The Rock ‘n’ Roll Look (and Other High Street Lies)

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Look (and Other High Street Lies)
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Rock n Roll T-shirts

I was in Brighton, being dragged by a girl I barely knew to what she promised was “a cool place.” In reality it was a dive, and she’d only wanted to go there because the barman had slept with her a couple of times and then stopped calling. I knew I should hate him, but the Nirvana T-shirt he was wearing awoke an older, more personal, form of loyalty than the one I felt for the girl.

She said hello in her frostiest voice and then lapsed into silence.
“Cool T-shirt,” I said to the bar douche. “Nirvana were the best.”
“Ummmmmm, yeah,” he said, with an embarrassed smile. “Thanks.”

He turned away to try and flirt with the girl, leaving me thirsty and confused. At first I put his discomfort down to my terminal unhipness (I’m well used to feeling like I’ve missed something in Brighton), but then it hit me, and I had one of those Usual Suspects type flashbacks where you see everything with new eyes – a spotty seventeen year old in a Public Enemy hoodie – a pop star wearing a Ramones T-shirt – a girl on the bus with the Rolling Stones lick on her chest – now this bar douche.

“That’s it!” I thought, my imaginary coffee cup spiralling to the floor in slow motion. “People don’t listen to the bands on their T-shirts!”

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Over the past few years I’ve had to get used to people lying on their clothes. I remember when my friend started wearing a hoodie with UCLA written on it. I didn’t know he’d even been to California, never mind studied there (he hadn’t – he’d studied among the slightly less glamorous hills of Swansea). Soon enough, even I was at it, picking up a T-shirt with “Mindy’s Diner” written on it. I had no idea if the diner was real or invented. I felt like a phony, and lived in perpetual dread of someone asking me what their was like, or even worse, meeting someone who had actually been to Mindy’s and would want to compare opinions on her Sloppy Joes.

I watched as the high-streets of Britain were flooded with a growing tide of empty slogans, for Japanese electrical companies, university sports teams, cities, diners. None of them meant a damn thing, and definitely couldn’t be relied upon to start a conversation. Band T-shirts, however, were still safe, being reserved for people who actually liked the music. From the scary biker with a collection of old tour T-shirts (usually by shitty hair metal bands), to the fey outsiders wearing eyeliner and nail polish, a band T-shirt was a way of showing your colours, of stating your inclusion in this gang, and your exclusion from that larger, more boring, one. When I was a teenager, wearing a Nirvana T-shirt around town used to be enough to get you beaten up for being a “grunger.” Now they sell them in H&M. They no longer carry that sense of inclusivity, they’re simply that touch of rock and roll glamour to complete an outfit- they’re a look, pure and simple.

But where does that leave genuine fans of The Ramones and Nirvana? If every bar douche is wearing their T-shirt, how do you separate yourself from the fashionable masses now? Perhaps wearing a less common design would be good enough. Or (and this always worked for me), as well as wearing the T-shirt, you could grow your hair very long, never wash, and make sure no one ever sees you in any other state than near catatonic stonedness or falling around drunkenness. People should be able to tell you’ve never been to H&M.

Kevin Baker

About Kevin Baker

Kevin Baker is a writer and musician from Kent. His work has appeared in Adbusters, Cheap Pop and The Island Review among others. He has lived in China and Korea in the past. He's currently working on a novel.

Kevin Baker is a writer and musician from Kent. His work has appeared in Adbusters, Cheap Pop and The Island Review among others. He has lived in China and Korea in the past. He's currently working on a novel.

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