New York Groove: My NY Ink Story

The Stencil For My Tattoo

It was a bright sunny day in August. I remember it well because I was in my upstairs bathroom shaking like a leaf. It was around 3 pm and I was getting ready to head over to South Bethlehem for sound check.

It was the summer of 2004 and my band was going to be the opening act for Clay Aiken at Musikfest. On the biggest stage of them all. The fastest sellout in the festival’s history – 6,500 people. We had the greatest female singer ever in our arsenal that got us there. But I was a nervous wreck.

I had dreamed about this forever. Since the first day I picked up my grandmother’s hand held potato slicer and pretended it was a guitar (true story). The callused fingers, the long walks downtown to Ken Brader and Son’s music store for lessons on brutal summer days. The countless number of  hours spent practicing after school.

While other kids went out and played sports or hung with friends I was trying to figure out how Eddie Van Halen got his kung-fu. I even used to write journal entries in high school of what my life was going to be like after I “made it”.

And now here I was, sitting in my bathroom next to the bowl for fear of losing my lunch. I’m still not sure how I held it together.

But somehow my “Rock Star Moment” was here. And I wasn’t about to let it slip away.

Ironically, it was being part of a country band that gave me this opportunity. The last thing you’d probably ever expect from a guy who grew up playing Survivor, Bon Jovi, Ozzy and AC/DC .And yet it was because our singer had won a regional vocal competition that we were invited to be the opening act.

So, a METAL head in a COUNTRY band gets to open for POP star. Musical irony.

Imagine the day in the life of your favorite chart topping artist as they arrive at a venue to perform. That was me that day.

Megan Massacre

All the crew members doing whatever it takes to make you comfortable so you could ready yourself for a night of great music. Ushering you off away from the adoring public. Ok, so this “public” was there to see Clay Aiken but this was my “moment” so I could think what ever I wanted.

Clay had just placed second in season two of American Idol but was almost on the same level as Justin Bieber is today. People were going bonkers for him.

Surreal.

This was the story that I told Megan Massacre as she tattooed me. This was the reason for getting my very first tattoo: to commemorate the day my dream came true.

Although my segment with her never actually aired there is a brief glimpse of Megan tattooing me during a transition between scenes as you can see in the one photo.

Frankly, I’m still wondering if this picture justifies me having my own IMDB listing… I can see it now:

Actor: James Wood:  Appeared in: “NY INK Season 2″… In the role of:  “Arm being tattooed by Megan Massacre“.

I honestly can’t say enough good things about my experience at Wooster Street or the tattoo that Megan did. What’s even better is that I now have a story within a story to tell when people ask me about it.

And I couldn’t ask for anything cooler than that. What do you think?

 

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New York Groove (Part 4): Megan Massacre

She’s a model. She’s a DJ. She plays bass guitar. But most of all – Megan Massacre is one really amazing tattoo artist.

I first met Megan one hot summer day last August. I made the pilgrimage to New York with my daughter to visit The Wooster Street Social Club, the tattoo studio where she works. The studio is also the place where the TLC reality based show NY Ink is filmed. You can read about our adventure here. Today’s visit was different though.

Today, Megan was going to give me my very first tattoo and the entire segment was going to be filmed for the second season of NY Ink.

I really loved Megan’s work from the first season. She has such a unique style that was different from most of the other artists I had seen. I mean, tatting a dog dressed as a Victorian Lady or a dude getting hit by a bus is definitely not something you see every day.

Since this was going to be my very first tattoo I wanted it to be special and more than just a “picture” if that makes any sense. So when I gave her the ideas I had for the guitar I wanted I knew she would nail it. And the time was now drawing near.

I was sitting downstairs in a room adjacent to Ami James’ office. Producers and other production type folks all sat nearby with headset communication listening to what was going on upstairs. Finally, I heard one of them say into the microphone “Ok, I’ll send him up”.

And away I went.

Ami and Billy were already in the early stages of their tattoos and I slowly made my way past them to what’s been commonly referred to as “the big comfy couch”.

My View From The Couch

I sat down and peered over to see RoBear helping Megan set up her station. Several members of the film crew were in discussion with each other while others busily adjusted their equipment.

Megan was already well aware that this was going to be my first tattoo and was of significant size but that didn’t stop her from teasing me a bit.

As she was preparing her station with paper towels and ink she’d often look over at me and do her best impression of a nefarious villain by rubbing her hands together and laughing. Sort of saying “There’s no turning back now son… You’re mine!”.  And in some odd way, it was almost comforting.

Finally, it was time and she called me over to her station.

The first thing Megan did after applying the stencil was to make a small line to assess what my tolerance for the needle would be. It felt like a bit of a scratch, no pain. Off we go.

