I Own Some T Shirts. Other people own more of them, rare ones that I don’t have, duplicates, fleshed out collections, but I like what I have. The most complete collections of ephemera I see are from my contemporaries that don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. I didn’t realize how much of a crazy financial suck alcohol was, until I started partaking. Still, sometimes I see a complete collection of Big Country tour shirts paired with everything Elaine from Seinfeld wore onscreen (seasons 2-5) in someone’s collection, and I wonder if they maybe should also have a drink. Sometimes I wish that I owned everything I ever had. Sometimes I think about my ‘94 Bad Brains tour tank that I traded for some mediocre Air Max 1’s and a Far From Breaking hoodie. (Nick Miranda, if you’re reading this, I am formally offering a trade-back in exchange for the Happy Mondays shirt I start this project with) Half of these shirts are random, half of them are subculture stuff, to one extent or another, codified to a funny degree, considering that contributing to culture with capitalist contraband (merch) is at a juxtaposition with the politics in the music of the band tee. The shirts are sick though, and I’m going to buy more of them, and sell some of these. One day, I’ll have a kid and they’ll wear them all ironically and on that first day I’ll use my bootleg Chain of Strength shirt to wipe my belly as I mow the lawn, and maybe then I’ll know more about happiness than I do now.
These aren’t all the shirts I own. Most of the time I wear a gray Fruit of the Loom pocket tees from a 6 pack, or one of my Dad’s old black Calvin Klein blanks from the 90s. (He wasn’t suave, that’s when they went on sale at Nordstrom Rack.) He had a gut and I don’t (yet) so they fit a little more of a wooshy box fit, which I like.
There are shirts I’ve lost that I’ll always hope to find in some disgusting corner, even though i’ve moved across the country and back twice over, and six times in 5 years within New York on top of that. There’s a Navy “Belleville Cheerleaders” collared letterman jacket that already had “Jesse” embroidered on the front that I left at an apartment off the Bedford-Nostrand stop when I was staying with a friend in 2009. There was a Snoopy on a beach vacationing T shirt last seen in this picture in Chicago 2010 carrying a three-foot high stack of Trash Talk records. I don’t think my Mike Tyson World Champion shirt even made it out of Chicago either. I’ve never lived in Chicago. If you have these material items for some reason, know that I haven’t let them go, and I want them back. I’m a damaged person and I love the stuff that I have. I didn’t even remember any of them until I started rifling through this garbage. Now I’m making lists. I lost my jean jacket when I was five, and it’s somewhere out there.
Happy Mondays “Rave On”
This is an original I snaked from my friend Dave. Not to put myself down, I’m doing fine, but Dave is a better person than I am. He’s a good guy who eats well, takes care of his family, is nice to his friends, and is good at playing music. Dave works for a fantastic vintage store of note, and goes on missions across New York City and beyond. For obvious reasons he keeps his routes pretty quiet, though he’s obviously still checking everywhere in the city. I went to go hang out, and he took me to an undisclosed location that you’ve heard of or been to that isn’t secret. Everyone there knows his name. I was stoned and just standing there wondering how he had the patience to go through every shirt, button up, hoodie, shoe, etc in the tri-state area, when I saw this dude hanging out on the rack about 15 shirts ahead of where Dave was on the giant circular doohickey he was racing through. I said “oh” and grabbed it lazily. It was mildly out of line, and he looked a little bummed, so I offered to give it back, to which he said “Don’t make it weird.” Letting me know that it was sorta definitely weird. He has tons of heat, and always finds subtle expensive designer pieces on top of all the concert T’s everyone notices, so I’m sorry Dave, but I had to do it.
The thing is, I don’t LOVE the Happy Mondays, and there’s a standing $200 offer for this shirt from a mutual friend of me and Dave, but I can only trade this shirt in for $200 once, and I’d probably spend that money on boring shit like food, weed, or rent; All worthless garbage I don’t care about. Instead, I wear the shirt once a week, usually at my bar job, hoping a 50-year-old Englishman, a head, maybe a northerner, will come in and need this way more that one of his 6 “Your Arsenal” era Morrissey shirts, and we’ll make a trade. That’s the only way this can go down, ‘cause a $200 profit on part doesn’t even strike me as ethical now that I’m worked up about it. It fits what I think of as perfectly. It doesn’t have that stupid double hem that all shirts since the early 90’s have so it wears a little differently. It hangs heavy. Good Shirt. Wanna trade?
Sylvester the Cat STRESSED OUT Boat Neck T
This is a shirt Dave bought on one of his bulk shopping trips. It has a sensuous boat neck which makes me think this was probably designed with a dedicated Pall Mall customer named Marlena in mind. That being said, I’m Marlena when I put this on, so I rarely do. I swim in it, like a rave toddler, so it’s nice for warm summer nights when I don’t mind looking like a special needs adult.
