What Travis Barker's Tattoos Really Mean

Travis Barker seems to have nine lives. The artist is a master of reinvention, first as the legendary drummer of pop punk purveyors Blink-182, then in the Transplants, his supergroup +44, and the Blink-182 off-shoot Boxcar Racer. He's had a DJ-rock group TRV$DM, a solo album, a record label, and more recently, was the foundation of Machine Gun Kelly's critically acclaimed rock effort, Tickets to My Downfall. He's also an author, a reality TV star, a father, a divorcé, a restaurant owner, a survivor of a terrifying plane crash, a recovering drug addict, and Kourtney Kardashian's current main squeeze (royal status pending). But even if you're somehow unaware of Barker's mountain of achievements, you probably recognize him for at least one thing: his tattoos.

Barker's affinity for ink started at a young age. In 2015, the star told Vice that he gave himself his first makeshift body art by scratching his girlfriend's name into his leg with a razorblade. "I was 10 or 11, her name was Toni," he said. Since then, Barker estimates that he's covered 70% of his body in tattoos (though it should be noted that his son, Landon, said in GQ that's probably an understatement). Some online estimates list his total tattoo count at 103, but with the ones he lost due to burn wounds and skin grafts and the others he's since covered up, it's hard to tell exactly. 

Here's a look at the real meaning behind some of Barker's most notable ink.

Travis Barker's Dag Nasty tattoo inspired his memoir's title

At the ripe age of 15 years old — three years before he could legally walk into a shop and get zapped — Travis Barker started his tattoo collection much to the dismay of his father. In an interview with GQ, he revealed that his first two tattoos were an homage to music and skateboarding, two things that eventually came to define his life. The first was a Bones tattoo, inspired by the brand of skateboard wheels and his childhood nickname, Bones ("I was so skinny," he told Vice). The other was a flame logo from the hardcore band Dag Nasty.

"It was like 'Okay, let's figure out if this hurts,'" he recalled to GQ. "And then once I figured out it didn't hurt, it was sort of a wrap after that."

Though Barker told Vice that his first two tattoos were "burnt off" in the plane crash, he also has the title of Dag Nasty's first album, Can I Say, on his chest. This prominent ink has become a personal logo for Barker, and he ended up using the phrase as the title of his 2016 memoir, Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death, and Drums, Drums, Drums.

Travis Barker got a matching "Pal" tattoo with his dad

Like most parents, Travis Barker's father was not thrilled when his teenage son started getting tattoos. As the drummer told GQ, his sister initially blew up his spot after he did something that annoyed her. "She was like, 'Hey, dad, did you see Trav has a tattoo?' And he goes, 'You better not,'" Barker said. "He said he'd kick me out of the house if I got another one. I just started testing the waters [laughs]. He said something that resonated with me: 'You'll have no Plan B. You have tattoos like that, and you're f**ked. You won't be able to get a job.'"

That was enough for Barker to make sure he never needed to get a job in the first place. In fact, once he found success as a musician, he actually ended up giving his father a job organizing his finances and working with his business mergers. As the drummer shared with Vice, the pair are so close that they talk "every morning like clockwork" and — 20 years after his father threatened to kick him out of the house because of his tattoos — they actually got matching tattoos of the word "Pal," the name they called each other throughout Barker's childhood. The drummer's Pal tattoo is written in cursive on his shoulder.

After his plane crash, Travis Barker turned his wounds into a tattoo tribute

In 2008, Travis Barker and his close friend Adam Goldstein (aka DJ AM) boarded a private Learjet in South Carolina that was meant to take them home to California from a TRV$DM gig. Instead, the plane crashed shortly after takeoff, according to the New York Post.

Of the six passengers — including two pilots, Barker's assistant Lil' Chris Baker, and security guard Charles "Che" Still — the pair were the only people who survived the fiery accident. Goldstein's facial burns were so severe that he was put in a medically induced coma. Barker walked away with 65% of his body covered in burns, a severe fear of airplanes, and, as he said in Billboard, major survivor's guilt. He turned towards tattoos for a sense of closure, inking the names of Lil' Chris and Che across his leg.

"I wanted to [get tattooed] right away," he told GQ. "Once I realized I'd lost two of my friends, I was like, 'Can I get a tattoo artist to come in right now?' I missed their funerals, so I guess I was looking for some kind of closure. A month or two after the grafts, I was ready."

