Meaning of “Like a Tattoo” by Sade

Written By Michael Miller

Michael is a music teacher and professional cellist. He loves uncovering the deeper meaning of popular songs.

“Like a Tattoo” by Sade seems to touch on themes of pain, past experiences, and internal struggle. It tells a story of a man haunted by his past, burdened by his youth, his dreams broken. This man is hungry for life and thirsty for liberation. The song reflects the internal wars that rage within us, symbolizing them as a tattoo—a permanent mark of our experiences and pain. Sade likely wrote this song to convey the emotions of bearing such burdens and to depict the depth of the human soul.

Dive in to uncover the eloquent expression of human pain and endurance encapsulated in this timeless piece!

“Like a Tattoo” Lyrics Meaning

This song presents an eloquent portrayal of a man who is laden with the burdens of his past and his broken dreams. He is depicted as a man who has been through emotional turmoil, presenting an intricate exploration of enduring pain and the pursuit of liberation.

The line “He told me sweet lies of sweet love, Heavy with the burden of the truth,” immediately sets a tone of betrayal and disillusionment. Here, the protagonist had been fed illusions, possibly reflecting promises unfulfilled and dreams shattered. The recurring mention of “the burden” speaks to the weight of the truths and realities that the character is wrestling with.

The protagonist mentions “Fourteen years,” possibly indicating a significant period in his life where he was unable to face reality, symbolized by the inability to “look into the sun.” This period seems to have been marked by a turning point, where “She saw him laying at the end of my gun,” revealing a moment of confrontation and a literal or metaphorical struggle for survival.

The imagery used, “Hungry for life, And thirsty for the distant river,” accentuates a desire for more, a yearning for liberation, and a pursuit of something unattained. This hunger and thirst can be seen as metaphors for the longing to break free from the shackles of the past and to live fully.

“I remember his hands, And the way the mountains looked, The light shot diamonds from his eyes,” provides a visual experience, illustrating vivid memories and moments ingrained in the protagonist’s mind. This could imply the enduring impact of those experiences, shining yet piercing like diamonds.

“Like the scar of age, Written all over my face,” conveys the permanence of his experiences and the inevitable marks they leave, just as age leaves its inevitable scars. This symbolism of the scars and the war still raging inside speaks to the lingering pain and internal conflicts that continue to haunt.

“I wear it like a tattoo” is particularly poignant. A tattoo is permanent, visible to all, a constant reminder of a choice, an experience, or a moment in time. The protagonist wears his pain, his experiences, and his past like a tattoo, an everlasting imprint on his soul.

Why Was “Like a Tattoo” Written?

To understand why “Like a Tattoo” was written, it is essential to delve into the emotional landscape of the songwriter. Sade, known for her soulful and emotive music, often explores themes of love, loss, and struggle. This song is likely a reflection of enduring human experiences, a portrayal of the constant battles within the human soul.

The metaphorical depiction of pain as a tattoo signifies how our past, our experiences, and our struggles are imprinted on us permanently, shaping our present and future. Sade could have been expressing her introspections on human resilience and vulnerability, highlighting how the internal wars and the scars we bear are revelations of our strengths and our wounds.

The background and the contemplative nature of this song suggest that it might have been a way for Sade to communicate the profoundness of human emotion and the intricate dance between pain and endurance, between the scars of the past and the hunger for life and liberation. The artistic expression in “Like a Tattoo” resonates as a universal echo of human experience, a melody of enduring and overcoming.