It was purchased for me because I cannot control my face, and it belies how I’m actually feeling. I produce video, which requires patience and a poker face, the first of which I’ve learned and earned somewhat, in a trial by fire we-will-fix-that-problem sort of way, the second of which I’ve only just started to master. For the first couple years on set, when a crisis would arise, the crew would look over to me for an answer, only to find a face that silently transmitted “I could kill at the post office today, or I could go to bed forever” when my mouth was saying some lies about everything being fine. People I work with started calling me “Stresse” and now I own a colorful shirt for idiots that I bought with my own money to make half a dozen people chuckle. I don’t really wear this thing very often, but I won’t sell it because I love it.
Lights Out Reunion Shirt
I knew I was going to love whatever the fuck this shirt was when my first roommate, an amazing graphic designer that designed half the good hardcore shirts in the U.S. from ‘06 -’09 told me he had to turn down the job.
“It’s the world on trial being sentenced by a dog judge…I just…”
It is, without a doubt, one of the finest garments I have ever had the pleasure of owning, and the sleek, gracious, daring, and I might add forward thinking graphic design speaks for itself, so I will add some background color. Lights Out was a band from maybe ‘01-’06. Everyone in it was around my age, and they played consistently in the area. Connor, the singer, sold me a demo tape from his first band, The Lab Rats (was there ever a better “first band” band name?) while I was waiting in line to go to 924 Gilman for the first time. They had great merch, most of it stupid. Lots of terrible drawings on purpose, which now all look prescient, given half the designs of current streetwear peddlers on Instagram (go get yours). They made a hoodie that had glow in the dark slobbering fangs where the pocket was and a two-headed dog on the back, a t-shirt with two cyclops eating the SF skyline (or was it the Golden Gate Bridge? Was it even a landmark?). Nearly ten years later, they played two shows, and bless them they made one more T shirt. Connor used to wear white and baby blue Bapes and Evisu jeans onstage in 2005 at punk clubs. He’s a cat 1 professional cyclist now. Kevin, their bass player who wrote all the songs had this shirt idea. Dan Anderson is the one who designed it (hey Dan!).
At the show, everyone had big merch setups, organized things with deputized merch sellers for the bigger bands, which is totally normal and makes sense. This shirt was taped to the wall with two overly long, thin strips of beige masking tape, the complete run of them sitting in a cardboard box directly below.
Random Lacoste Polo
A close childhood friend of mine who I won’t take note of for what will become obvious reasons worked at an upscale, mall-oriented but sometimes freestanding selective chain of department stores. He didn’t get paid that much and he would steal polos. This was one of them, and he liked it a lot, but stolen stuff has this way of feeling weightless, unlike something you shelled out money for. You buy a new article of clothing from a brand name and take off the color and it generally loses value for a while, if it ever comes back is subject to trend, consumer interest, limited availability, etc. (I’m not talking about Supreme, I’m talking about Polo by Ralph Lauren, at the most myopic). So then there’s a stolen shirt. Black market stuff depreciates the value. This is especially true with fine art, cause the more famous it is, the more famous the heist, and then you can only show your stolen Renoir to your Russian oil baron friends or whoever else is at the semi-annual Illuminati Bermuda Triangle Croquet Getaway.
He stole this polo among a few others, nothing too crazy, and certainly not for resale. I stayed at his place for a week, and for some reason he had owed me a little bit of money, I don’t remember why. In the grand scheme of things I owe this man more than money and should probably just give him the shirt back as a token of love and friendship but I really love it. It’s a nice shirt!I was more than happy to take this polo instead of money (barter is king) and I still wear it eight years later.
Moschino “No Swimming”
I am considering getting a YMCA membership, my first since high school. I’m going to buy a swim cap for the second time in my life. I am going to take adult swimming lessons. I was in minnow classes at the Berkeley Y, I was in a lot of different swimming classes at the Y. I wasn’t even scared of the water when I started. I just can’t fucking swim. I sink. Even when I was a puffy little kid everyone would insist that I sank because I didn’t have any body fat, which just didn’t look true in the mirror. As a 27 year old adult, I bought this shirt second hand for $30 to let everyone know that I’m doing great. When I was 18 or 19 a couple older friends invited me to drive up the hill to Lake Anza, this scummy man-made lake that kids are bussed to and then promptly pee in. It has one of those hideous drop off points where it goes from four feet deep to 30 feet deep. Bryan and Cameron had designs on swimming across the lake, because it’s totally doable if you’re in any kind of a shape and not a troglodyte. Halfway through, the terror of the murky water set in, and they had to coach me the other half, all while I waited for a lake creature to drag me below. (This lake doesn’t even have a lake monster legend.) Bryan kept telling me we were going to see the Banana Fish, which was soothing at the time, because I hadn’t read the Salinger story where the guy who wants to see the Banana Fish blows his brains out at the end. That day was the first time I ever wore my perfect bootleg Chain of Strength shirt.
