“The real Paul McCartney died a long time ago and was replaced by a body double,” says Standefer, a shirtless guy with a buzz cut.
He pulls up a photo of the cover photo of The Beatles’ 1969 ‘Abbey Road’ album on his smart phone while Rio concentrates on tracing the outline of the new tattoo going on his right arm. Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe’ gushes from speakers in the shop.
“Look, see—Paul is the only one that’s barefoot,” Standefer says under the beaming fluorescent light hanging just over his head. It’s one of the perennial “clues” that conspiracy theorists behind the “Paul is Dead” movement have curated over the years in an effort to corroborate the urban legend that the Beatles bass man everyone knows and loves is actually a lookalike pod person in disguise.
“That is just completely crazy,” Rio laughs, wiping away black ink from Standefer’s reddened upper arm. He squirts some a bit of green soap solution onto a cloth and wipes down the emerging lotus flower he’s piecing together for Standefer. He follows with an application of distilled water. Then more ink.
Jon Rio, 32, of Mitchell, Ind., has been carving tattoos into people’s skin as a professional artist for over 12 years. Four of those years have been at Evil By the Needle, a tattoo business he and his wife Jamie own in Bloomington, Ind.
Nestled into the ground floor of an old red brick building on the southwest corner of Walnut and Hillside, Evil By the Needle is a natural gathering place for denizens of the world of decorative body ink who come from around the area get tattooed.
Drawing Jordan Standefer to the seat under Rio’s tattoo machine—typically called a “gun” by laypeople—today is the artist’s reputation for executing high quality tattoos, not to mention the fact that Jamie is her cousin.
“You get the little cousin discount,” Rio says peering up from his work, smiling. He presses his left foot down onto a silver foot switch, activating the mechanical tattoo machine now humming loudly in his gloved hand.
But the tattoo Rio is stitching together on Standefer’s arm today is not a thoughtless, discounted gesture, rather a design that holds special significance to Standefer, a 21-year-old manufacturing worker from Crawfordsville. He’s come in to get a tattoo to memorialize the lives of his mother and grandmother, both who recently passed away.
Flanking both sides of a large violet lotus developing on this upper arm are two bright orange lilies, each symbolizing one of the lives that he lost.
“One flower is for my grandma,” he says pointing to the outline of the vibrant lily on the right. A small pool of blood has seeped out of Jordan’s skin and collected on one of the lily’s petals.
“That one is for my mom,” he adds gesturing to the lily to the left.
And in the middle lies the lotus. “It represents healing,” he says. It’s a beautifully detailed violet flower encircling a soft yellow bud that when peppered with dots of blood issuing from Jordan’s epidermis looks almost like a tiny emblazed fire.
Finally, above the large cluster of flowers stretch two dark turquoise waves reaching up and underlapping the rays of a large sun, a tattoo based on the artwork form the album cover of Sublime’s 1992 ’40oz. to Freedom.’
“We’re gonna’ touch that one up later,” Rio says.
In all it has taken the artist two separate sessions to finish the memorial tattoo. But checking himself in a mirror hanging on the shop’s easterly wall, Standefer is pleased—it was worth the wait.
After Rio bandages up Standefer’s arm, the two discuss setting up another appointment to clean up and colorize the Sublime sun and a fair payment for the artist’s work.
“Just give me a ‘hundo,’’ Rio says casually.