With more than 3500 tees in his collection, and no sign of stopping, we asked T-world’s Eddie Zammit to dissect music-tee culture.
Words: Eddie Zammit
In the immortal words of Ian Dury – “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, is all my brain and body need.” I couldn’t have said it any better, unless it also included T-shirts. I am no stranger to the world of the most profitable merchandise item at any rock concert. For over 20 years, I have been collecting, designing, obsessing, and well, writing about the simple tee. One might say that it’s my headline act.
New York’s jefftstaple is quoted as saying in the last issue of T-world, “The T-shirt is my magic carpet around the world.” I immediately connected with this statement. For me, it’s my ‘access all areas’ backstage pass to a combination of artists, brands and designers, all around the world. The T-shirt banter provides V.I.P. entry to these people. No other category is as successful from a sales perspective as the music graphic tee – ask any serious T-shirt retailer. Music is a connection to people, and an unrivalled force of self-expression.
Music T-shirts are as diverse as the genres that exist in the medium. Music artists and bands ranging from Bob Marley to Iron Maiden to Ozzy Osbourne are all recognised for their lyrics and, of course, their familiar tees. They all own a place in the T-shirt Hall of Fame for their recognisable type, imagery and ideas on cotton. As time moves forward, we’re discovering that clothing labels are willing to link their product to bands and musicians. 2K by Gingham with Yoko Ono, and Shepard Fairey’s OBEY with Public Enemy are good examples.
Then comes the licensing side – the business end – of music T-shirts. Think KISS, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in particular. These bands might have reached the top with their infamous albums and songs, but their T-shirts (and their tee graphics) have helped to relive the memories of their status in music culture. The KISS identity, the zebra crossing moment by The Beatles and that Rolling Stones tongue are all instantly valued because of their universal recognition. Beyond the idea of just licensing a tee graphic exists Worn Free; a company that resurrects some of the coolest T-shirts of all time. By looking at inspiration from the music legends like Kurt Cobain, Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop, the label actually reuses tees worn by these music icons. Rather than feature tees about the artist, the tees are about the T-shirts worn by these music icons.
Weird Al Yankovic was also onto something when he parodied Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ in 1984. Music tees are not always about authenticity; sometimes they’re about providing an opinion with a pop culture twist. AC/DC has been referenced as AB/CD for kids, RUN DMC was shortened to RUN DC with an image of US President Obama dressed as Jam Master Jay, and The Misfits skull, which in itself was lifted from the television series The Crimson Ghost (1946), has had countless subtle T-shirt variations. What we are led to believe by all this is that music tees have a certain place in fashion. Rather than just wear The Rolling Stones tongue – do so if you like the music, and with the idea that you know where it has come from.
We asked Eddie to comment of a few of his favourite music tees.
One year before I was even born, Malcolm and Angus Young formed the infamous Australian band in 1973. The name is reportedly inspired by the AC/DC on their sister’s sewing machine. High Voltage (their debut album) first featured the identity, which is why a lighting bolt element is incorporated. What makes any AC/DC tee so memorable is the fact that its logotype, designed by Gerard Huerta, is parodied on so many other T-shirts – such is the influence of the original.
Front man Chuck D himself created the well-known Public Enemy target logo – with a photocopier. Some might find it interesting that he graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in graphic design. He was quick to realise that his own group needed a brand identity to create value and awareness, especially in a time heavily dominated by rock group merchandise. Along with the likes of Def Jam Recordings, RUN DMC and Wu-Tang Clan, Complex magazine reported in 2011 that the PE logo was the best from a list of ‘The 50 Greatest Rap Logos’.
UK’s 2SICKBASTARDS were one of the first to create a parody tee commemorating Michael Jackson’s character when he died, with a graphic emblazoned with parts of his face from various stages of his career – and a tagline that stated ‘Rest in Pieces’. No singular MJ tee is well known for the actual music – not even the one we have featured. It’s the idea of Wacko Jacko’s life that is captured in people’s memory banks. No matter what any of us think about MJ, Thriller still remains as the best- selling album of all time.
Radio signals forming a pulsar (star) is what this well recognised pattern is created from. The image was allegedly discovered by Bernard Summer (who played guitar and keyboards), who found it in the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy. Credited to Peter Saville and Chris Mathan, the graphic was used on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album. This graphic caused quite a stir in January 2012, when Disney created a Mickey Mouse T-shirt using this Joy Division pattern.
Photography: Michael Danischewski – thatsmemiked.tumblr.com
Model: Autopsy Jude
From desktop magazine.