Chain of Strength Navy Bootleg (Original Screen)
I spent too much on this shirt. It was my first “big” purchase with my first check from my stint at Noah’s Bagels on Telegraph Avenue. I bought it off a dude in the parking lot of the Gilman for $50. The kicker was that it was made from the original screen with puff paint, on the closest thing to the shirts the band made the original on in the late 80’s, which I cared (and kinda continue to care about) a great deal, because I was a sex person, and I continue to be a sex person. A year later, after I moved to Madison, WI, same dude had to visit Wisconsin of all places for a work meeting (I don’t know why he had to be there) and gave me a bag more of OG screen bootlegs. Wide Awake, Judge, Bold, for sure. There was a Slapshot shirt in there too I think. I still wear this shirt and I’m not sure I could trade it for an original at this point, not that anyone would want to. It’s certainly cursed by the slight wrong doings of drug free adults with office jobs who bootlegged a bunch of shit without permission, but so it goes. At the time only the gray with green and black standard shirt was available with the front design through Revelation Records. I don’t know why it never occurred to people to just make exact replicas of old shirts for what seems like forever, but they didn’t and now they do, which is just as well. I went to sell what I thought was now a valuable hyped up black metal shirt I didn’t care much about, before I found out they had started making the good stuff again. When supply meets demand, the second-hand sellers market weeps.
Emperor Pentagram Rider of Doom Crop Top
I bought this shirt, along with a Navy 97A shirt for $5 apiece out of a garbage bag at Israel Bronsen’s spot near Church’s Chicken on Telegraph Ave on July 4th 2006. I was shooting off roman candles and drinking a can of Coca Cola in the front yard when a cop started to roll down the block. I dropped the half full cola and started to bold inside, before realizing I couldn’t run inside with a roman candle exploding in my hand, and I couldn’t drop it in front of the house either. I opted instead, to hide behind the wooden gate on the side of his house, with my arm held outside the cracked open door, my hand plunging involuntarily with the report of the firework, every time a fireball went into the sky. The cop called me outside, the roman candle still somehow firing off. I came out from behind the door looking chastened; “You drinking?” she asked. “No ma’am.” I pointed to the can of coke rolling back and forth stupidly on the sidewalk. “We can’t police fireworks tonight. We don’t have the manpower. Be safe and no drinking, OK?” I shook my head, feeling silly. I went back inside, the excitement of fireworks gone for the day, and bought some T shirts off of Israel.
This dude still has a bananas collection. I feel bad, cause at the time I was deep diving into black metal, but nearly a decade later I can say with some conviction that I don’t really care about evil ancient spirit tree sound metal from Norway. It’s a cool shirt, and Emperor is all right, but someone must care more than I do. I’d wear it out to try and trade it like the Happy Monday’s shirt, but it’s even boxier and I show some hip if I raise my arms above my head. Also, the lettering kinda looks like it says “crop top”. The back has a super evil pentagram on it. Writing this, I’m thinking about a close friend who loves Black Metal and doesn’t give a shit about clothing. He’s a nurse in Utah who runs marathons and leads expeditions up Denali. Fuck it, he’s getting this shirt, problem solved.
Redemption 87 Longsleeve
I got this longsleeve outside of the Earl Warren fairgrounds in Santa Barbara, California. I went into the fest wearing a 97 A shirt which Pat Flynn bought off my back for $20 that I turned around and used to buy this prize. I had lent out my Dads car, a metallic crimson red ‘95 Volvo 850 to my friend Woods, from Rohnert Park, who had to go deal with traffic court in El Segundo. He was supposed to be back any minute. Two hours later he brought the van back in a tow truck. He got rear ended ten minutes from the venue, the car was fucked, and his forearm was fractured. My friend Jason slept in the car that night in the parking lot, and I drove it around for the weekend with a shattered windshield and exploded airbags. I finally got the windshield replaced before driving it back up north to Berkeley, but never handled the airbags, and I drove back up north with the one on the driver’s side deflated and sagging in my lap.
Two years ago, I got checked by an old guy at a fashion week party for wearing this shirt. He walked up to me; “What’s your favorite Eric Ozenne band?” (Nerve Agents for personal reasons). Turned out he works with Diplo now, but he’s still a head. He still felt protective enough over the secret sauce to ask me about the ingredients. I still wear this shirt once a week.