Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Art of the Band T-Shirt...a Perspective

Not too long ago I helped some valued friends work on a book about the history of band t-shirts. The whole process excited me and I learned a lot on the way. For example, each t-shirt featured in the book needed to be cleared by the band/their management before being used. Now my legal training is relegated mainly to weaseling out of parking tickets, but common sense would've led me to believe that an image a band has licensed to be manufactured on wearables should be fair game for publishables. And it could quite possibly be that way and the folks over at Simon and Schuster were just being cautious.

Either way, I still think it's pretty cool that David Byrne gave permission for them to use a bootleg Talking Heads t-shirt design. And it's lame that Grandmaster Flash wouldn't let them use his awesome '81 tour t-shirt complete with Sugar Hill Records logo printed on the reverse.

My main duties for the book involved interviewing rock stars and rounding up a variety of shirts for possible inclusion in the book. Included are such personal jams of mine like a baseball-style 3/4 length red sleeve from the first run of White Stripes tees, a thrift-store salvaged Gories black cat (later edition, printed after the screen for the white trim around the letters broke), a Jonathan Fire Eater monstrosity complete with band-supplied blood stains bleached-out, a couple of Sonic Youth prints and some more I'm forgetting.

Personally, my only problem with The Art of the Band T-shirt is the six pages dedicated to Blood on the Wall t-shirts that are, at best, faintly memorable. Otherwise, this portable tome rates head and shoulders above the trashy, fashion photo'd Johan Kugelberg curated Vintage Rock Tees (available at shitty Urban Outfitters near you) or the laughable dribble of Rock Tease. Both the latter books focus primarily on the 70's and 80's era of rock and roll t-shirts whereas The Art of the Band T-shirt has no set cut-off date for band inclusion. Conversely, The Art of the Band T-shirt provides way more historical background and storyline with each piece mentioned whereas the other two toilet rolls, more often than not, just give you a picture of a t-shirt lacking any relevant context or story.

Hilariously though, all three books include the Jamie Reid designed, promo-only Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks... shirt printed inside out with both the front and back cover of the LP depicted on the front and back of this shirt. Granted, the shirt is BADASS and supposedly the print resembles properties more similar to a latex applique as opposed to standard t-shirt ink. But badass enough to warrant inclusion in all three books?

Plus, the other two books are particularly white. Mainly old shirts of boring old white musicians. The Art... features such United Colors of Benetton diversity as 95 South, Public Enemy, James Brown, the Boredoms, Afrika Bambaataa, Run DMC, Rick James, Martha and the Vandellas, MF Doom, etc. This book feels more American than either of the other two. And in turn, American is always better.

So I hereby give my full support behind The Art of the Band T-shirt and urge all twelve of you faithful readers to up and purchase a copy. To spur the possible purchasing, I am offering two (2) copies here as a giveaway. Whoever emails me or posts a comment here with the best/funniest/most amazing t-shirt find/story/dream/whatever will soon become the proud owner of a copy of The Art of the Band T-shirt (I really prefer the comments, you know, just in case you want to win). Also, positive comments on the Amazon Reviews page for this book will possibly be taken into consideration for extra credit.

Feel free to answer the standard t-shirt questionnaire I used on all the stars and post it in the comments.

What was your first rock band t-shirt?
What was/is your favorite rock band t-shirt?
What was/is the most annoying rock band t-shirt or design?
What do you think is the most iconic rock band t-shirt or image?


tbboy13 said...

1. I think it was my Dishwater Blonde shirt

2. My Stripes shirt

3. Metal Bands (Slipknot, Slayer, etc.)

4. I gotta go with The Rolling Stones. That logo's pretty famous.

katy said...

1) The RunnAmuckS-a punk band from
Orlando, FL. White shirt w/ the band's name, Ghostbusters logo, and "Bustin' Makes Me Feel Good" printed in black.

2) That I OWN: White Stripes shirt from GBMS tour. Black w/ apple design.
That I WANT: Whirlwind Heat-White shirt with large "Do Rabbits Wonder" logo.

3) Marilyn Manson


Rachel said...

After seeing Sleater-Kinney EVERY time they played SF and the final show in Portland, we have amassed every animal/S-K logo possible! They're practically all we wear, as far as ts go.

And one will def. be worn to the WS show in Berkeley this Sept.

Anonymous said...

