Getting a band tattoo is nearly as controversial as getting inked with the name of a significant other. What if you don’t like the band 10 years later? What if they put out a crappy album?
Notoriously devout, Morrissey fans probably aren't worried about falling out of love with the cantankerous former Smiths frontman. Over the course of more than 190 pages, the book To Me You Are a Work of Art documents the stories of people whose adoration is writ large on their bodies. Compiled by friends Anthony Amor and Julian Chavez – who, fittingly, met at a Morrissey concert – the book features fans from 11 cities, from Toronto to Chicago to L.A., who took off their shirts, rolled up their sleeves and opened up.
With photographs by Patrick Moore (and contributions from Nicole Kuntz, Jared Polin and Skully Smith), the idea for the book first came up when Chavez and Amor headed to a Morrissey concert in the Midwest. The two have seen the singer almost everywhere, including in Japan and the United Kingdom, and between the two of them, they have more than 20 tattoos dedicated to Moz.
Along with Moore, they started setting up photo shoots with friends and people who found them through their Instagram account. The book captures both the personality of these fans and their inked-on declarations of love for Morrissey and the Smiths.
“There’s some people that are, like, 'Well, my tattoo isn’t really good’ and we said, ’It’s not about that; it’s about how you dedicated a piece of your body to him or the Smiths,’” says Chavez.
Chavez, who grew up in L.A., remembers hearing Morrissey for the first time when he was 14. He attended his first concert at 15; now he estimates he’s seen the artist at least 200 times. At first he and Amor were simply Morrissey-concert-going buddies. But their friendships developed beyond the music
“He definitely brings people together,” says Chavez. “If it wasn’t for Morrissey, I would not even know Anthony or a good amount of my friends.”
The first Morrissey tattoo Chavez got reads “Let me live before I die,” a line from “That’s How People Grow Up.”
“He played it live for the first time and I remember hearing those lyrics and thinking, ’Man, that sounds amazing. I wanna get that tattooed.’” says Chavez. “The song hadn’t even been released or recorded yet … I remember one day I ran into his guitarist Boz and then I showed him it and then he was like, ’Well, what if he changes the lyrics?’ and I was like, ’He won’t.’”
Chavez laughs as he remembers the story. For many of the subjects photographed in the book, each tattoo carries a similar meaning and story. Quite a few of them get Morrissey’s signature tattooed on themselves after meeting him. One fan shared that when he showed the artist a tattoo portrait he got on his ribcage, Morrissey signed the words “More than life” near it. He got that tattooed on himself too.
“I don’t even have my mom’s name tattooed on me but yet I have a portrait of Morrissey and my hands tattooed of him,” says Chavez. “So it goes to that extreme, you could say. … I have big posters in my place where I live of him and maybe a small family picture of my family next to my fridge.”
Chavez and Amor chose to print only 2,000 copies of the book to make it feel special. Morrissey himself contributed a foreword after Chavez and Amor gave him updates on the book’s progress. They brought a finished draft of the book to a show and received an email soon after with the completed message.
In it, Morrissey writes: “I feel a great responsibility when I look at these photographs because here is the listener answering back, and we shall now be close for the rest of our lives.” He goes on to poetically describe the painful, bloody process of being tattooed and writes that the book contains “deep bonding and the deepest friendships.” As he eloquently explains, the tattoos reinforce a connection between the fan and Morrissey that only death can sever. His last line reads, “Now is the future when all’s well, and I thank you with all of my heart.”
An official launch party and exhibition for To Me You Are a Work of Art will take place at Lethal Amounts (1226 W. Seventh St., downtown) on Saturday, Feb. 27 with special guest Jesse Tobias. More info here. For more photos, check out our slideshow of Morrissey tattoo images from the book.