In the molten crucible of last summer, I stood in the steamy basement of the Cake Shop watching the punk-funk !!! side project Free Blood. I could’ve danced. I did not. I was instead fully distracted by front man John Gorman’s stylish and quite possibly homemade T-shirt, which seemed, if my sweat-soaked eyes weren’t deceiving me, to pay tribute to cheesy ’80s r&b hitmakers DeBarge. Immediately oblivious to the music’s charms, I instead spent 45 minutes puzzling out whether or not this homage was sincere.
This will be the great failure of our generation. Irony has wreaked havoc on so many things, but it has produced nothing so distinctly loathsome as the Ironic T-Shirt. Our streets are now lousy with dopes who, despite what their attire clearly suggests, do not actually believe that Virginia is for lovers and are not actually fans of Thin Lizzy. This latter category—the Ironic Concert T-Shirt—is the most loathsome. The Art of the Band T-Shirt, a colorful compendium authored by Amber Easby and Henry Oliver, is a lovingly presented throwback to the Elvis/Rolling Stones/Iron Maiden/Ramones/Rush/Ozzy tees of old, with photos of the oft-sweat-stained artifacts themselves, mixed with sage commentary from rockers and designers alike. (“A pot leaf says it all without saying too much.”) But more than the shirts themselves, what’s actually eulogized here is the era in which one would wear an Allman Brothers T-shirt because one actually liked the Allman Brothers.
Now, alas, as the book itself suggests, concert tees are just mindless vintage ephemera, instant cool points for struggling socialites, wardrobe options for Transformers cast members. They arouse immediate suspicion and scrutiny. Perhaps Free Blood’s DeBarge tribute was absolutely heartfelt, but I hate that I even have to wonder anymore. Showing your love for Def Leppard has never been so complicated.