Tuesday, February 5, 2008

"Tattooed Love Boys" The Pretenders

Many years before Courtney Love sang about the boys who "get what they want and never want it again" there was Chrissie Hynde and "Tattooed Love Boys", a dark, violent, sexy fable which seems to have slipped under the radar.

Although Tattooed Love Boys addresses someone in the second person, it doesn't seem to be about a particular "boy". It's more of an ode to masculinity in all of its beauty and brutality. A gang rape fantasy. And then later it's a warning to another woman. The central image evoked is that of a tattoo, a shorthand term Ms. Hynde uses to describe these men she's obsessed with. Of course the sort of man who got and proudly displayed tattoos were (at least when Chrissy had recorded this song) up to no good "rough trade" (or the kind of rock and rollers that Chrissy Hynde had to deal with on a daily basis!). One could also imagine a tattoo as an indelible mark or brand that a man might leave on an impressionable young woman.

Against a backdrop of triumphant arpeggios played on an electric guitar paired with an insistent throbbing bass line, our protagonist announces that she has "torn her knees out" in order to be around men who she has read about in books and fantasized about. Perhaps she has gotten a job in an auto shop or joined a gang like Anybodys from "West Side Story". "But then the time came to explore" sings Ms. Hynde ominously as she realizes that they may have bitten off more than she can chew.

The second verse which functions like a bridge perfectly captures that inner conflict that occurs when your sickest fantasies become realities. Many of us have dreamed of being brutalized or overwhelmed sexually. It is the stuff of paperback romances and soap operas. But when you are actually "taken" it is a rude awakening. "Little tease/But I didn't mean it/But you mess with the goods, darlin', you gotta pay".

In the third verse, the triumphant arpeggios are back as Ms. Hynde seems to have fallen in quite comfortably with the "tattoos". She describes the men hanging out and "waiting/for their number to get called." Are they in a whorehouse waiting for an available hooker? Are they all participating in a gang bang? I suppose the "number" they are waiting for could be draft-related but I seriously doubt that the Vietnam war has anything to do with this song. Nevertheless, Ms. Hynde has "found out what the wait* was about". She is no longer innocent.

Having now been initiated, out protagonist announces gleefully that she's gotten "pretty good" at something she euphemistically refers to as "changing tires." "I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for" she admits proudly introducing a virtuosic guitar solo that reminds one of a rough bumpy orgasm before it winds down sadly and introduces the last chapter of the story.

Next, Ms. Hynde is addressing a new character, a female who has perhaps usurped her position as the fille de regiment. Maybe it's disillusioned, experienced herself. This woman is before Ms. Hynde "all impressed and half undressed" weaing make up over scars she has gotten from the "tattoos" who have also gotten her where the protagonist "used to lay". She cruelly admonishes her weaker friend ("Well ha ha, too bad") and tells her to "stop sniveling" before she becomes a "human interest story" in need of plastic surgery. "You are that," she pronounces and the song ends abruptly.

* this lyric is often (tellingly!) misheard as "found out what rape was about"


Danielle Delgado said...


Bill Stewart said...

"Changing tires" has always been a condom reference in my mind.

Unknown said...

...she was gang raped by a motor club mate...that's what this song is about.