My new tee shirt line, The Seventh Seal, is now in stock! The pictures you see show my logo and it is screened on the inside back of the neck. So far I just have solid colors but now planning the big push to get 500 more made to be able to offer blanks and printed tees. Taking orders now and soon they’ll be available at http://www.blackbirdballard.com. Thanks y’all and stay tuned…
Sorry about that labyrinthine title, but I had to expel this from twixt the molars of my brain, as it were. I’ll make it quick. Quicker than you can say… Abacab.
Abacab. The fountainhead from which sprung one of Phil Collins’ most lucrative song writing formulas: complete nonsensical gobbledygook. Abacab. What the hell is the song about? Who knows. Who cares? The beat and simple guitar riff propel the song to a danceable, indecipherable foot tapper that would probably have been forgotten by now if not for that stupid, clever name.
Check out my first ‘professional’ article in the March 2012 issue of Modern Drummer. Thanks to Tony Mason for his time and patience and to Adam at MD. Next article will be in the fall 2012 issue of Inventory Magazine.
MC5 meets LVC
Concert tee shirts began in the early 70’s as primarily a promotional item, not as band merch. As a result, the stupid rare tee shirts from the 60’s or early 70’s that somehow survived or that you see from pics from that time were made to promote an event, a festival, or a sound, light, or promotional company. Many killer bands of yore broke up before the band tee shirt craze even began. Lots of people would kill for a real Doors tee shirt, or a Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Buffalo Springfield, Fugs, Zombies, etc. but the likelihood of any of these actually ever existing is virtually nil.
Enter the reproduction vintage concert tee shirt. Most of these are far from accurate reproductions and end up being simply a licensing deal with the band (or owners of whatever artwork or image is being used, which sometimes isn’t even the band) that produces a quick and cheap moneymaker you might find in Target or Forever 21. Iron Maiden reproduced their own vintage tee shirts during a recent world tour, even going as far as duping the ones that go for $100’s of dollars on eBay. A few however come close to what an original did or may have looked like (had it ever existed in the first place) and are often based on actual original t-shirts or authentic artwork or aesthetics from a specific time. Some bootleggers are clever enough to use a blank vintage tee shirt as a canvas for their artwork and just screen a design on it, making it hard to discern a time of origin but creating a tee shirt that could pass as the real thing, especially when you take into account the D.I.Y. aesthetics of punk, the parking lot bootlegging industry in general, or the proliferation of fan-type bootleg swag like certain Grateful Dead tees made by enterprising Dead heads trying to fund their road trips.
The best reproduction tee shirt I’ve ever seen is the one Levi’s LVC did in 2003 of legendary Detroit proto-punk godfathers, the MC5. Levi’s decided to mine the late 60’s rock scene for inspiration on their fall 2003 LVC collection and wound up choosing the MC5 as their muse. They ended up doing a tee shirt as well as a corduroy biker vest both featuring MC5 pictures and concert poster artwork done by legendary 60’s rock poster guru Gary Grimshaw. The vest didn’t make the final production, but the tee shirt did and, as LVC was and still is a higher end fashion item, celebs, stylists, and various others of the disposably-incomed grabbed one simply because it fit right and looked cool. Sure, they probably pronounced it “the Mick Five”, but hey, if they want to spend $100 on a tee shirt and don’t even understand the imagery emblazoned upon it, what of it?
The tee shirt even found its way onto Jennifer Aniston for an episode of the hit t.v. sitcom “Friends” as well as on Justin Timberlake on the cover of Vibe Magazine. It’s funny to see the drama that type of stuff can create. Some MC5 fans were in an uproar over the alleged “sell-out” move that might appear as though the MC5 sold rights or gave permission to a “big, corporate fashion house”, etc. etc. The MC5 were always targets for this kind of shallow finger pointing. Too revolution for the mainstream and too mainstream for the revolution. Which means they were just being themselves rather than be pawns of either side. For a full report on the MC5’s side of things, check out Wayne Kramer’s blog. It’s all a complicated, multi-faceted story – how Levi’s used the image without the MC5’s permission, how the remaining original members chose to use it as a platform of not only reuniting under a new name, but also paying tribute to the music they once made together, and also the effect it had on not only the fans, but themselves. I’ve done a little research on all this and there’s even doctoral theses on this thing. What is cool? Who can be cool wearing an MC5 tee shirt and who can’t? Why? What does it really mean to “sell-out”? Should they have gotten back together? Why are Johnny Depp and/or Bono interviewed for every good music documentary of the last 5 years? Who are we to judge?
For now, let’s skip the rhetoric and get back to the t-shirt. Let’s break the image down:
Straight Theatre – Located at the intersection of Haight and Cole in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, it was a renovated vaudeville theater that hosted rock concerts from May 1966 – April 1969 (closing less than a month after the MC5’s shows). The venue specialized in San Francisco scene bands like the Charlatans, Santana, Big Brother and the Holding Company, etc. This particular show featured two other groups – Clover and Congress of Wonders. Here’s the low down:
Clover were a country-tinged San Fran band akin to Creedence and the like. The band went on to foster the careers of Huey Lewis and Elvis Costello as the band relocated to England in 1977 and backed Costello on his first lp, “My Aim Is True,” while other members returned to San Francisco to later find themselves members of Lewis’ “News”. Congress of Wonders was a comedy troupe that may as well have been the house band for all their many appearances at the Straight.
But wait, there’s more. Here’s a testimonial from someone who was actually at the show (and sober enough to remember it).
And here’s the dark navy corduroy biker vest that LVC made a prototype of but never put into production (though it did make their look book catalog for that season). I got this from my friend Mike Davis who ended up selling some of his Levi’s swag at the Buffalo Exchange I used to work at in L.A. I asked Steve Johnson (the national sales rep for LVC at the time) about it and he said that it was never produced. Who knows, it could be the only one.
I find it especially pleasing that part of the fallout from the whole Levi’s thing is that the remaining members of the MC5 got back together and toured. There were many different musicians used in the various tours of this period, but the one I saw, featuring Mark Arm of Mudhoney and Evan Dando of the Lemonheads on vocals, plus Marshall Crenshaw on guitar, particularly slew. Especially the energy Mark Arm brought – an energy that was long-steeped in the true legacy of the MC5’s music and Rob Tyner’s frontman prowess and that grabbed the audience’s collective jugular and didn’t let go. And he did this being completely Mark Arm, not some Tyner-impersonator-wannabe. The DKT thing was done with respect – to the original members as well as the fans.
Stay tuned for more on the MC5 and my friend, the late Mike Davis.
Kick Out The Jams, Motherfucker!
R.I.P. MIKE DAVIS (1943 – 2012)