“Like A Tattoo” by Sade
Some parts of “Like a Tattoo” are highly poetic, even when compared to Sade’s standard artistry. As the story goes, in the songstress’s own words, it serves as an “interpretation” of stories told to her by a guy she randomly met at a New York City bar.
She specified that this man had “been in Vietnam” but not whether he fought in the war or was even there while the conflict was ongoing. But in any case, this conversation inspired her to pen these lyrics which are about “war” and what the man went through.
She starts off the narrative by referring to a “he”. Presumably, said “he” would be the individual she had that conversation with. And interestingly, she refers to him as having told her “sweet lies of sweet loves”. So maybe that’s Sade’s way of saying, in part, that she didn’t necessarily believe everything he said.
After that’s established, then it becomes more evident that the idea this song revolves around is the subject, this man, being “burden(ed) of his youth”. Or put otherwise, he perpetrated and/or witnessed an act which has had a notable and lingering-negative psychological effect on him.
The subject himself verifies that notion at the beginning of the second verse. He then goes on to allude to it being sourced in an event like a murder. But the wording associated with that event is relayed in a way that you can’t tell if he was directly involved.
In fact this song does a masterful job of, all things considered, using sentences that can be taken either literally or symbolically. And this style is particularly evident from the ending of the second verse and throughout the third. But it seems that the subject did indeed witness a killing and moreover one that reads like it may have been an execution.
Perhaps we can also say that whether he was involved in the slaying or not, the associated memories still haunt him nonetheless. And what’s also insinuated is that said haunting has something to do with the victim being innocent and/or defenseless at the time.
So what it is this man is ‘wearing like a tattoo’ is those memories. In other words, they are permanent.
And for whatever reason, he felt comfortable enough sharing his “shame” with Sade upon meeting her. That would also imply that – for some reason which is not revealed (overtly at least) – he feels somehow responsible for the killing.
Release of “Like a Tattoo”
Sade commenced her discography by dropping five consecutive studio albums that have achieved RIAA multi-platinum status. The fourth on the list, “Love Deluxe”, came out on 26 October 1992.
As with every other outing in her catalog, this project was backed by Epic Records, whom Sade got down with in 1986 (after having originally signed with their sister label, Portrait Records, in 1983).
This track is the fourth on the playlist of “Love Deluxe”, which is a nine song effort.
Sade produced this song with Mike Pela (1950-2022) and co-wrote it with Andrew Hale and Stuart Matthewman, both of whom are in her band.
Fans Share Their Experiences
A fan shared that this track reminds them of their dad who has passed away. Although they never got to reconcile their differences, “Like A Tattoo” has given them the comfort they need to keep their dad close at heart.
Another said it reminded her of a sad incident in her life. According to her, she underwent an abortion despite wanting the baby but not having the support and means that she needed to have the child. Much like this track, she wears her experience “Like A Tattoo”.
American singer Kelela covered the 1992 track for Huw Stephens’ Piano Sessions on BBC Radio 1 in 1997.