/ long rants

on punk t-shirts

Let's face it. The discovery of obscure bands with hard-to-get records and titles that ran the gamut from irreverent to profane was personally gratifying. But nothing proclaimed punk rock credibility as much as wearing a t-shirt with one of those bands on display for the world to see.

It signaled legitimacy for other folks in the punk tribe, a bit of cachet for sporting a t-shirt that could only have been snagged at a specific show.

It also was nature's way of telling other folks something's wrong with this kid.

Not surprisingly, my mom and pops did not regard t-shirts that trumpeted punk bands any more favorably than the music created by such bands. And equally not surprisingly, I was resolved to let my punk flag fly in spite of their objections.

Fly it I did. Proudly. But very, very discreetly.

After cutting my teeth learning the art of concealment for boxes of records, I had no trouble stepping up to the world of hiding punk rock clothing artifacts.

Storage of t-shirts that had been worn to a show was another story - they typically turned into sopping sponges of sweat that reeked of stale cigarettes and punk rock. If you weren't careful, a prized t-shirt could be outed by sense of smell alone.

I was careful. I'd stuff the tangy t-shirts in a plastic bag and tie it off then bury it somewhere like the bedroom closet where it could dry out and become a little safer.

A much bigger logistical challenge was the matter of actually wearing the t-shirts without detection by my parents. The methods I devised were extremely awkward and error-prone, if not amusing.

At first I applied a simple and obvious pattern - put the punk t-shirt on first and then cover it up with another shirt over top and peel off the second layer as soon as I was out of eyeshot.

Bonus points if the second layer was flannel, because for some reason flannel shirts were widely accepted as cool in punk circles at that time (yes, well before the whole grunge thing). Which was a stroke of good fortune for me, because I had a whole closet full of flannel shirts - my mom had sewed a bunch for the fellas in the family and on top of that I had ended up with a few hand-me-downs from various friends of the family. Now if someone can break down the origins of flannel in punk rock for the citizens of the Papa Punk community, the 3 or so of us would be mighty obliged.

Anyways, the shirt facade approach was short-lived, due in large part to the fact that my mom had that sixth sense mom thing and could tell when I was up to no damn good. If you ever saw the Eddie Murphy Delirious bit about his mom with the radar going "doo-doo-doo-doo-doo" - that was my mom (the shoe thing, too, as a matter of fact).

Especially if it was insanely hot outside and I was pretending to be comfortable wearing two layers of shirts, she'd be onto me in a second.

I even had a tee or two confiscated as a result, but it was only temporary since a) she was loathe to throw away perfectly good clothing and b) I figured out where she was storing my dispossessed contraband.

As I got wiser - and the shirts got more offensive - I employed a different strategy. I'd take a few steps towards the long walk to school and then dive around to the blind spot side of the house and change shirts as quickly as possible, doing my level best not to arouse suspicion from anyone. Then I'd casually and quickly ("don't look back") head up the hill to school.

The return home was always a whole lot trickier. The final approach to my house was down a bit of a hill and if my mom was in the yard she'd spy me strolling down the block a hundred yards away or so and I couldn't readily back up out of sight to switch shirts and besides, there was nowhere private I could hide to do that.

As soon as I got within close-enough range that she might get a visual on my shirt, I'd make some lame excuse to run around back ("must find and greet the cat...") or dash suddenly into the house ("...gotta go to the bathroom...can't stop to say hello...").

If I got a ride home from a friend, I'd ask them to drop me off a few houses up so my parents wouldn't be tipped off on my arrival and I could sneak to the side of the house and covertly perform the quick change maneuver.

I thought I was being stealthy. I suspect I was far from it, and more than a few neighbors were probably puzzling over "what the hell is wrong with that nutty kid".

Having said all that, I have some standout memories of t-shirts from that time [cue the flashback harp sound].

Government Issue Tee

Government Issue was one of the hardest working bands during my formative punk years, they played a lot of shows, especially in that Fall 84/Spring 85 stretch when a lot of punk bands and musicians were taking a break.

Joyride was out and was a sledgehammer of a record: from the chunky drawn-out initial three chords marking the first song Blending In ("Just another decoration!" - hell yeah!) through the title track opening the flip-side ("Here come the tears of joy, slowly running down my face" - hell yeah!) to the cover of These Boots Are Made for Walking at the end followed by an obligatory super-dense version of Sheer Terror.