1. First rock band t-shirt? Bon Jovi -> Slippery When Wet leopard spot design. A glorious T to say the least.

2. Favorite rock band t-shirt? My 'Gorilla with Machine gun in hand' shirt from Pearl Jam's '98 summer tour.

3. Most annoying rock band t-shirt or design? Pantera had some terrible shirt designs. RIP Dimebag

4. Most iconic rock band t-shirt or image? The Grateful Dead 'Steal your Face' logo

Quick story: I've been living in Moncton, NB, Canada for the past 3 years and the pickin's are pretty slim when it comes to finding great shirts at the local Salvation Army Thrift store ... but I did manage to score an original REM Work tour shirt from '87. It had apparently arrived at the thrift shop that day and was being worn by the twenty-something cashier who also happened to be sporting a hemp necklace. After a quick chat I scored the shirt for $5 and a small nugget of bud I had in my pocket!

bdegenaro said...

1. An R.E.M. t-shirt from the Green Tour that was printed inside out (get it?)

2. The Who t-shirt with the words "the" and "who" in the vertical and horizontal lines of the union jack, respectively.

3. Pearl Jam had one, circa Lollapalooza 92, that had some kinda gun control thing written on the back in a child's scrawl--something like "9 out of 10 kids prefer crayons to guns." I guess a "Jeremy" tie-in.

4. Most iconic, hands down, is AC/DC with the lightning bolt.

Anonymous said...

1) Stray Cats 82 tour shirt. It was a baseball jersey, sky-blue sleeves on a black shirt. Picture was of a "stray" alley cat trying to pick up a foxy lady cat who was hanging out on a wooden fence. The back had the concert dates. I was 12. This was also my first concert that wasn't Neil Diamond.

2) standard issue bauhaus shirt. White on black. I've had it for 22 years now and the material feels like some sort of priceless silk. I also like the Devo "duty now for the future..." shirt that I made with some friends in 1990. Totally rare. Only 5 in existence.

3) Geez, I hate loads of them. Tupac shirts are probably the worst, though.

4) Ramones "Presidential Seal" logo shirt.

--It's moose, by the way. I can't remember my password and don't feel like creating a new account right now.

Anonymous said...

1) The Who t-shirt with the words "the" and "who" in the vertical and horizontal lines of the union jack, respectively--first rock t-shirt here
2) Dirtbombs t-shirt with TOLEDO written across the front
3) All but 99.99999%
4) Ramones "Presidential Seal"--vote number two

Mandy said...

First and foremost let me just say that I don't have anything really spectacular to contribute but this is a fun post and I want to leave some kind of comment.

1. New Kids on the Block (looks side to side shamefully while mumbling the band's name just audible enough to hear)
2. White Stripes with the tiger and gazelle on it from 2005 tour (I still own all my Grateful Dead shirts though from my hippie days of high school-I just don't wear them anymore)
3. One of the most annoying bands to me (design wise) is any band I can find at hot topic in a plethora of selection to choose from. I prefer the merchandise of a desired band to be harder to come by then to be able to stroll down to my local hot topic and stock up on goodies with out really supporting the band itself outside of the store.
4. Grateful Dead's jerry bears or the steal your face logo is pretty iconic-almost every where you go you see it some where-on a shirt, car, sticker, etc.

Pinball said...

First rock tee belongs to a Toronto band named Tangiers, now thankfully defunct. Bought it after a truly inspiring performance at the Horseshoe in Toronto while they rode the local acclaim behind their awesome first album. this tee was almost burned/shredded twice. The first time when Josh Reichman was a prick to me during an early Wolf Parade gig 3 summers back, the second time when the band turned into one of the most uninspired acts in the world and did their best to piss on every single one of the 15 fans who turned out in the middle of winter on a Tuesday in London, ON; even after they had just released an incredibly pretentious record the week before Thankfully the Deadly Snakes came on after and managed to become the third band to ever "change my life" (apologies for the quote)Eager to disprove Tangier's claims of "thanks for being a shitty crowd" the Snakes turned in a legendary performance, bittersweet now that they are sadly defunct. (i just checked and tangiers first record came out in 2004 which seems recent and probably means that they are not my first tee. Alas, they are the first I can recall)

My favourite tee design happens to be one I self created using a beautiful ad design from a promotional newsprint campaign the Who did around the release of The Kids are Alright film. See the image here:
the image was reverse printed on my computer onto an iron-on transfer, then lovingly pressed onto a simple blue tee picked up from the local thrift shop. the image didn't take on the corners and has aged rather well, completing the vintage look. I'll provide a picture if asked because this baby rocks

Some of the most annoying and unimaginative tee designs belong to Dylan. I'm sure way back the man may have had a good one or two but the ones i've seen since the past 12 years or so are your typical big name boring designs, eagerly overpriced. Normally a lyric related image (weather vane "don't need a weatherman", etc) For such an iconic man to have such terrible tee designs seems absurd don't ya think?

