My tattoo, my brother, and The Tragically Hip

August 24, 2016

Recent national events have inspired this post.  But first, a little background :).

Whenever I wear a t-shirt, I am often asked about the tattoo on my left arm.  If you have never seen it, this is the best shot I can take of it using my limited selfie technique.  You won’t be able to see it all in one shot, but this will give you the idea……


These are the common statements I get from people seeing it for the first time:

“What is that supposed to be?”

“Why is it broken?”

“Do you like palm trees?”

“You must love coconuts!”

“Can I buy some weed off you?”

“You must have got that in the Caribbean!”

It’s uncanny that whenever I meet someone new, and they see my tattoo, their reaction is most often one of the 6 previous lines.  So, I will answer all of them in order:

1.  What is it supposed to be?

-It’s a fusion of a guitar body and a palm tree – represents a reminder that when times are stressful, music, and the outdoors/nature are the best remedy for me.

2.  Why is it broken?

– Because I just drew it that way.  I originally drew it with the intention of it looking like a group of islands, but somewhere along the way it shifted a bit.  I have thought of adding to it since I started music full time 5 years ago – perhaps bridges between the unattached pieces that symbolize the acceptance of music in my life.

3. Do you like palm trees?

– I hope this is obvious…..otherwise, I wouldn’t have inked it to my body for eternity.   I find palm trees quite fascinating, and I most admire their calm, flexible strength.  Think of a palm tree in a hurricane – they can pretty much be blown horizontal, yet they rarely, if ever, actually uproot.  They can weather the worst, and bounce back like champ.  I think that is incredible!

4. You must love coconuts!

– This is true, but in no way had anything to do with the design.

5. Can I buy some weed off you?

– No.  I don’t get asked this anymore, but just after I first got my tattoo, I’d get asked anytime I wore a t-shirt, in all sorts of places, from all kinds of people….even an airport limo driver!  I didn’t even take the limo!!

6.  You must have got that in the Caribbean!

– Coincidently, this is actually true. However, I doodled a small version of the image 5 years previous to the day I got it, while I was in a 2nd year anatomy and physiology class in Vancouver.  Now the real story begins….

This is me Brodda! ((English translation – biological brother from the same Modda (English translation – biological mother)).  His name is Zac, and here we are behind a stage on a field in 2007 for a very special concert.  Notice my left arm has no palm guitar….

Me and Zac backstage

Zac used to live in Grand Cayman Island, which is also by coincidence…you guessed it!!… the Caribbean!  My brother moved down there in 2000 to pursue a career in the scuba dive industry as an instructor.  For 7 years he masked, snorkelled, and flippered people, and guided them through an alternate universe…the spectacular eco system of wonders beneath the waves.  On top of that, he played in a couple of wicked bands.

Those who have met me or have been to a performance have most likely heard about my parents.  Particularly my father, as my walking tour across Canada has everything to do with him.  However, it wasn’t my Dad who had the biggest influence on me picking up the guitar – it was my bro!  Zac always seemed to have a gift for figuring out songs by ear.  He introduced me to the majority of music that I listened to in the 90’s, and would show me how to play whatever he happened to be learning.  Collective Soul, Pearl Jam, I Mother Earth, 5440, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, Soundgarden, etc.  One of my brother’s biggest influences, as well as many others, was none other than The Tragically Hip.

If you are unaware, Grand Cayman Island is full of Canadians.  There are people from all over the world living there, but a great deal are from Canada – so much so that when a pub/liquor store on the island wanted to celebrate it’s 25th anniversary, who do you think they hired to come play the party?  THE TRAGICALLY HIP!!!  An amazing chain of events led to one of the bands my brother played in being asked to open up for them….MASSIVE!!!  One of the bands he was playing in at the time was called Suckerbox.  Check out the poster:

Hip concert cayman

This was an incredible opportunity for my brother, and one that meant a great deal to him.  The other band he played in played cover songs, and they did a whack of tunes by the Hip.  As we saw from the Hip’s last concert on the weekend, they have had huge impact on music lovers and musicians around the world, but majorly on Canadians.  My bro was one of them, and through him, so was I.  This concert was a dream come true for him.

