Van Halen’s new pro-union ‘Tattoo’

Classic rockers Van Halen are back with their first new studio album (“A Different Kind of Truth”) in 14 years. And the album’s lead single, “Tattoo,” is a pretty important pro-union shout-out.

The legendary band has David Lee Roth returning on lead vocals, and their new song, says Roth, is all about union pride. That much is evident in its lyrics:

Uncle Danny had a coal tattoo

He fought for the union, some of us still do

On my shoulder is the number of the chapter he was in

That number is forever like the struggle here to win

So what are coal tattoos? They’re the permanent marks left on miners from years of coal dust getting into their pores. Clearly, the lyrics evoke powerful imagery.

Roth said that he could relate to the pride that he believes coincides with joining or fighting for a union. “What’s more poignant than the union struggle today?” he said. “You identify with that, you join a team, you join a group…when you get a tattoo.”

And even though tattoos are decorative, he noted, they could also hold significance. And the song’s mention of a ‘coal tattoo,’ he said, pays tribute to the daily wear and tear of working-class unionists.

Van Halen is currently on tour, and their new album is available online and in stores.

Photo: Van Halen members Wolfgang (left) and David Lee Roth perform in New York. Charles Sykes/AP



Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake writes on environment and culture. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill and the UN Climate Conference in Paris. In 2015, he received an award from the Illinois Woman's Press Association for his coverage of the People's Climate March in New York. As production manager, he is also responsible for the daily assembly of the PW home page.

He grew up in Garfield, New Jersey. He likes cats, wine, good books, music, and nature - especially long hikes in the woods. He currently lives in Chicago. He writes a blog that can be found at