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Tattoos and Sunshine

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On Saturday morning, after a late night in the hot tubs on the “adults only” Serenity deck, most of the Bruisers sleep through breakfast. The boat will dock in Nassau for the day, and the Black Lips have decided to take advantage of the trip and shoot a music video for their song “Go Out and Get It!” They find an empty stretch of beach, and their two-man crew starts shooting the band’s synchronized swimming. During a break, Swilley says, “We’ve basically been on vacation for ten years. In high school, this teacher told me and Cole we’d have to be mechanics. But now I make more money than all my angry friends that went to college.” He tells a story about doing lines in Kid Rock’s hotel room and claims Kid made everyone watch a video of a country-music star shooting at pigs.

That night, the shows are happening on land, in a place called Señor Frog’s, a chain restaurant with outlets in various spring-break locales. The walls are plastered with sayings like COME AND CHIMI YOUR CHANGA. The kitchen is pumping out chicken wings and potato skins. In between bands, the host hops onstage to dole out shots straight from a bottle and berate people into doing the Stanky Legg. The frat vibe is overpowering, but the Bruisers assimilate admirably.

Out back, the bands smoke between sets, near a clown fashioning balloon hats. I run into Cassie Ramone and wonder if, by participating in the cruise, she’s setting herself up to be mocked. She swats the question away. “Maybe because my parents are immigrants, maybe because I grew up poor, but I love mid-twentieth-century versions of luxury,” she says. “That’s why I love ranch houses with carpeted floors and low ceilings and venetian blinds. And that’s why I love the cruise.”

The night ends with a raucous Black Lips set, the band nearly tottering off the edge of the stage into a crush of fans. “We’re in the capital of date rape,” says Swilley between songs. “So don’t date-rape anyone, because it happens too much here.” On the way out, I accidentally make eye contact with a man who has a woman’s bare breast in his mouth.

Sunday morning, not terribly long after a 4:30 a.m. game of Marco Polo, the Black Lips are wrapping up their video shoot with a gaggle of eager bikini-clad volunteers on the deck. Kickball Katy of Vivian Girls is getting a “Drunk and Hap-py” chant going that eventually morphs into the chorus of LMFAO’s “Shots.” Joe Bradley is mashing a soft-serve ice cream into his face. Two well-tanned women in their sixties, Shirley and Loma, observe from the side. “Is this the Bruise Cruise?” Yes, I tell them. “What … what is a Bruise Cruise?” I explain, then ask them if they’re bothered by what they’re seeing. “No. I like weird people,” says Shirley. She points to one guy: “I like his green socks.”

Swilley decides he wants to throw his bass overboard for the video, and everyone quiets down, watching for security guards. “I’ll go distract them with my boobs,” one girl offers. Swilley chucks it, getting impressive distance, easily clearing the lower deck. Which reminds Surfer Blood’s drummer, TJ, of his only complaint so far—that skeet shooting from cruise ships is no longer legal: “I’m just pissed I can’t shoot a gun off the back of the boat.” Eventually, a big Scandinavian-looking guy in a blinding white officer’s suit breaks things up; he looks more bemused than irritated.

Later in the afternoon, I run into two kids, Andy and Chris, who’ve been offering stick-and-pokes—homemade, prison-style tattoos—from their cabin. “Its really easy, man,” Andy explains. “You take a needle, you wrap it—ideally in thread, but we used dental floss ’cause we ran out—just until you have the little bit poking out that you want to go into the skin.” Adds Chris: “We had a sign that said FREE STICK AND POKES on our door, and two guys in uniforms came by and were like, ‘Dude, you can’t be doing this.’ ” Chris hadn’t gotten his yet because Andy is too drunk. “The thing is, you catch him in the morning, he’s shaky. You get a couple of drinks in him, he’s perfect.” A satisfied customer shows me Andy’s work: a rudimentary sailboat on his ankle, in honor of the Bruise Cruise.

The last show of the trip is supposed to be Quintron and Miss Pussycat’s odd organ-pop in the Xanadu Lounge. But later that night, an informal set pops up in Mirage, the piano bar. Joe Bradley, in a tuxedo, is attentively tinkling the ivories. The tiny room fills up quickly, and through the doors and the heavy cigarette smoke, I can see Swilley and Kickball Katy making out in the glass elevator. So much for the normal girl.

Almost everyone who’s asked, rocker and civilian alike, gives the Bruise Cruise a positive review. “It exceeded my expectations a millionfold,” says Ryan Sambol of the Strange Boys. A week later, Cable and Stein tell me that Carnival officials were just as enthusiastic; they’re already planning Bruise Cruise II.


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