would say “not in perfect showroom condition” but one sporting quite a menacing skull and dagger tattoo. And I wondered are you still after all these years, comfortable with this tattoo? Should I get a new tattoo?”


Cave then told the story of getting his tattoo in the Sydney red light district, which happened with The Birthday Party bassist Tracy Pew and in tribute to his girlfriend at the time Anita Lane, who passed away earlier this year.

Cave said: “I handed Tracy a beer mat and asked him to draw a skull and crossbones with a knife stuck in it, and a banner that said ANITA, who was my girlfriend at the time. We went over the road and I showed the tattooist the drawing. He was in the process of tattooing a large black swastika on the chest of some crazy fucker, but looked at the beer mat and said, “That drawing is bloody awful, mate, you’ll live to regret it.” I pointed to the guy in the chair and said, “What, and he won’t?”

“The tattooist said, “Fair enough’” and an hour later I walked out of the tattoo parlour with a skull and crossbones with my girlfriend’s name on it on my arm. Tracy, for reasons I will never understand, got an enormous sailing ship on his arm.”

Nick Cave
Nick Cave. Credit: Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images

Cave went on: “Now, nearly fifty years later, as I stand before the mirror, I would say, Luca, that the tattoo is the least of my worries. It seems to be just one part of a general emerging calamity. Having said that, I feel a sweet and teary pang as I look at the tattoo — I see that the name Anita has blurred and become unreadable, and the skull, sagging and old now, looks deranged and contemptuous.

“Still, I’m happy to carry this remnant of my youth with me, not just as a reminder of two of the most beautiful people who walked the earth — Anita Lane, who passed away recently, and Tracy Pew, who died not too many years after that carefree day in Sydney — but also that there was a time when I was both heroic and dumb enough to get a tattoo of a badly drawn skull with my girlfriend’s name on it. I guess I am wiser now, but that folly of youth will always go with me, and when I am finally in the ground, the grinning skull will continue to mock and jeer at all the lofty pretensions and vanities and cautions of these, my latter years.”


His story concluded: “So, should you get a tattoo, Chris? As a sage man of a mature age I would advise against it, which is why I think you should probably get one.”

After a busy summer of festival dates and the release of his new book Faith, Hope and Carnage, Cave and Ellis are touring Australia for a run of dates which wraps up on December 17 in Sydney.

The singer also confirmed that he plans to begin writing a new album at the end of this year. At a Q&A at London’s Southbank Centre last month (October 27), where he spoke with journalist Sean O’Hagan about their new book as part of the London Literature Festival, Cave confirmed that, after the tour ends, he will begin writing a new record.

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