Friday, July 31, 2009

Review of Everything: Rules for Rock and Roll Tshirts

I'm heading out of town for a few days, but here's The Review of Everything, an occasional Friday feature. This article first appeared in the June 2009 issue of Bootleg Magazine. Here's a previous Review of Everything on skimboarding.

Was at this show recently, and this dude comes in with a neatly pressed jean jacket. Sewn to the back are what looks like a brand new Rancid patch. Then there was the nice faux hawk, like it was 2005 all over again. Not that it was acceptable then or now. Though this guy is somewhat of a divergence from my main point, he is also the case in point. Know how to properly wear band attire. I understand that everyone has to jump into “the scene” at some time…and then usually most of us have to leave it. But here are some rules to keep in mind:

Don’t wear a shirt for a band that you’re going to see:
Unfortunately this one is the most obvious and very often the most broken. Actually, I take that back. Most of the indie rock and roll kids know how to follow this rule…and if you don’t, then you’re not an indie rock and roll kid. But here’s why this rule stands: everyone knows you’re a fan of the band or you wouldn’t be there.

Therefore, if you wear the shirt to the concert you are more of one of those weird stalker types especially when the band walks right past you at load-in. Next thing you know, you’ll ask for their autograph and the band will never engage you seriously. The point is at the indie rock show—everyone is pretty much equals. Yeah, there are the few arrogant, but that’s the exception. Instead, everyone is instead normal and the band just wants to share their art without being embarrassed by seeing the band logo stare back at them. Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t buy a shirt from the band after the show. Which brings me to my second rule:

Only buy band shirts at shows:
Buying a shirt from Hot Topic does not support the band, it supports Hot Topic (Listen to that MC Lars song). And if you buy it from one Hot Topic in the mall, then you can be sure that every Hot Topic has it. Buying a shirt from Hot Topic detracts from the most important part of bands—discovery. Wearing a band shirt is a declaration about what you as an individual music listener has found or identified with. Wearing a band shirt means that you identify with not only the music of the band, but the ethos, the spirit, the energy. All of that is zapped from a purchase from Hot Topic or Interpunk.

Don’t wear shirts for bands that are not of your generation:
If you decide to violate one and two, keep this one in mind. Lay off The Beatles shirts. Don’t wear The Ramones if you’re twelve. You’re not cool or hip or punk rock, you are the lemming falling off the mountain who thinks he is climbing up it. That is the farthest thing from being “rock and roll,” it’s benefiting marketers who bank on perceived ignorance. Here’s a caveat, I guess. Shirts of bands outside your generation are allowed if the band hasn’t been actively playing for at least 50 or 60 years. That still means no Beatles shirts, no Pink Floyd, no Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their so vintage-they’re-cool stage has not been reached yet. That means the original Glen Miller Orchestra band shirts are just coming in style.

Only wear obscure bands:
Sounds like a simple suggestion--there's the rub: what's an "obscure" band? I was living in Tennessee at the time that the Kings of Leon were making noise locally...but now, wear a shirt of a Grammy award winner? The point of the band shirt is not only to identify, but to make known. The search for the obscure is a continual process, as bands cycle in and out up and down. At some point, you will have to trust in your own judgment to know if the band is too obscure or not.

But safe bets are the random punk band in your hometown--support the scene and then wear it to say "Remember when we saw Such and Such every, that was awesome." Other safe bets are Canadian bands and New Jersey bands. There are tons of punk and screamo bands coming out of those two places, each with a small chance to kind of make it, but not really make it. If they do blow up (either internally or up the charts), seize the opportunity to say, "I knew them before they went on Warped Tour."

The next step after that--sell the shirt on consignment to Hot Topic or something. They dont' take consignment? Be punk and make them. Bonus band shirt point: If your once obscure band does somehow end up on the Grammys, here's your saving grace, the early edition tshirt. More than likely, the band will manufacture more than one design shirt. If you buy an early version, you can still strut it around proudly as that one kid says "Dude...that shirt's going for $300 on Ebay!" Just nod and wink.

Don't wear band shirts:
The truth hurts. Band shirts are not cool. They are not hip, they are not rock 'n roll. They are only for the ones overly obsessed, making unhip idols out of their music. People that buy band shirts don't really understand music or bands, they only have a surface understanding. The true fan wears their band internally and in their mind as the sound pings around their ears then into their inner cortexes, creating a personal lounge of sound. Band shirts are for those too insecure in their own music needs, and want outside affirmation for their choices. There is no security there, only a desire to be noticed and complimented by others. So when at a show, just stick to the music and picking up the vinyl. Better yet, don't let anyone see you buy anything. Because that's way cool.

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