Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Asking the Tough Questions About Rock and Roll Music...

I am by no means an end-all, be-all repository of rock and roll knowledge. And armchair rock and roll repartee is rampant with claims of firsts…shit like whether or not Jackie Brenson and His Delta Cats “Rocket 88” from 1951 is the first rock and roll song is purely arbitrary. But collected below are some questions that have been bugging me for awhile (and some that I just made up) that I feel can be answered one way or another. Anyone who can solidly prove or disprove any of these questions as fact is strongly encouraged to post the relevant, fact-checked information in the comments section. Also feel welcome to ask your own questions. Hurry. I may just participate in the comments. This just might be fun.

1) Is Bo Diddley the first performer to reference himself by his full name in his own song? Is Bo Diddley the first performer to use his name as the title for a song?

(I know most of the old bluesmen…Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell… refer to themselves in their songs, but I can’t think of a specific example of one using their full name)

2) Is Frank Zappa’s “Freak Out” the first LP packaged in a gatefold sleeve?

(I don’t even own a copy of this record, but I know it came before “Sgt. Pepper’s” which is usually credited with the honor)

3) Is the Beatles “Back in the USSR” the first example of irony in pop music?

(please be thorough and refer to a proper dictionary definition of the word irony. This one will be hard, but I honestly think it’s a pretty important distinction)

4) Is the photo in the gatefold of the Stooges Funhouse LP the first example of ripped jeans in pop music? In popular culture?

(Again, hard to prove, but terribly important)

5) Is the Jarvis Street Revue’s “Mr. Oil Man” the first environmentally-minded LP/song?

(Only other one of remotely the same time period is Marvin’s What’s Goin’ On LP from 1971. JSR is from 1970)

6) Is Ricky Wilson’s four-string guitar the first instance of a guitarist purposefully omitting strings to obtain a specific sound?

(I’m almost certain there’s examples of people doing this just for a recording session…but not so sure that I can name any particulars...can you? But is Wilson the first to do this and stick by it?

7) Is there a band before the Gories whose drummer used no cymbals, no snare drum and no kick drum?

(Uh…if I need be more specific, how about a drummer in a ROCK band)

8) Was Sub Pop’s Singles Club the first 7” subscription club?

(I’m lazy…)

9) Is the White Stripes “Lafayette Blues” single the first double B-side 7”?

(I’m lazy still…)

10) Is Whirlwind Heat’s “Do Rabbits Wonder?” the first album to have all the song titles be the names of colors?

(Everyone always says there’s some jazz record that’s already done this, but no one ever seems to be able to name that jazz record)

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?