For observers of and participants in Iowa City’s underground scene — hardcore shows put on in basements, DIY livin’, zines and alt media being glued and stapled together in coffee shops, etc. — Nick Jones is a piece of local history. In the early 2000s he fronted the band Race to the Bottom and ran an epic house venue (Theta Beta Potata) on Lucas Street. More personally, in the early days of Little Village, upcoming issues were frequently discussed and debated at the Tobacco Bowl (now Forbidden Planet Pizza & Arcade), where Jones was among the baristas: open late-night, fueling our manic media rebellion.
A Cedar Rapids native, Jones moved to Iowa City after high school and became a fixture at several downtown landmarks, working stints at Ragstock, New Pioneer Food Co-op, the Tobacco Bowl and Buzz Salon. After a few years (and a few trips to the courthouse for Theta Beta Potata-related shenanigans), he moved to Los Angeles to — as he said over coffee at High Ground Cafe without a hint of irony — “get a little more serious.”
He worked at an Altru Apparel factory in downtown LA’s Skid Row district. There, in the shadow of the American Apparel factory on Alameda and 7th Avenue, he made graphic tees to be sold to Urban Outfitters and Nordstroms. “That sucked,” he said, adding that it was valuable to explore various aspects of the fashion industry, and also fun to ride the bus downtown (“They don’t let you honk the horn, but you do get to meet LA’s finest”), but being chased by hooded prostitutes and drug dealers and almost getting mugged daily was the last straw. “That was it. I knew hourly jobs were for the birds, and I had to do something.”
He tried apprenticing with a tattoo artist, fell into acting and modeling for commercials and, in the summer of 2009, was tapped by Ray-Ban to attempt a viral video — a hoax in which Jones would appear to be getting glasses tattooed onto his face. The trick worked. The video on YouTube and the photo set on Flickr continue to get views and comments to this day, seven years after their 2010 release.
“Back then there was not a royalty system for online content, so no checks coming in or anything of that sort,” Jones said of the contract. “At the end of the day I made about $125. So it goes.”
After reconnecting with another former Buzz Salon staff member in LA (stylist Shannon Miller), Jones got licensed at the now-defunct Form Academy, and started barbering at Refuge in Echo Park. “After knocking on enough doors, I finally found the right fit,” he said. His talents earned him coveted chair positions at barbershops in Hollywood; Stockholm, Sweden; and Brooklyn, New York, where he got constant reminders of how famous his Ray-Ban video had become. “I had tourists stop me all the time and take their picture with me — they’d stop in the barbershop and say, ‘I just need my picture with you.’ They’d yell out of their cars, ‘Hey Ray-Bans guy!’”
This winter, Jones and his girlfriend (editorial photographer Jess Rao) moved back to Iowa City. Their son, Henning Nicholas, was born in December, right around the same time that Jones rejoined Buzz Salon, now as a full-time member of their three-chair men’s barbering section, which emphasizes fades, facial hair trimming and straight-razor shaves.
If you should see him around and you are tempted to remark on his status as a viral meme, don’t be shy: “I just want to give myself props for getting one over on the world, tricking people. People ask me, aren’t you embarrassed? No, I’m proud of it. I just pulled a huge practical joke. Score me, man. I got people so mad — people saying I should be shot and beaten. If I can get that kind of reaction out of people, how is that not a success? Yeah, I chalk that up as a win.”
International Internet Infamy
Since 2010, Nick Jones has amassed thousands, perhaps millions of comments on the internet for his viral Ray-Ban face-tattoo prank. (Google “hipster Ray-Ban face tattoo;” you’ve probably already seen it). The comments run the gamut from amused to outraged:
“This [expletive] [expletive] artist deserves to have his license revoked.”
— John McLane, 2 years ago
“This is why aliens won’t talk to us.”
— HayDavo5, 2 years ago
— Ivy_Nico, 7 years ago
“He should of [sic] just had contact lenses tattooed onto his eyeballs.”
— Gregory Krug, 5 months ago.
“Dude, how much of your body is covered in ink? Pretty incredible and very hot”
— Frank, 4 years ago
Frank is right. And, if you have ever considered taking the path of covering your body with ink, now is the time.
Iowa City Tattoo (393 E College St, Iowa City) is currently donating all proceeds from a selection of tattoo designs to Planned Parenthood. The fundraiser kicked off on Saturday, March 4. Lines stretched around the building as patrons waited for $40 tattoos, and more than $1,000 was raised in one day. For the rest of the month, the tattoos will cost $60 each. Note that transactions are cash only, tattoos must be on simple body areas and, if you would like a different color or size, the price may vary.
Matthew Steele quit tobacco in 2007, but he’s still addicted to coffee and making magazines. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 217.