Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Scott goes shopping for a Metallica T-Shirt

[Guest blog from Scott: I thought he found an interesting connection at the end].

I bought a Metallica T-shirt today, it's an odd thing for a grown man to do (unless of course it's a concert T-shirt) but I couldn't resist, I've recently rediscovered the awesomeness of ...And Justice For All and it just so happenned to be an ....And Justice For AllT-shirt reasonably priced at 10 dollars. Here's the weird part... I bought it at JC Penney's. This is a recent trend I've noticed: retail chains are selling these oldish rock band T-shirts as fashion. Some places, like Target, label them as 'vintage rock shirts' which is fairly cringe-worthy but, at Penney, the sale sign said 'novelty rock T-shirts' Really? Novelty? I remember when wearing the T-shirt of a band was a sort of showing of loyalty to that band's music; a way of saying, "Yes, I am a fan of this band." I've seen students of mine wearing these T-shirts and, as I begin asking them about the band, it becomes apparent that they have little or no clue about the bands that they are promoting on their chest. Recently, a student came to class wearing a Who t-shirt and, being a huge Who fan myself, I immediately began to quiz him on what his favorite album was. He didn't have one, in fact, other than "My Generation" it seemed the only Who songs he was aware of were the ones that have been used as CSI theme music.

I've been reading AJ Jacobs The Year of Living Biblically where he discusses the fact that there are many worshippers in the Judeo-Christian faith who continue practicing rituals that they have long since forgotten the meaning for. Is that what this is like? These kids know these bands are cool for some reason but they have no idea first hand of why they're great bands?


scott91777 said...

It's also worth noting that these T-shirts, especially those of the Metallica, Iron Maiden and AC/DC variety (all now available at JC Penney's), were once, at least in middle America, a pretty serious form of rebellion. Not only could you not buy these shirts at your local department store; you had to order them out of catalogues in the back of rock magazines, hed shops or at some of the more questionalbe record stores. These weren't merely clothing, they were forms of expression, like a piercing or a tattoo only less permanent. If you wore T-shirts by these bands, you were making a definite statement about the kind of person you were.

In fact, in many areas, you could be sent home for wearing such shirts. My own high school would probably have insisted that I turn this particular T-shirt inside out (as was the practice for any sort of offensive T-shirt) because, on the shirt, the statue of justice is bare breasted and bound (a representation of the line "Justice is raped" from the title track of the album).

However, with shirts like this being sold at places like Wal-Mart (at least Target is SOMEWHAT edgy as far as major coporate retail stores go) it would seem that the same middle America that used to arrest kids for wearing these t-shirts has now come to accept this. My question here is: does this mean that they are becoming more progressive and accepting or have these bands just lost their edge? Will Eminem and Marilyn Manson t-shirts one day be sold at Wal-Mart? Is this pre-packaged, commercialized rebellion (i.e. Hot Topic... "Hey kids, want to frighten your parents, then how about this 200 dollar overcoat that looks like something Pinhead from Hellraiser would wear?")?

Sorry, if it seems like I'm ranting... I'm really not... It's more 'pondering'... I'm not angry about this... just puzzled.

scott91777 said...

I think this might be my version of Don Henley's proverbial "Dead Head sticker on a cadillac"

Mikey said...

I do not know. But ...And Justice For All was the first album I ever bought (on tape) with my own money and I'll be damned if I don't go out and buy a t-shirt this weekend.

I do think that partly maybe we are becoming more progressive, even if it does not feel like we are. Or maybe, these bands have lost their edge, but in the sense that they've just become part of the cultural clutter. Background iconography.

Caveat - I'm thinking more of the vintage-style tees and the hipster indie kids who wear them more than anything else here.

I would not go so far as to say that these tees are mere signifiers of rebellion and nothing more. The people wearing them that I'm talking about aren't trying to convey or appropriate rebellion. They are not worn by kids trying to invoke a faux-edginess, because everyone knows wearing a Metallica t-shirt is not rebellious and that they are not in the least edgy (anymore).

But I bet you any money that the hipster who's wearing Air Force Ones and a bullet belt and a Master of Puppets tee would not be seen dead wearing a garm from the Load-era, or current Metallica (and nor would I - and Scott, I notice it was Justice you went for, the album just before Metallica became more hard rock and radio-friendly with None More Black).