I got this GI tee some time during one of the first two times I saw them. I'm guessing it wasn't the absolute first time because it was very likely I wouldn't have thought to carry extra cash to the show for cool things like t-shirts and records and zines, not to mention pre-show munchies from Hardee's (this was BMDC - or before MDC - so it was ok).

The shirt was simple, very DIY and very GI, and it enhanced punk stature on account of it only being available at a few of the shows during that time. Or at least I like to think that so don't shatter my illusion. The weight of the material and the sizing was perfect, and untucked (natch) fit an emaciated but soft punk kid like me to a T (yeah, I said it).

My buddy (and fellow Kids for Cash member) Dan had the same shirt, and we were like the punky twins when we wore them on the same day. This was a go-to tee for me so I'm guessing eventually Dan ceded the honor of wearing this solo to me.

It was something in the vein of these 2 below, except it was black ink on a white shirt and the graphic was smaller and lot cruder.

governemnt issue punk tee option 1

possible the tee looked like this, minus the "Sheer Terror" and with a much smaller Stabb graphic in black-on-white

governemnt issue punk tee option 2

possible the tee looked more like this with just Stabb in coarse silhouette in black-on-white

It's also not out of the realm of possibility that I had 2 GI shirts.

Uniform Choice

I ordered a t-shirt directly by mail from one of the guys in Uniform Choice, a dutifully derivative straight-edge hardcore band. It was a pretty good score for me, they were fairly new (had only put out a demo tape which I'd gotten earlier) and they were straight-edge as fuck and the shirt had an aggressive edge to it. Insofar as a shirt that repeats the "Straight and Alert!" mantra no less than 6 times can evoke an edge.

uniform choice t-shirt

go ahead, I dare you to knock the X off the shoulder of that guy

I recall being the victim of an unfortunate cafeteria incident at school which resulted in red fruit punch stains on my pristine UC tee. I was like:

I was so upset at the prospect of losing the newly acquired t-shirt to permanent stains and so inexperienced in advanced laundry care for stain removal that I asked my mom for help out of desperation. The saving grace was the sextuplicate "Straight and Alert!"s on the back, once my mom saw that she immediately rallied to the cause of salvaging the stained shirt and she taught me the way of some magic technique that lo and behold washed the pinkish red right out.

I'll never forget that - the angry hardcore t-shirt with a message endorsed by choosy moms. Funny thing is that shirt never felt right on me. It was a wee bit too big and the weight a wee bit too thick, or perhaps my discomfort was emblematic of a bigger issue with the shirt, that perhaps it was the message itself that made it so heavy and overbearing. I ended up not wearing it that much despite the heroics to resuscitate it.

Stretch Marks

The Stretch Marks were a lesser known band in the BYO stable - and to be totally candid - fairly nondescript to boot. And I even went through the trouble of locating the record and playing it before writing this up to confirm this general impression - sorry, it's not very good.

While I also had a nice BYO logo t-shirt, alas I have no strong memories associated with it. But this Stretch Marks shirt, yes indeed I do.

If memory serves, they were one of the first wrestler punk bands or punk wrestling bands or however you label it. For instance one of their songs is entitled Turnbuckle Stomp during which they shout out a sort of roll call of wrestlers and moves like "Suplex!", "Pile Drive!", "Knee Drop!" (I think you get the point).

Stretch Marks flyer

stretch marks flyer with subtle nod to their wrestling roots

In the large scheme of things, the wrestling punk category was definitely pretty narrow - oddly enough it didn't seem to really catch on like the skateboarding thing; whereas skateboarding was chocolate to the peanut butter of punk rock, wrestling was more like, I don't know, mayonnaise.

It turns out that I had struck up a mail correspondence with Dik the singer of the Stretch Marks back in the day. After much frantic digging around in my voluminous punk archives, I'm happy to produce historical evidence of the t-shirt in question.

Stretch Marks flyer

that flyer doubled as letterhead - Dik used the back of it to write me this note

The astute PP reader will observe that he refers to me as "John", since true to form I was communicating using a friend's address and didn't want to confuse Dik or the post office by using my true name. I'm sorry for the brief digression, but I kind of got a kick out of that.

Anyways, I never paid much attention to the name of the band even while happily sporting a t-shirt adorned prominently with their name and the unobtrusive What D'Ya See cover art. Looking back on that, it's very possible these guys were making another reference to their world of wrestling and the scars serious lifters sometimes get from stretching and tearing their muscles under heavy weights.

Well whatever the origin of the band's name and whatever their intentions may or may not have been, it was the first t-shirt that induced a teacher - who was possessed of a rather portly physique as well as a notoriously unbalanced disposition - to remove me from class. She took one look at the "Stretch Marks" name, turned various shades of crimson, and then yelled at me to GET! OUT!

