The story of an Elliott Smith Figure 8 tattoo

Categories: Tattoo You
Sarah Stanley-Ayre
Tim Bass shows his tattoo, inspired by the Elliott Smith album Figure 8

In 2008, Tim Bass left his hometown of Champaign, Illinois in his band's van and headed to L.A. It was under the spell of a dream and his group's fame-crazed frontman, who Bass describes as a "real controlling, sort of dick guy." It was an ill-fated attempt rooted in idealism, as Bass quickly found. "It sucked. I was miserable out there. I had no friends," he said. It was there that Bass first found comfort in the 2000 Elliott Smith album, Figure 8.

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Bass recalls living with his entire band in a cramped apartment, taking turns sleeping in the van just to get some space from one another. The dream of making it big in L.A. was crumbling quickly around them. Bass packed his bags one night and slipped away at dawn, determined to make it to Minneapolis and start over yet again. "I just kind of escaped from L.A., in a way," he says. "I didn't tell anyone in the band that I was leaving, I just fled."

Sarah Stanley-Ayre
Tim Bass

In Minneapolis, Bass reunited with his two best friends from Champaign, who had relocated here. Still, his depression worsened. He reminisces, "I used to walk around Minneapolis with Elliott Smith playing in my headphones, kicking my way through the snow, going to the bar to get drunk." The more he listened to Figure 8, the deeper his connection with it ran.

"In a way, the album became a part of my identity," says Bass. He started putting energy into music once again, joining the band UMAMI as their bassist. Still, he struggled with finding happiness and escaping the emotional turmoil that had been haunting him since LA.

"Maybe I got a problem
But that's not what I wanted to say
I'd prefer to say nothing
I got a long way to go
I'm getting further away"
Elliot Smith - "I Better Be Quiet Now"

Time passed, and circumstances worsened. After getting kicked out of UMAMI, Bass spiraled quickly out of control. Early in 2013, desperate and alone, he realized that he was facing a deadly serious choice -- either continue down a doomed path of self destruction, or grab hold of a strand of hope. He began to pull himself from the murky pool of self-hate he had been drowning in. When he emerged from that void, Figure 8 was waiting.

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