For the next two and a half hours Megan tattooed me as cameras rolled. Until the production crew was ready, telling her my actual “story” was the only thing we couldn’t talk about. Anything else was fine. So it was here where we shared our backgrounds and I got some back stories about her own tattoos. I also found out that much like me, she also grew up in Pennsylvania and has a fascination for not only art but musical performance as well.

Eventually, the production crew came over and began filming me telling Megan my story and reason for getting the tattoo. I think this was where I was most nervous. Its hard to try and tell a story and use coherent sentences when people are holding monstrous camera equipment and lights three feet away from you.

At times I have to admit that the tattoo process itself did hurt a little bit but there was no way I was going to cry in front of Megan. Ok, it didn’t hurt THAT much but it did make me wonder how people deal with the pain of getting tattooed in more sensitive areas.

At one point Ami, Billy and Jessica all came over off-camera to take a peek at the tattoo Megan was doing on me. Seeing these other great artists taking an interest in my piece was very cool and during the actual “reveal” only one word came to everyone’s lips: BAD-ASS. Exactly what I wanted it to be.

People have asked me over and over what Megan is really like in person and the one word that immediately comes to mind is “sweetheart”. She is lady-like and bad ass all rolled into one. A person dedicated to her craft.

In fact, in all the time it took her to do my tattoo she didn’t take one break. Well, unless of course you count the time she went over to check out the tattoo Billy was having a problem with. (Side note: It was episode three of season two. When you see Megan come up to see how Billy is doing on his “first” big tattoo, she was actually tattooing me at the time but my segment never aired).

Also, when you see her talking about her affection for RoBear that’s also genuine. RoBear was like her guardian. He helped set up her station and brought her over snacks and drinks while she was tattooing me. I suspect that if I would have gotten out of line with Meg I would have been on the receiving end of the big guy’s boot.

She likes to text

The whole experience from start to finish was surreal. Although I was a bit disheartened my segment didn’t air I can’t say enough good things about it.

I mean, how may people can say they got their first tattoo by Megan Massacre with a film crew watching and being interviewed about it?

So by now you may be wondering what my story was and even more importantly, want to see the tattoo that Megan did. All will be revealed in the finale which is next.

Next: The Story and The Reveal

New York Groove (Part 3): The Tattoo Pre-Production

Butterflies began to fill my stomach as I ascended the elevator to the eleventh floor of the make shift studio for NY Ink. The genesis of my excitement had been building since my arrival in New York and subsequent trip downtown via the subway line, but now the reality of the whole event was starting to take shape. It was only a matter of hours now before I’d be getting tattooed in front of the camera by Megan Massacre.

As the elevator floor indicator lights reached higher and higher numbers I imagined the door opening and me being greeted by flashing cameras and paparazzi. Perhaps the catering service asking me what my lunch requirements would be or maybe some early autograph seekers.

I could picture myself wearing Ray Bans and giving half-hearted smiles to my adoring public. “Are you THE James Wood?”, one beautiful blonde female would say. “The one telling his rock and roll story and getting a killer tattoo on NY Ink?”. I’d slowly remove the Ray Bans revealing my deep blue eyes and reply, “Why YES…that’s ME!”

Reality struck fast and my celebrity euphoria got sucked out of the room like a vacuum when the elevator door opened to reveal nothing but an empty vestibule. Only a few chirping crickets would have made the moment more complete.

A simple table with a telephone sat in between two leather chairs against the wall and I chuckled a bit thinking that there would be no h’orderves or goody bag containing high-end skin-care products for me. Sadly, the only thing that rested upon the table was a single clip board containing a sign-in sheet along with a note informing clients for “NY Ink” to dial an extension upon arrival to alert the associate producer.

After signing the sheet and leaving a message with the operator as to my arrival I settled down on the nice comfy chair and noticed that a few more clients were already starting to arrive. More people to tell their story and get tattoos.

During the next few hours I met two really cool people, each with multiple tattoos already and having their own stories to tell as to why they had chosen a particular piece for the show.

Now me, being a virgin of skin-art, eagerly listened to their tales of family, hard luck, and the needle and ink process. The butterflies that I had originally felt quickly subsided as I now found myself more concerned what the threshold of pain would be like for me when needle met skin.

“It feels like an annoying scrape”, one would say. “Nah, it’s more like a stab”, said the other. Looking back, it was hard to tell if they were being honest or just trying to scare me.

Me and Jessica Gahring

It wasn’t long before the associate producer sat us all down and explained the details of what was going to happen during the course of the day.

She would escort us over to the Wooster Street Social Club and upon our arrival we would each do a pre-interview.