As for most iconic of tees I'd probably go with the Beatles' Abbey Road cover design. It is a tee I remember every 13 year old who had just discovered his/her classic rock radio station wearing and still see kids wearing today. The Stones and Dead ones are definitely cooler but I think in the long run Abbey will win out.
As for a recent tee design i think is on the fast track to iconic status is the Strokes logo tees. Simple and cool. The hipsters may have abandoned the band, but Shia La Boeuf and the transformers team certainly haven't. i think this design has staying power, even if the design is a slight ripoff/update of The Modern Lovers logo. Which allows me to segue into the best/funniest t-shirt story. This story has always been endlessly amusing to others for yours but due to the personal nature of the story it has taken me quite some time to appreciate the absurdity of the whole thing.

This story is 100% true. I pulled together 3 friends from several independent circles of friends to join me to go see Jack and Meg at Clutch Cargos back when they were doing their home and home series with the Strokes back in 2002. After a relatively easy drive from the Toronto area we arrived in Pontiac. Their are many reasons why I enjoy America over Canada at times. The one thing I do not enjoy is the stupidity of their drinking age. I had been legally drinking back home for a year and a half yet could not enjoy a cold brew after a five hour drive. Not to be dismayed, the girl I brought along bought us a few bevvies with her fake id and we slipped into the crowd. After standing around for a few minutes this girl decided she wanted to check out the balcony above. we linked arms as I subtly shoved my non 21+ wristbanded wrist in my pocket. After walking around upstairs and clearly seeing we wouldn't gain any decent vantage point we walked back downstairs only to be stopped by a bouncer who then of course asked to see my wristband. I tried telling him my friends had my wallet and ID and that I'd show him I was legal and had simplt forgot to get a wristband if he'd let me go find them in the crowd. He gave me five minutes and I did my best to get lost in the crowd only to have the back of my neck roughly grabbed and then dragged out of the place around this 6 minute mark. Neither band had even gone on stage yet. i begged and pleaded to be let back in, tried talking to some crew to score a back door entrance, and even lamely disguised myself in an attempt to purchase one of the remaining tickets at the door all to no avail. I "enjoyed" what I could hear of the Strokes set from outside of the venue but when The Stripes came on I couldn't bear it and walked dejectedly around town, striking up sad discussions with convenience store clerks. i got back to the venue around the time Jack was going into the familiar refrain of Boll Weevil. I sat outside the doors as the crowd streamed outside waiting for my 3 friends to appear. Out popped the afore-mentioned girl, full of joy and stories of a raving set. She offered her empathy and proudly stated "sucks. but i got you a present," then pulled out of her purse a strokes t-shirt for moi. To make matters worse Our car died 20 minutes into the trip back home (seems my driver forgot to add coolant to the radiator which happened to be bone dry, thus cracking the block and stranding us in Detroit for the next 24 hours)
Like I said the story was a bit close to home to appreciate for a few years. The relationship that had begun to sprout between t-shirt girl and I ultimately never got off the ground due to my secret resentment that her brillinat idea to go upstairs was the sole reason I got kicked out. In the end I got a great shirt that i still put on to piss off the locals who insist on only repping ironic vintage Wham tour tee's.

Even if i don't get the book I least I win for longest comment

Adam George Fayers III said...

My first rock band t-shirt?

This was a close call between S*M*A*S*H and These Animal Men. I can’t actually remember which one came first but they were both happening new bands during 1994 and both cost £5. Neither of them actually went on to do anything commercially successful but both had a huge impact on me. There are very few people that remember that whole era and even fewer that can name a third band that fall into the ‘scene’ titled ‘New Wave of New Wave’ by the NME.

