“How much did you pay for your rock ‘n’ roll t-shirt
That proves you were there, that you heard of them first?”
Cake, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle,” 1994
Souvenirs have always fascinated me. As a little kid, whenever my family and I went to a baseball game, museum or national park, my experience was always preoccupied by my fantasizing about what cheaply-made, overpriced items the gift shop would have in store for me. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I usually made it out with at least one item I wouldn’t feel like playing with the next day and would forget existed within a week.
Naturally, when I began going to concerts at the age of 11, the merch table became one of my favorite hangouts. “Never mind that they’re playing my favorite song right now, I need something to show off tomorrow at school!” Like many rock fans, the t-shirt has long been my merch table purchase of choice, although during less economically-friendly times (read: college), I’ve opted for more affordable fare like beer can coozies. Now that I’m a gainfully (well, “gain” is a strong word when you consider all of the money I shell out at concerts) employed college graduate, it’s all about the t-shirt.
My rock ‘n’ roll t-shirt career got off to a rocky start. The year? 2000. The show? 3 Doors Down at Peoria’s Heart of Illinois Fair. My friend Zak’s mom took me to the merch table to buy a shirt, but they were all out of men’s shirts in the size and style I wanted. (“Bullshirt!” I would have yelled, had I been a wittier fifth grader.) Not aware that there was any difference between men’s and women’s t-shirts, I simply bought the female version, only to realize later that it made my hips look fat. I still have a soft spot for their first album, but I wouldn’t want to be caught in a 3 Doors Down shirt now anyway.
Since that gender-confused beginning, I’ve amassed a collection of 25 or so rock ‘n’ roll t-shirts that prove I was there and that I heard of them first, such as my well-worn Vaccines and Static Jacks garb. I always come back from Lollapalooza with several new additions to my wardrobe and, against my closet-space-concerned girlfriend’s wishes, often cave after seeing a solid performance by a band I’m fond of. “Hoarder!” she (kind of) jokingly cries whenever I add to my collection.
Not every shirt is so easily procurable. I had to hunt down my vintage mid-’80s R.E.M. shirt online, where I also recently got a Stone Roses tee that will hopefully arrive by the time I leave for Chicago in two weeks.
I usually switch shirts in and out of my monthly rotation, but after seeing The Gaslight Anthem rock a packed club here in Minneapolis last Wednesday, I think there’s only been two days when I didn’t wear the extremely-comfortable grey tee I picked up prior to the show. I’ve gone on several long bike rides and played nine holes of golf in sweltering heat since then, so Lizzie has been keeping a stench-safe distance of about 20 feet from me over the past few days.
Even though they’re everyday items, I feel like my t-shirt collection is one of my most worthwhile. My future children might not fully appreciate my signed CDs and limited-edition vinyl, but everybody loves a comfortable shirt that they look good wearing.
Especially if it proves you were there and that you heard of them first.