I met Kelby Losack in a gritty bar in Norman, Oklahoma. Since that day, the man has become one of those rare friends you never see in real life but keep in touch with regularly online and would absolutely love to hang out with. Recently, he also became a press mate of mine: his novella Heathenish was published by Broken River Books. I read it expecting a lot, and it delivered more than I could ever have hoped for. Seriously, keep your eyes on this guy. In any case, one of the first things that you see about Kelby is his ink. He has the kind of tattoos that hold stories, and I wanted to know all about them. Here’s what he had to say.
“You could walk into a tattoo shop with a stack of cash and pay a professional to permanently stamp your body with a thoroughly contemplated work of art that you’ll cherish forever, or you can buy a gun online and get some coiled needles from the local tattoo supply/sex shop and go crazy.
Speaking from loads of experience going the latter route, I’d advise against it. Go support your local tattooist and get some quality shit done.
I have thirty tattoos and I regret at least half of them. Thanks to Stupid Kid Me, I know how tricky it is to design cover-ups. I also know how fucking painful laser tattoo removal is.
I don’t want to talk about the ink I try to hide, though. I do have some pretty dope memories etched into my skin, so I’ll share a few of those stories.
I dug some cursive letters and a Valentine heart into my sister’s hip when she was, like, fifteen?, so when I asked her to drag a needle across the sensitive skin over my throat and carotid artery, she was ever so eager to pick up the gun and ask what I wanted. And that’s where the bass clef, phonograph, big blue treble clef, and the line of music notes that wrap around my neck came from. I probably wanted the tattoos to express my love of music or some shit–I don’t know, I was a teenager. But today, what these tattoos represent is my bond with my little sister.
A sewing needle tied to a pencil and dipped in black India ink was the instrument wielded by my drunk and high friend as I lay with my face in his lap, awaiting my first stick-and-poke: an inverted cross below my left eye. I really dig this tattoo, mostly for the history behind it. I was in a fucked up state when I got it, so it’s sort of a reminder of getting through a very dark period. I’m still the heathen it represents, but now I’m a sober, happy heathen.
I have a friend who used to work in a shop, but it was a struggle for him to rent a chair and put food on the table, so he got a job at the plant and started tattooing his clients at his house. I threw a couple twenties his way one evening and–while we ate Ramen noodles for dinner and his kid played on the floor–he put some hieroglyphics on my fingers. It had taken longer to set up the gun than it had to get tattooed and he was kinda bummed, said, “Man, I’ve been itching to do some work, you sure that’s all you want?” and I was all like, “Fucking tatt me up, brother, go bananas,” and while he got to work drawing up a screaming, veiny skull, I dicked around with his gun and doodled some shitty stars on my wrist and then we went to his bedroom and the screaming skull on my arm turned into a free-handed twisted tree on my shoulder and a family of bats across my chest. I left that night sore all over, but thrilled to have cured a homeboy’s boredom in exchange for some dope artwork.
- David Osborne picked me up from the Norman, Oklahoma bus stop for a weekend of chilling and reading books for tweakers in a smoky bar. But first, we drove straight to his best friend’s house to drink beers and kick the shit. His friend Eric had a tattoo gun set up and a lone potato on the table (I don’t know if that has anything to do with anything, but it stood out to me for whatever reason). So, of course, I can’t resist the needle, and I ended up with the most original velociraptor tattoo ever. Also, David and I shared needles after assuring each other we did not have AIDS, so above being my editor, publisher, or friend, the dude’s my fucking blood brother.
This is my favorite tattoo. And I got it in a legit shop! Your boy’s growing up! The neo-traditional wolf and dagger on my hand is dedicated to my wife, who loved me through some hard shit and helped me out of it. The dagger going through the wolf’s head is a metaphor for overcoming a nasty speed addiction, battling depression, and killing some other dark parts of myself. I am the wolf, and I am also the dagger.
Kelby Losack is the author of HEATHENISH (Broken River Books) and some other stuff. He sometimes raps and produces music under the alias Heathenish Maverick. Builds cabinets and does various construction work to pay the bills. He lives with his soul mate in the Third Coast.