At that point of my life I was a fair bit younger than I am today and a lot more impressionable, I hadn’t been to that many gigs and seeing These Animal Men, well, I couldn’t actually put that event into words. Sitting in the bar with members of the band sitting at the table next to us was really odd. These people who you see as occupying a completely different world and live strange and exciting lives, how is it possible that they’d go and sit in the same room as all the people who’d paid to go and see them? Was this possible? Damn, just being near them was exciting.

That show was just about the most exciting gig of my life, it is now and will forever be in my top 5 greatest gigs ever. I’m not judging it on what the band were actually like, the songs or what happened just it’s impact on me. A very small venue, everyone going bonkers…actually that’s another big factor; it was the first show I saw in a room like that (about 250 people). I was totally caught up in the media hype and could not have been any more excited, I thought my brain was going to liquidize and pour out of my ears.

I still have that shirt. It’s a very very skinny-fit type with the band name written as the Lonsdale logo. I also still have the posters for that gig on the Friday and S*M*A*S*H on the Monday.

The S*M*A*S*H shirt is very simple, has the logo printed on army surplus shirts. It works. I think all of their shirts were printed on those green army shirts and sold very cheaply. They could have spent a little more care over them but I love that one. It was too big for me at the time so my mum ‘took it in a bit’ and sewed up the stitches along the shoulders to make it fit a bit better. Since then the stitching has fallen out but the shirt is still around and being worn, now that’s five quid well spent.

One of them was my first rock band T-shirt. I didn’t get them at the gigs either, my brother bought me one when he saw the band before I did and the other one was bought mail order so I’m uncertain which arrived first.

Their early 7” singles hold pride-of-place in my collection. The ridiculously limited S*M*A*S*H singles with all the inserts and hand-finished sleeves. It was a long time after the event before I could actually get them all but now it’s complete.

I know for a fact that if the exact same thing happened now I’d be a lot more sceptical and a band has to work a lot harder to impress me. There’s a good chance that I wouldn’t care about either band. Generally I find it’s best to ignore stupidly positive media coverage, listen to the music and judge for your self.

Favourite Rock Band T-Shirt?

It’s difficult, I don’t really have a favourite as such. I’ve just wear whatever is at the top of the pile and I’ve got a couple of boxes of shirts I’ve never worn. One day I’ll get to them but at the rate they actually wear out I think I’ve got about 30 years before I even open the next box. Unfortunately I don’t actually choose to wear a shirt based on the band or design, I don’t care enough. They perform a function. Unless something is really horrible then I’m not that fussed. Right now I’m wearing a promotional NERD shirt, yesterday it was Coheed and Cambra, I can’t say I’ve played either of the records in…well, maybe ever. I don’t even know if that’s how you spell ‘Coheed and Cambra’.

I like the design of the Kings of Convenience shirt, it’s brown and has a thin white line across the chest with the band name in very small type. Subtle. Nice. Tidy.

Lamb. I actually had seven identical Lamb T-shirts and they were all in rotation for about a year, so every time I wore a shirt it was exactly the same. I guess people thought I was a pikey that never washed my clothes but the thoughts in their head ain’t my problem.

The design on this one was a green shirt with a star and the shape of a lamb standing in front of it, two colours in that high-contrast style. And on the back it said ‘Lamb’ in very small letters. You’d have to be a serious fan of the band to recognise it. They’re still around and being worn.

Black Rebel Motor Cycle Club. It is the black “B.R.M.C.” text printed on a black shirt and a really nice fit. I like that one a lot. The main problem with it is that now the lettering has mostly worn off, so instead of having a design that made it look like a plain black shirt it actually is a plain black shirt. Ooohh, subversive.

Most annoying design?

There’s a lot of heavy metal shirts which have massive front, back and arm printing. Actually one of the few times I turned down a free shirt was this grotesque Slipknot monstrosity. It was just horrible. I think the designs I really dislike is when there’s too much going on. I seem to remember a Vines shirt I’ve got somewhere which is part of the artwork from ‘Winning Days’ and it’s off-centre and covers about half of the available space on the shirt. It’s crap. Why do you make something like that? That went straight into one of my T-Shirt boxes unworn. Perhaps it’ll surface again one day and I’ll brighten-up my day.

Also most of the early Manic Street Preachers shirts. They did some really good ones which were generally quotes/text on a plain shirt but a great deal of their merchandise was big pictures, it probably didn’t do much for the sales when the band criticised the shirts and pointed out how horrible they were.

