Amongst the parade of sad sacks, losers and miscreants that populate the breadth of Fountains of Wayne’s considerable catalog, the guy who gets a gnarly tattoo in an effort to woo and then snag a girl he’s got his eye on is top of the screwy, creepy guy molehill. Never has anyone worked so hard with so little brain power to make romantic things happen. The doofus in “Red Dragon Tattoo” is so wrongheaded and lightly starched that a game of Candy Land would be beyond his capabilities. Imagine, then, that a song about a walking fit of nothing could be so cheery and bright and catchy–a melodic, power pop classic from Fountains of Wayne’s Utopia Parkway album.
The song bops along in a carefree way, lightly percussive, guitars and drums keeping the steady beat. I love the way the lyrics work in tandem with the melody. And I love the portrait of the song’s subject, the poignantly-misguided you’ve-got-to-feel-sorry-for-a-loser-so-sure-of-himself dude.
This guy’s a champion plotter. He’s got the day picked out, the route mapped with certainty–a robber without a purse. “With the money I saved/Gonna get me engraved,” he sings, happily, forthright and stout. He downs a backyard pool’s worth of some fancy shmancy Basil Hayden’s bourbon to get himself ready to do the deed, even as he presupposes that he will get “kicked out” of the tattoo parlour “when” he “can’t see straight.” A tax planner or life coach in the making? No, probably not.
Armed with a solid plan to put into rubbery motion, this dude’s either talking to the tattoo he hasn’t yet gotten or he’s hearing wobbly voices. “In you I confide/Red Dragon Tattoo/I’m fit to be dyed/Am I fit to have you,” the guy sings, perhaps unsure of himself or just plain dumb from the start.
Upon entering the tattoo shop, the guy is given some design choices: “A mermaid and a heart that says mother,” but he’s a little weary because he doesn’t “know from maritime” and “never did hard time.” This genius then divulges that he “brought a .38 Special CD collection” (missing the coolness factor by leaps and bounds) and, in a moment of health conscious self-reflection and possibly a scary premonition that the folks who work in the tattoo shop don’t practice cleanliness next to their Godliness, “some Bactine to prevent infection.” And if that weren’t enough, on the off chance that he might “get queasy, a photo of Easy Rider.” Dude’s a thinking man’s man, after all.
The Red Dragon tattoo inked, applied and resplendent on his person, the guy pleads with his intended: “Will you stop pretending I’ve never been born/Now I look a little more like that guy from KorN/If you came a little bit closer/You’d see it isn’t painted on/Oh no no.” Cool, manly tattoo equals gold-plated boyfriend material, indeed.
Does this guy get the girl in the end? That’s left up to the listener. My guess? As Bon Jovi sings in “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Shot through the heart and you’re to blame/Darlin’ you give love a bad name.” And, as Pete Townshend wrote in the song “Tattoo,” ” Welcome to my life, tattoo/I’m a man now, thanks to you.” But this guy really doesn’t know who he is. Really, it doesn’t much matter. Perhaps someone should put up a plaque somewhere–possibly the tattoo shop–with the words “He tried, He failed, Didn’t get the girl although he took a whirl.”
Alan Haber | April 2, 2014