Thursday, 1 August 2013

Should we really care about band t-shirts?

"Blitzkreig Bop? No, that's too commercial."
Once upon a time, band t-shirts were something you wore to display your personality outwardly to the world.

You were young and filled with a million self-doubts and adolescent malaise. It was incredibly important to let people know who you were - you weren't entirely sure yourself. It was self-affirming. The fact that the way you dressed could instantly render an instant opinion of your personality was not only pleasing to you, it was a useful time-saver. People with similar t-shirts (or who claimed to have similar t-shirts at home) would talk to you on the basis of your chosen emblem of the day. It felt good.

Later in your life, they became less declarations of 'who you are', turning into simple tokens of things you appreciated. You felt strongly enough about something to wear it on your person. That's a good thing - it meant you'd not totally succumbed to apathy.

I still wear band t-shirts, however a lot of the time I forget they are band t-shirts and wear them inappropriately. I've had them for so long they've blended into my wardrobe, their recogniseable logos as invisible to me now as the terms and conditions on the bottom of a scratchcard. It can cause problems. I wore my Crystal Castles "Bruised Madonna" shirt to the gym once, only to realise the looks of reproach coming from my fellow Fitness Pilates class members were aimed at the apparent glorified image of a beaten woman. I didn't try to explain. "It's just a band t-shirt!" wouldn't have really cut it. They thought I was a total bastard. I was extremely embarassed.

A similar incident occurred when I wore one of my favourite dresses out in Manchester. It happened to be printed all over with the same geometric patterns as Joy Divisions "Unknown Pleasures" artwork. A man stopped me to say "Somebody told me there was a Joy Division dress! I can't believe it! A t-shirt yeah...but a dress? That's cool, man." A man said that. A fully grown man.

Had I been 18 I'd have been thrilled (and probably tried to sleep with him), however in my mid-twenties, not-nearly-drunk-enough-for-this state I became incredibly embarrassed by my dress. It was betraying me, making total strangers talk to me enthusiastically, forcing me to be social and gregarious. I don't wear it much anymore.

In the music news this week I've seen two stories about music/band t-shirts that caught my attention. The first is about Rihanna, whose music I have already admitted to liking, and whose body I would slaughter countless mythical creatures to attain for myself (funnily enough, the Slaughtering Mythical Creatures pack from LesMills is about due to arrive). According to what I've read, she's been handed an undisclosed sum from the Arcadia group after they used her image without permission on a t-shirt.

Fair enough, I say. Her face is her money. You don't think she makes her bucks from the music industry, do you? *laughs and laughs and laughs until it goes dark*.

The second was an article about Ian MacKay being "alright" with Urban Outfitters selling a Minor Threat t-shirt. Now, if he says it's okay, are you really gonna argue with him? It would be nice for him to get some of the proceeds just as Rihanna has sued Topshop for, but I think he's far too concerned with not bowing down to "the man" to care about that sort of thing.

The thing about the latter article is how band t-shirts are seen by many, including the author, as being an untouchable aspect of a person's own, private cultural beliefs. Owning a Minor Threat t-shirt to this person (and the girl mentioned in the piece) was a statement of unmeasurable status and cooliosity. If you had a Minor Threat t-shirt, to some groups of people, you were the man. Or woman.

So, the implication is then, having a band's t-shirt sold in a high-street store automatically downgrades the coolness of liking this band, therefore downgrading each fan's coolness. Being able to buy a t-shirt in a shop is not good enough to reach the high echelons of cool. I can sort-of see the annoyance - when they started selling Daft Punk t-shirts in Primark I felt like I'd been sterilised - but is it really so bad in the grand scheme of things to have non-fans wearing the names of your favourite musicians on their person?

I have spent too long glaring at youthful, carefree woodnymphs who dare to wear a Blondie or Fleetwood Mac t-shirt that they picked up from Topshop. In the spirit of my efforts to try and let go of all the boiling hate and rage inside of me (there's a lot, trust), I've decided it's better to let them get on with it.

It'll hurt, friends. Oh god, it'll hurt. Seeing a skinny 17 year old Alt-J member lookalike wearing a tye-dyed Tupac vest will never be an enjoyable experience. Just think of this though - one day they will be patiently waiting at a taxi rank or sipping their first pint of the evening when a vaguely unkempt and incredibly enthusiastic person will approach them. They will wave their arms and stand just a bit too close, assuming that this shared t-shirt bonds them together as kindred spirits. They will talk at length about how cool this shirt is, and latterly how cool the person or band depicted on it is. Mr Alt-J will have no idea what to contribute. This will be the most cringeworthy moment of his life.

He will never wear that shirt again.

You see, it'll be worth it in the end.
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