I realise that I'm now talking about those who buy them from vintage shops and not the big chains, but I think the sense I'm talking about is at large in the broader culture. Namely, rather than signifying rebellion, politics or outlook, maybe they're signifiers of a defined and coherent (and transient) style? (And pure style, nothing more). Certainly here in the UK the 80s revival has been in full swing for a long time, and the 90s started recently (where were you in 92?). I see thrash tees (Slayer, Venom, even modern day revivalists like Municpal Waste) all over the place and, in my head at least, you can buy them pre-faded as well, so it looks like you've owned your Reign in Blood tee for years.

Goddam, people dress well now. What was I wearing when I was a kid? (Answer: I sucked).

Mikey said...

On a side note and not dissimilarly, mainstream - and more importantly fashionable chain stores over here like H+M and even Zara sell comic book tees that are actually faded - people walking around with Kirby's Thor or Ditko's Spider-Man on their chests. This isn't because they are fans of the comics. They would never wear a new looking comic book tee, or one of those with Wolverine's abs on you can get from the Previews apparel section. I don't think it's even due to the current cultural prominence and value of superheroes (although it might be tied to their increased visibility). And I'm not sure it's simply and purely because they just look great, either. At first I thought I should be angry at this, but then I realised I actually thought it was kind of neat. I am not that proprietory, I guess.

Scott – you will love these I think.

scott91777 said...

Yes, many of these T-shirts that I am speaking of are faux faded and, yes, I also bought such faux aged Superman and Flash t-shirts at Target.

The great thing about this, and the reason why I buy them as a thirty-one year old man (in addition to the fact that I am quirky/boyish-looking enough that I can pull it off) is the fact that when I was in my prime for buying t-shirts like this, I could never FIND them anywhere. When I did, they were exorbitantly (sp?) priced at about 25 dollars (far beyond my meager teenage means to expend on a mere garment at the time)

For the record, I also love the Black Album and consider it the second finest pop-metal album ever made (the finest, of course, being Def Leppard's Pyromania) :)

Christian said...

I know this will make me loss my "Serious" credability, but I fucking love those T-shirts.

I would never wear one of them, if I didn't have any affection for the band/comic/cartoon though.

I think most of you hit the main point, but I also think it's a faint excuse at being "allowed to nerdy and being a beacon of said nerdiness." I think most people wearing a Captain America t-shirt, are at least familiar with the character. Around here at least, where he's probably best known for the 60's Kirby cut-up cartoons that reran in the early 90's. The one with the catchy theme song. But I digress.

My main point is this: These "Teenage Mutant Ninja 80's Reference" t-shirts and Hulk underwear are worn with love I tell you!

And they look better than a lot of design T-shirts anyway.

scott91777 said...


Geoff, you're the fashion expert, what do you think of the 'Geekery as Fashion' idea?

Simon Mac Donald said...

I believe the rock band t-shirt phenomenon started about 5 years ago with the trendy kids in NY grabbing the originals out of used clothing stores. Then they became hard to find as all the cool kids wanted them and prices shot up exponentially. Buyers for major stores caught on to this trend and started putting in orders for these shirts. Now the shirts have become commoditized and can be had for $10 a pop.

There is a real good chapter on this phenomenon in Martin Gladwell's book The Tipping Point regarding Hush Puppies.

Every time I see some 16 year old wearing a Ramones t-shirt I want to scream. I'm sure they don't have a clue who the Ramones were.

Geoff Klock said...

Scott: I am a big fan of Geekery as Fashion because it works well with everything I already own. I am of course also a huge fan of style over substance so as long as they look good I am not sure if I care that they do not know what they are wearing. I think it is a mistake to think of fashion as taking an inner state and making it outer. Fashion is about rebuilding. This is not a hard and fast rule, and part of that rebuilding might be not looking like an idiot when someone asks you about the Who, but there you go

Aspen said...

I want to see the T -shirt which he bought for himself. Got my one through Backcountry Outlet.

Underwear said...

good blog all round..nice to read it..

Yxl Ian said...

yeah, I think so. I also like the Metallica t shirt.