Afterwards, crews would begin the process of filming us getting tattooed and telling our stories. The entire process was going to be an all day affair and there would include a lot of waiting.

Bring it on.

“Is everyone ready?” she asked and the three of us all quickly rose in unison. “Onward to Wooster Street”.

As we made our way down the elevator and out onto 6th Avenue the excitement of memorializing everything music has meant to me really started to build. Deep inside though I couldn’t stop thinking about the needle.

If anything, there definitely was no turning back now.

Next: Megan Massacre

New York Groove (Part 2): The Thing About Subways

The MTA system of New York City can be a bit daunting for the amateur subway commuter. It’s easy to find yourself lost somewhere in Gotham City if you happen to choose the wrong letter of the alphabet when boarding a train. Maybe it’s the small town boy in me but no matter how confident I am that I have chosen wisely I always find myself second guessing the decision I made the second the doors close.

I suppose that even the most seasoned of riders does a double-check every now and again just to make sure they’re heading in the right direction. For someone like me, a person who rarely visits the big city or rides a subway for that matter, it’s even more distressing. The thing is when you’re trying to make it to an appointment at the casting offices for Wooster Street Social Club (or anywhere else downtown for that matter) you definitely don’t want to wind up going uptown to Central Park. And this was no ordinary visit to the Big Apple to sight see either. My promptness was even more necessary because in this case producers and film crews were involved.

You see I was a man on a mission to get my first tattoo filmed for the second season of NY Ink and could hardly afford to be late for such a surreal and unique experience. So I took comfort in the fact that every street name I read on the subterranean wall at every stop matched the one I had on my pre-printed schedule.

Before too long the train came to a stop at the Canal Street station and I hurriedly departed. After quickly readjusting the backpack I was carrying over my shoulder I made the walk up the concrete staircase and into the bright morning sunshine on the Avenue of The Americas. The hustle and bustle of traffic and people mindlessly walking in step to get to their destinations reminded me that I was not in the small town of Easton, Pennsylvania anymore. This was the big time.

Me and Tommy Montoya

I pulled out my phone to check the time and was relieved to see that I still had an hour before I needed to be at the studio. It’s times like these, the in between arrival and actual appointment times, when nothing but coffee will suffice and I quickly spotted a Starbucks and made my way inside.

A contented smile came across my face as I sat down with my Venti bold. My biggest challenge upon arriving in NYC was to take the A-Train (or 8th Avenue Express) down to Canal and into the heart of SOHO with time to spare.

Mission accomplished.

Next: The Tattoo Pre-Production

New York Groove (Part 1)

“Back in the New York Groove” was a song written by Russ Ballard that first appeared on the 1975 album “Keep Us Off The Streets” by the British glam band Hello. As a musician I know this because well, I looked it up.

Who would have thought that three years after it first appeared on vinyl that song would indirectly become part of my life?

It was 1978. The year the members of KISS, the biggest band in the world at the time and with enough glitz, makeup and pyrotechnic prowess to make even the great Liberace and his golden candelabra melt, all simultaneously released their own solo albums as a gimmick. “New York Groove” was a song covered by guitarist Ace Frehley on his solo album of the same name.

As a nine-year old boy, KISS was the world to me and Ace was always my favorite member of the band. Not just because he had the coolest face makeup but also for the way his sunburst Les Paul guitars would literally catch fire during his solos. Ace’s antics were one of the main reasons I picked up a guitar with the dream to “Shout it Out Loud” and “Rock and Roll All Nite”. As far as I was concerned Ace Frehley was synonymous with rock and roll and suffice to say, his solo album quickly wore out on my turn table.

So it’s kind of ironic how thirty-three years later that particular song, New York Groove, was selected to be the theme for NY Ink, the reality-based television series on TLC. For those who may not be aware, NY Ink follows the trials and tribulations of famed tattoo artist Ami James as he attempts to make a go of a tattoo studio in the SOHO district of New York City.

What’s even more surprising is the notion that the melody for “New York Groove” kept running through my head as I looked out the window of the bus that was carrying me to New York City to get my first tattoo from Megan Massacre, tell my own musical “story” and have the segment recorded for the second season of NY Ink.

In my family being of age and still a tattoo virgin is frowned upon. The inside joke being: “You can’t consider yourself a “Wood” if you don’t have at least a little ink”. Most of my relatives have been tattooed at some point or another but I never was. Quite frankly, I would have been perfectly content with being the only black sheep in the family.

It wasn’t until I stumbled upon NY Ink that I began to give being tattooed serious consideration. The artwork and stories I had heard really had a profound impact on me. More so than any “cool” factor would in me getting needled. And my own story would sure be one for the books.

From an early age I was a guitarist with a dream to be a rock star. You know, right up there in the same league as KISS, Survivor, and Bon Jovi. Yeah, that was going to be me.