A tribute to DJ AM is on Travis Barker's left thigh

As Travis Barker told GQ, all of his leg tattoos were burned off in the plane crash. Once his skin grafts healed, he slowly started building up his collection. This included a tribute to his TRV$DM collaborator, Andrew Goldstein. Though DJ AM didn't die in the crash, it reportedly sparked a relapse that later became fatal. According to CNN, the artist had been sober for 11 years before he was found dead in his New York apartment from an apparent drug overdose about a year after the accident. At the time, he reportedly had "cocaine, Vicodin, Oxycodone, Klonopin, and other drugs in his system."

Barker took Goldstein's death hard, inking a tribute that featured the DJ's stage name and a crying angel on his left thigh. "I buried two of my best friends [Lil Chris and Che], then the two pilots passed away. I barely even knew them, but it affected me," he told Vice. "And then when Adam passed away a year after the crash, I had to deal with that. I had a lot of people saying 'Just be happy you're here,' but I struggled with that. It was like an identity crisis: 'Am I supposed to be here, was I supposed to die, was it a mistake?'"

Travis Barker used his family to cover his scars

Travis Barker's back was also burned in the crash and scarred from surgeries. "They took lots of skin from my back and my thighs to cover my feet and my legs," he shared with  GQ, noting that "everything was discolored." To help mask some of the scarring, the drummer got a portrait of his family that included his mother, father, and his two children.

"After the crash, Adam [DJAM] and I played a show," Barker told Vice. "And I had my shirt off and some idiot took a picture of my back saying 'Look at all these burns on his back,' and it kind of bugged me. So I just thought 'I'm just gonna tattoo my back. let's work on it again.' It's not like I'm ashamed of any of the burns: they are one big tattoo for me. They're part of the story of my life, but a big back piece is really dope. I think it's weird when people have tattoos on their head and their face, but they don't have their back done."

The back tattoo was a long process, taking about 40 or 50 hours of work split across 10-hour sessions. During each session, the two artists, Franco Vescovi and Chuey Quintanar, worked simultaneously.

Travis Barker's thigh is a permanent sketchbook for his kids

Travis Barker's body isn't just a vessel for his own creativity. It's a veritable sketchbook for his children. As Barker explained to GQ, the idea was sparked when son Landon was "in tears" because he wasn't allowed to get a tattoo when he was a child. "I had to explain that I'd go to jail if you get a tattoo," he recalled to the magazine, "so I said 'Let's make a deal, you tattoo me.'" Today, Barker has reserved a spot on his leg for both of his children.

"I have this portion on my thigh where basically anytime I get tattooed, if they're around and they want to, they can grab the gun and doodle on me. It's like a sketchbook. Those are the memories that are really priceless," he shared with Vice in 2015. "Landon put a cross with his name, with an L and an A, and Alabama put a heart. There's quite a bit of space left. I'm in trouble for a while."

The sketchbook idea only temporarily placated Landon, who is 17 years old at the time of this writing. Barker told TMZ that his son asks if he can get a face tattoo every day, just like his favorite rapper Lil' Pump. Now that he's on the edge of 18, it's only a matter of time, though Barker would prefer if he waited until he's "ready to hustle like dad did." Meanwhile, Alabama is helping her father cover up his face tattoos.

Travis Barker's head tattoos represent his faith

Travis Barker has a number of tattoos on his head, including a Transplants gas mask on the back of his skull, a pair of praying hands, and the phrase "One Life One Chance," which is the name of a charity founded by H20 front man Toby Morse that encourages kids to "make healthy choices and live a drug free life." Barker, who's a recovering addict, was involved with the charity in 2010. Still, the most prominent of Barker's head tattoos is the Virgin Mary at the top of his scalp. It's actually his second Virgin Mary, with the first tattooed on his forearm when he was around 18 or 19 years old. 

Since Barker's plane crash, the star's faith has gotten stronger. As Barker explained to Vice"I was brought up Catholic. I definitely pray; I believe in God. I definitely think I was blessed, and I'm here for a reason after being the only survivor of a plane crash."

In general, Barker is a major fan of head tats, even though they're widely regarded as some of the most painful. "I always wanted to get my head done," he told Fuse in 2012. "I had seen someone when I was young with their whole head done. During summer time, it was shaved and you could see the tattoos. And then you can grow your hair out, and no one can tell."

The kitchen knives are a nod to Travis Barker's restaurant

Travis Barker had been a vegetarian since he was 15 years old, but after his terrifying plane crash, he made a pact with DJ AM to go vegan. According to Men's Journal, he kept up his end of the promise, even after his friend's death.

"I'm not like a psycho vegan, going to Sea World and f**king picketing or acting crazy. But I never liked the idea of eating an animal. It wasn't until I was like 10 or 11 when I realized where ham came from, or where burger meat came from," Barker told Vice. " ... After having to eat meat in the hospital, I got out and I never wanted to eat anything that came from an animal again."

