Plan B And The Defamation Of Band T-Shirts

From Plan B inadvertently supporting skinheads to the Ramones on a Saturday night, how band t-shirts have lost their cool.
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From Plan B inadvertently supporting skinheads to the Ramones on a Saturday night, how band t-shirts have lost their cool.

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Last week, Plan B featured on the cover of Shortlist magazine wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the name of the notoriously angry and right wing skinhead band, Skrewdriver.

This, for obvious reasons, sparked a fair bit of outrage from the more observant Shortlist readers and Plan B fans, who wondered whether or not this meant the singer-rapper-director polymath was a racist. Something that he claims he isn’t, which I can generally believe in that he obviously has far better outlets for his hate. Outlets like shouting at rich kids on behalf of ‘working-class’ society and completely forgetting the hypocrisy and excess of his last album. But, the faces of Plan B aside, what is more annoying to me about this entire debacle is the excuse he offered, which pathetically went something like this:

“I was ignorant to the existence of the band Skrewdriver… I don’t listen to music like that so I wouldn’t know the names of bands that make that music.”

A statement that obviously begs the question of why Mr Drew was wearing the t-shirt in the first place? Sure, Plan B lives in a fast world of stylists and industry folk and it’s quite possible that it was actually down to a shoddy stylist blindly raiding the nearest vintage boutique and not his own choice. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of what seems to be something of a modern sartorial epidemic. Quite simply, people raping band t-shirts for the sake of fashion and not genuine vested interest in the band or, more often than not, music itself.

 I'm blaming the kit-clothing culture of the high street. The industry that has managed to bottle cool, duplicate it and then strip it of any real individuality

I’m not saying that it would be better if Plan B was a racist but I would certainly prefer it if he had a clue about the band he was unconsciously championing. Seeing self-ascribed fashionistas strutting their peroxide stuff in band t-shirts has become something of a pet hate of mine in recent years. Plan B might just be an extreme and somewhat unfortunate case of confusion but he is also the latest of a long spate of fashion band wagoners that serve only to eradicate the memories of formally prolific bands. Just look at the current tarnished legacy of a punk band like The Ramones, an act probably better known today for their logo rather than actual music. A sad thought for anyone that went through the punk phase of teenage rebellion or ever stayed up late to perfect a three chord progression. And don’t even get me started on the whole Northern fucking Soul movement.

Sure, many people will call me a music snob, say that I’m a hipstermatic who thinks he's superior (the usual criticism based upon my wanky profile picture…) and they’re quite right in some respects. I am a snob, but only because I love music and I love to see bands appreciated for their art, not their fucking typography. If calling me a snob separates me from the rest of the Saturday night warriors out there, fine by me. Saves me choking on my humble pie when I spot you wearing an oversized Nirvana vest.

Would any of the people currently snapping up Blur t-shirts from the high street or Rolling Stones belts from practically-every-shop-on-the-planet, have ever taken the time to meticulously carve the aforementioned band names into a desk at school, or ink them to their satchel? Probably not. How many of them can even name a song by their brilliantly logoed band of choice? In a world where the likes of Jedward can hold record deals and Justin Bieber can have his own music documentary, I don’t think we’re erring on the side of caution by assuming that the answer is, ‘not many.’

But is it the fault of Joe Public? Not really, all that they’re essentially guilty of is having a generally horrific taste in music (I say this generally as I’m generalizing – based upon the shit state of the UK charts and the shitty quasi-iconic t-shirts swamping the highstreet), is it the fault of the bands? Maybe. There is an element of selling out to it but then again, it's 2012 where the music industry as is all to often reported, makes fuck all. So it's potentially both harsh and hasty to chastise bands for attempting to earn a bit of a living any which way they can. In this day and age it's worth questioning if it even counts as selling out. In the slow painful demise of single sales and influence of radio, slapping your bands logo on a t-shirt or lending a tune to an advert is one of the few ways to guarantee exposure. It's certainly not the organic industry of the 1960s anymore.

Rock and roll might be dead but that doesn't mean that we should stamp on its grave and ruin everything it's stood for.

Personally, I'm blaming the kit-clothing culture of the high street. The industry that has managed to bottle cool, duplicate it and then strip it of any real individuality for the great British public. They've pounced upon an image once celebrated as a badge of honour for the misfits and the fans and made it a fashion staple. Like a good pair of jeans or some decent trainers, it's just another essential item made easy. A t-shirt that would be more apt if it said: "I didn't collect any memories, queue in the rain, have a record collection or do any dancing but I did get this t-shirt." In a similar vein I've also seen some shops stocking pre-worn, brand new Converse, potentially the most ridiculous idea I have ever seen.

Rock and roll might be dead but that doesn't mean that we should stamp on its grave and ruin everything it's stood for. Every band t-shirt is an ode to its subjects, it represents a body of work that they slaved to produce as a labour of love, and in the case of many, earned very little for it in the process. To be ignorant of this back catalogue of work is a complete disservice and slur on this toil and frankly, it makes me sick.

If you have no idea of the band you're donning on your chest then it's an embarrassment to even think about wearing it, no matter how good it looks with your 501s. Not only do you risk coming down with a serious case of 'silly-bugger' when questioned on your superficial ignorance but there’s also, like in Plan Bs case, the chance that you’re wearing a t-shirt that makes you look like a Nazi. And that, no matter how ‘sick’ the type or ‘mental’ the image is, is never ever cool.

Arturo Vega - The Man Behind The Ramones T Shirt

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