To choose just one design. Probably by one of those bands that sells more t-shirts than records because people want to look cool. No, I’ll settle on a heavy metal band that isn’t very good, there’s market stalls selling unofficial metal band shirts and hoodies in toddler sizes. The most popular being someone like Linkin Park. The whole idea and execution of that area of band merchandise is annoying.

What do you think is the most iconic rock band t-shirt or image?

This one is simple fact and has nothing to do with opinion so it’s an obvious one really. Do you have Top Shop in America? If not it’s just a high street fashionable clothes store. I believe the most iconic band T-shirts are the ones that end-up on the racks in that shop. You see celebrities and people who don’t care about music in the slightest wearing them.

First it was the classic ‘Motorhead’ design, then ‘AC/DC’ and ‘Ramones’.

That’s it, I reckon they’re probably the most iconic shirts and logos.

Right, my washing has just stopped. Perfect timing. I’ll leave it there and post my comment.

At this point I should probably say that I’m not the snappiest dresser of all time. I really don’t care about clothes, fashion or trying to be cool. I’ve not actually bought a band shirt in ten years at least and most of my clothes come from charity shops. My opinion on good and bad shirts is pretty much void but this is fun and I love reading the Blackwell Blog, now a chance to write something. I’ve not really been in a position to add anything to comments before as I’ve not know all that much about the subject. I read the blog to be informed and learn about the world.

Goodbye, lots of love, Adam

Anonymous said...

1st was some black ozzy shirt that had like a red bat on it.

a favorite for a long time was a yellow D.O.A. shirt that had the crime watch guy on it.

those asymetrically printed shirts with line drawings of birds/buildings/flowery things are pretty lame.

i can't believe no one said that crimson ghost Misfits doesn't even need to say misfits. Black Flag bars is somethin too.


TJ said...

1. my first rock band shirt was a 'Bad Religoin' shirt, with the crossed out crucifix. i bought it at my first concert, which was warped tour '98. i wore sandals to the venue, which was a parking lot in pontiac. bad idea. classic first concert mistake, i suppose. i lost a sandal while crowd surfing and moshing at bad religion. later, i saw my sandal fly up on stage while Rancid was playing. lars got pissed at the idea of some "hippie" wearing sandals to warped tour, and hastily threw it over the fence out of the parking lot venue. boo!

2. my favorite band shirt that i own would probably have to be my yellow muldoons shirt with red and black nauga monster. i feel kinda egotistical saying this, since i designed the shirt. but it really is a great shirt!! its a distinct logo that's almost heroic in its presentation. and its so nice to have a band shirt that isnt black. i needed some color in my wardrobe.

3. most annoying? hmm. i dont know. did Styx ever have shirts? anything with images that wraps around the shirt usually blows.

4. most iconic rock band shirt/image would surely have to be the rolling stones mouth/tongue thingy image, or zeppelin's falling angel.

fROMMEL said...

1-U2 under a blood red sky
2-Tijuana Bibles 2002 european tour shirt
3-lotsa metal shirt with unreadable band names.
4-i must also go for Ramones "Presidential Seal" or indeed the rolling stones tongue. I go for the ramones.

ath said...

1 - a Spice Girls white shirt. I assume
2 - YYY's shirt with a smoking rabbit saying "Wanna party? Let's fuck"
3 - iron maiden art. please.
4 - i also go for the ramones presidential seal. and the rolling stones tongue.

Anonymous said...

How come 98.5% of band t-shirt wearers are male?

You didn't address the dweebishness quotient...

Anonymous said...

because 98.5% of people in bands are male and writing from a male perspective. Which is going to appeal to a male rather than female audience.

'The Dweebishness Quotent' was probably not addressed because it's called 'The ART of The Band T-Shirt' and not 'How Come So Many Blokes Wear Band T-Shirts, What's Up With That?'.

Anonymous said...

well then, the question is "Ladies, what kind of Band T-shirt Art do you prefer on your hunka hunka hunka burning love?"

it's the evolutionary imperative...

lady anne said...

"because 98.5% of people in bands are male and writing from a male perspective. Which is going to appeal to a male rather than female audience."

You can't be serious. Did you really bring up a gender debate in a discussion about band t-shirts?

Anonymous said...

Is this your shirt?

because...well...It's gross..