Today, even the drummer's children eat vegan about half the time. Barker admitted to Vice that "Landon sometimes eats meat when he's with his mom." It shouldn't be surprising that the star, a platinum-selling hustler, also managed to turn his newfound veganism into cash. Barker invested in a Los Angeles-based vegan restaurant called Crossroads and inked two crossed kitchen knives on his forearm in 2014, the year the business opened.

Classic cars and Cadillac tattoos are Travis Barker's jam

Travis Barker is a massive fan of classic cars — particularly Cadillacs — and has a gargantuan collection worth more than the average mansion with a view. According to HotCars, he's got at least 15 different types of Caddys. Though TMZ reports that the star auctioned off his 1941 62 Series Convertible and 1960 Coupe Deville in 2020, it was merely to make room for new cars.

At this stage in his life, the drummer is basically a walking billboard for Cadillac. If the brand's emblem inked on his chest wasn't enough, he's also got a huge tattoo of Cadillac's classic script running down his ribcage. This tattoo marked the longest time he ever sat in a tattoo chair. It took a whopping 12 hours. 

"It was actually a day where I was pissed off. So I kinda wanted it," he told Vice. "The guy asked if I was sure — it's a big one, with big bold black letters and lots of shading. All my ribcage bled. But it was fun. Those days where you're p**sed, it's 12 hours to sit there, keep your cool and have someone else hurt you."

Both of Travis Barker's ex-wives saw their names in ink

Most millennials of the MTV era know Shanna Moakler, Travis Barker's ex-wife and the mother of his two children, from their reality series Meet the Barkers. The show aired just 16 episodes from 2005 to 2006, and while the couple looked solid on-screen, their marriage was falling apart behind the scenes. "I don't know if it was the show or the pressure of our relationship — she'd just had our son Landon – but I knew where I stood and I knew I had to leave," Barker shared with Vice. "But I had to end the show before I could leave." By 2008, Moakler and Barker were stuck in a bitter custody battle and divorce that became a tabloid frenzy.

According to People, years later, Barker and Moakler somehow managed to reconcile. By 2016, they were actually friends, which is probably why he's is in no rush to get her name lasered off of his body. When the pair tied the knot in 2004, the drummer got "Shanna" inked on his arm. He also had a tattoo of his first wife's name, Melissa Kennedy, which has since been covered. "The Shanna tattoo is still there. I don't know if I'm going to cover it up, but I've thought about it," he told Vice in 2015.

Kourtney Kardashian's name is on Travis Barker's chest

Anyone who's had an internet connection in 2021 knows that Travis Barker and Kourtney Kardashian are totally into each other. Their relationship is so packed with online PDA that it's triggered a wave of eyerolls across the nation (in the best possible way). According to People, the pair have been linked since late December, but in April, Barker finally made things official by inking Kardashian's first name above his left nipple. One could argue that's even more official than marriage if you're not into painful laser tattoo removal. Kourtney, who posted a captionless image of the tattoo on Instagram, was clearly a fan.

This may not be his only Kardashian ink. A month prior, Barker gave himself a tattoo that fans believed was in his significant other's handwriting. On the surface, the words "You're so cool" are a nod to Quentin Tarantino's True Romance, as it's the soundtrack's title track, but as People reports, the tattoo matches the handwriting of a love note shared to his Instagram story around the same time that he etched those words into his thigh. Perhaps he's just a Tarantino super fan, or perhaps he's having a true romance with a Kardashian.

Travis Barker's knuckles were 'self made' before he was

Travis Barker's "self made" knuckle tattoos are some of his most iconic ink, but he got them long before he ever made it in the traditional sense. As Barker said in Vice, he was just 18 years old and had yet to join Blink-182, which would skyrocket him to worldwide fame. Instead, the ink served as a signal of what was to come. "I didn't have anything to fall back on," he said in GQ. "We didn't have money for college or anything. It really narrowed things down for me in the best way possible. Play music or die."

Today, Barker is arguably one of the most prolific drummers in the music business, amassing a reported $50 million net worth and working with a number of stars, including Rihanna, who, as he told NMEreached out to him for a drum lesson. Since committing his "self made" mantra to skin, he's released four platinum albums with Blink-182. At one point, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket was even the No. 1 record in America. Barker has since repeated the success with Machine Gun Kelly's Tickets to My Downfall. 

Barker's tattoos aren't just a reflection of his success — they tell his life story. "You know, you see these kids who get the best tattoos from the best artists and they let them heal properly," he said in GQ. "I don't care if I have nice, shiny tattoos. Mine all tell a story and make up who I am."

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