With the benefit of hindsight, I can understand how there may have been some sensitivity to the name Stretch Marks, so fair enough on the outcome.

Black Flag

Oh yeah, I finally did see Black Flag. It was in '86 for the In My Head tour, which I guess was their last real one (reunions decidedly do not count).

The cover of the In My Head record features six Raymond Pettibon drawings (a sextych!), all of which were on the more provocative end of the Pettibon spectrum, which is saying something if you're familiar with his work. If I'm not mistaken, there were 4-6 different t-shirts available on that tour, each featuring a different drawing from the cover.

All of the shirts had potential for causing trouble but damnit, maybe because of my miss on that earlier Black Flag show in '84, I was bound and determined to walk out with a BF shirt to announce "I was there" if nothing else.

I landed on this one as probably the least conspicuous of the bunch. I don't have the record and can't find what the scrawled text says - and no way I'll be able to pull it from the deep recesses of my brain - but a crisp twenty says the message skews cynical in some fashion.

black flag in my head t-shirt

some cat was selling this very shirt online in '09 for $365 - I shit you not

I loved how the shirt felt, that the color of it was cool Black-Flag-t-shirt-blue, and that it was mildly controversial. Unless I was in situations where there happened to be police around, then it proved to be a bit of a liability, and I learned to surreptitiously cover up and keep a low profile until out of sight. Kind of like this:

Rollins Band

Yeah my man-crush on Rollins followed him from Black Flag to Rollins Band - one of the great live bands of the late 80s-early 90s. If you were comfortable with spending 90 mins watching Henry gyrating and flexing and dripping perspiration with nothing on but a some little nylon shorts - basically Henry porn - you were treated to an incredibly intense, dynamic live show. Henry would take the band down real low and quiet so you could practically hear his sweat drops landing on stage and then wind them up to a thundering frenzy ("takeitawaysimcain!").

The t-shirt was light-grey and the whole back of it was emblazoned with the same Search & Destroy sun image tattoo filling the entirety of Henry's back. That's a bad-ass tattoo and by association I felt like the t-shirt replica bestowed some of that edginess onto the wearer.

rollins band t-shirt back

And yet ... it was the almost all-plain front of the t-shirt that for some reason always garnered most of the attention, because of the 4 words in small letters on the upper left.

"Part Animal, Part Machine huh" would be how it would typically begin, usually with a bit of a hilljack lilt, "Which one are you today, heh-heh-heh". Or "Check it out H.I. - this guys's part-animal, part-machine!". You get the picture.

Ignition

Ignition was the darker, brooding brother of the more approachable Revolution Summer bands, so it was only fitting that my brother got an Ignition t-shirt for his darker, brooding brother (me).

Naturally I loved Ignition. And only a certified in-the-know punk insider would walk around with a tee bearing that awesome logo.

I think my brother got the t-shirt in red and not to look a gift horse in the mouth or anything, but red isn't exactly in my color palette. [Note to the brother of Papa Punk - appreciated, but black looks cooler and is far more compatible with the Ignition sound and style].


so what if it's just an Ignition 7" on top of a plain red tee, it informs

GBH

I never was much of a GBH fan, though there are a few good songs on Leather, Bristles, Studs and Acne. For instance, while I readily acknowledge the lyrics on Big Women are politically incorrect and shameful, I've got to admit that goddamn it's a kickin' song. I guess that's the deal with GBH, you take the bad with the good.

[As an aside, GBH also gave me fits when it came to organizing records in alphabetical order. They were referred to as GBH but the record covers always said "Charged GBH", so do you file them under G or C?]

I don't know why or how I had this shirt in my wardrobe but in my more mature college and grown-up punk years I didn't take my punk rock as seriously and accepted all life forms of punk, and besides this shirt was punk as fuck. It prompted double-takes and "what's wrong with this guy" side-long stares at the gym or b-ball court or grocery store. And that's all that mattered.

GBH t-shirt

why's everyone staring?

Which leads me to close rather appropriately with the immortal words from Government Issue's Sheer Terror

"It irritates you, the way I dress
it bothers you, my hair so short
I don't it to annoy you, I confess"

[editor's note: I always have heard it as "I do it to annoy you" but all the lyric sheets say different and who am I to argue.]

Papa Punk

Papa Punk

Just an old punk that wants to share old stories with other old punks about the scene - before my memory goes completely.

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