At the time Zac found out about this opportunity, I had just started working at a new job – back when I was a personal trainer in Vancouver.  His lady, who is now married to him, offered me a plane ticket and the opportunity to come share this extraordinary experience in person!! (THANK YOU STEPPY!)  I was thrilled, dumbfounded, excited for my brother, and at the same time concerned that soon after I started a new job I would be asking for holidays :).  Well…that thought didn’t last too long, and I said yes! I wasn’t going to miss this.

Roughly a month later, and I found myself in Grand Cayman Island, standing in front of the Hip’s soundcheck, and marvelling at life.  Here’s Mr. Gord getting organized:


There are many fun stories from the week I was there for this, but I’ll cut to the relevance to my tattoo.  When I first arrived on the island, it was a few days before the show.  I hadn’t seen my brother in a long time, and one of the first things he asks me when I got off the plane was….”So…while you’re here…you wanna get inked?”

Confused and stunned, I asked what he meant.  He had some credit he wasn’t going to use with a local tattoo shop, and knew that I had a design I’d wanted to get.  I used to draw/sketch a great deal, and in the past, have helped design tattoos for others.  My bro being one of them.

Anyways, he wasn’t going to get another one, and proposed that it was open for me to utilize if I wanted….enter a few days of thinking….”What will people think?…Will my job be okay with this?…Will my girlfriend and family be okay with this?…Am I okay with this?  Hmmm…What if it was…..bigger!”

The more and more I pondered it, and what it meant to me, it became clearer that it was something I really connected to, and felt good about going through with.  If you’re going to do something like that, it’s important to ask yourself those kinds of questions.  It’s a big decision!

As it worked out, the day I could go in was the day of the concert, early evening.  In the morning I went to the sound check and went backstage with my brother, which was super cool!  It all added to the excitement.  Later in the afternoon, my brother went to the stage grounds, and I went to my first tattooing experience with my now sister-in-law!

I know somewhere a photo exists of my arm right after it was done, but I can’t seem to locate it.  The weird thing about my tattoo, or I should say me, is that my arm didn’t bleed at all.  A little bit is normal, and usually comes with a bandage and pressure to help the healing….but it strangely wasn’t necessary, so I got to sport my brand new design at the concert that night!

Anyhow…I’ll flash forward to Zac, standing on a speaker, rocking out at the front of the stage, warming up the crowd for The Tragically friction’ Hip!  Check this action out:

Zac show

This is still to date one of my fondest memories of being a human being and living on planet Earth – seeing my brother/guitar guru/inspiration for a great many thing….living up one of his dreams, and seizing that moment completely.  I am so happy to have witnessed it.

Here’s Zac with some of the Hip boys after the show:

Zac and hip

Flippin’ awesome!  The very next day, I hopped on a plane, and flew back to Vancouver.

Zip ahead almost 10 years, and The Tragically Hip are doing their last performance ever, being emotionally celebrated around the world for their artistic and cultural contribution.  Every time I look down at my tattoo, or when people ask me about it, this intertwined story flashes through my mind.  It reminds me of the power, influence, and trickle effects of music.

This post is many things:

  • It’s a tribute and a thank you to family (my brother and his wife)
  • It’s a special reminder that musicians and bands greatly affect their audiences (directly and indirectly) in ways they could never conceive
  • Lastly, it is a celebration of everything The Tragically Hip have given to Canadians.  Thank you for it all!

I love my tattoo and the memories that came with it!

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  This is the longest post I’ve ever made.  Well worth it :).

Mr. Bard


6 Responses to “My tattoo, my brother, and The Tragically Hip”

  1. Sandy McAfee Says:

    What a great story! Thanks for sharing this my friend

  2. Grant Ponton Says:

    There’s a song in this waiting to be sung..

  3. sheramk Says:

    I love this story!:)

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