I even remember writing  journal entries about “making it” while in high school. At one point I’d pretend my journal was a Rolling Stone magazine interview. I’d write questions that I’d want the interviewer to ask me and then answer them in full ‘rock and roll’ mode. I’d muse about who I’d be collaborating with, the up coming summer tour I was about to embark upon and what I did when throngs of female fans sought my attention. Little did I know at the time that one day the dream was going to come true but in a most unusual way. I couldn’t wait to tell the story and have it memorialized.

Me and Ami James

As the bus slowly rolled into the Port Authority Station a feeling of excitement and anticipation filled me. I slowly departed and made my way into Manhattan not really sure if I was more excited to tell the story, get my first tattoo from an artist I greatly admire or the fact that my experience was going to be filmed and possibly air on a television show.

In any case all I did know was that Ace would have been pleased. Today was going to be an interesting day.

Next: The Thing About Subways

The NY Ink Announcement

I’ve waited six long months to be able to tell you this story. No seriously, I’m not kidding its been that long. I’ve had a five-part blog that’s been in the works since last September and at last I’m finally able to reveal it.

I’ve got good news, bad news and great news! I’ll explain them all to you in that order:

Good News: Last summer, I submitted a request to be a candidate for Season 2 of  the TLC television show NY Ink and was actually chosen to have my segment filmed for the show!!  I got to travel to New York City, go on set for the show, tell my story and get my first tattoo done by none other than Megan Massacre.

After it was all over, I started to write a blog about my experience. And that blog got so large that it led to another blog. Which led to another. And another…. Before I knew it, I had written five parts.

Bad News: Season 2 episodes began airing in December of last year and my segment never made it to air. (Although they did show a glimpse of my session in a transition from one scene to the next). It’s too bad because I already had my IMDB application ready and several agents and publicists on stand-by. Sadly, I had to tell them the bad news. (Hope you all realize those last two sentences were a joke).

Anyway, through out the season I was already pretty much aware that my segment wasn’t going to make the final cut but I was contractually obligated not to say anything about my time on the show until the last episode aired.

Which was last night.

So…..

Great News: Starting Monday I will begin posting the blogs from my experiences on NY Ink. From the ride in to the city, to being on the set, getting tattooed by Megan and meeting most everyone from the show. You’ll also get to hear my “rock and roll” story and see the final work of art.

Although obviously a bit bummed that my segment didn’t air I have absolutely no regrets about it. It definitely wasn’t your typical tattoo experience.

If you’re already a fan of the show and are sad that its over here’s one last NY Ink story you didn’t hear.

One that I’m excited to finally be able to tell you about.

See  you then.

Quit Hatin’ on Ms. Retro Dixie

Ms. Retro Dixie on an Alan Brownfeld Chopper Original

I’ve been following Ms. Retro Dixie, Jessica Gahring, ever since the first episode of NY Ink and have noticed that she has been taking quite a lot of heat from some other viewers of the show. Mostly the hating seems to be focused on her having the desire to be a tattoo artist instead of just a “shop manager”. I find it rather odd that people would post detrimental things about someone just for having a dream. Would the same be said if she wanted to be say, a doctor or a lawyer?

I’m not sure how much of what we see is played up for television and quite frankly I don’t really care. It just grieves me to see people calling her a whiner whenever she shows any interest in pursuing her career and bettering herself. Haven’t we all been so passionate about something in our lives that we get emotional when roadblocks are thrown up in our pursuit of them? When I see this happen to Jessica and the tears that follow it only reinforces in me the belief that she is going to get there someday.

She already has all the elements necessary to make it happen:

1. She’s a great artist: Have any of the people who have been bashing her taken a look at her art portfolio? Or are your eyes too focused on her wiping away the tears while you cast stones?

2. She’s a dedicated role model: Just listen to the emotion when she talks about her daughter and how she has to travel to NYC for work while her family is upstate.

3. She won’t deviate from course: Even if given the opportunity to pose nude she won’t do it because she wants to be a good role model for her daughter. How can you hate on someone for that?

4. She’s smart: We all know from watching the show that she has a Master’s Degree but I can personally attest to her degree of smart by the battles I’ve lost to her on Words with Friends.

5. She’s always in pursuit: I’ve only ever met Jessica one time in person but I can tell you that just from that one encounter she is genuine. And you will never guess what she was doing when I introduced myself to her. Yup, DRAWING!

So please, stop hating on Jessica. She’s just like you and me. People trying to make their way through this wonderfully insane thing called life. And if you only take one thing away from reading this article I hope that it’s this:

In the end, the only real requirement there is for achieving your dream is having one.

Think about it.