I Saw Styx Live And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

April 27, 2008

As a smoker, when I choose to enjoy tobacco during the workday, I am confined and corralled into a designated area like some livestock animal with a highly contagious disease. I don’t mind. I note that fact because you become a regular, seeing the same familiar faces each day as we all get a nicotine fix and a brief respite from the drudgery of our respective vocations.

I took note of one compatriot yesterday. It wasn’t because she bears an uncanny resemblance to washed-up ’70s glam rock icon and erstwhile convicted sex offender Gary Glitter in drag (or what I imagine he would look like in drag). What caught my eye was the Jackson Browne t-shirt she was wearing and, when she turned around, I realized it was a concert shirt (and of recent vintage, listing 2008 tour dates). It reminded me of a recent conversation with Paloma during which she lamented the vintage rock band t-shirts which are now a staple of retailers such as Target or readily available at stroke of a keyboard. Her implication – when we were kids, you earned your concert shirt.

The shirt in which Gary Glitter’s female doppelganger was clad was noticeably unworn and I have little doubt that it was purchased at the event. It tripped my thoughts to flashbacks of my high school years. Although we were far from the madding crowds, living in the sticks, there were three major markets for tours within a two-hour drive of our sleepy, agrarian hamlet. The day after a tour date in any of these nearby outposts of civilization, the hallways would be dotted with classmates attired in the badges of their triumphant attendance, adorned with the images of Van Halen, Billy Squier, Def Leppard, and The Kinks (who remained popular where I grew up both before and after their early ’80s resurgence).

Is this ritual still in place these days? Do these cloth trinkets still carry the same weight and afford the wearer with a cachet of cool? Or, as Paloma fears, has the ease and accessibility stripped concert shirts of such mystique?

Styx – Mr. Roboto
Yes, my very first concert was Styx and it so happened to be the infamous 1983 Kilroy Was Here tour, complete with a fifteen-minute movie prior to the band taking the stage which set-up the album’s concept of a dystopian future where rock music was banned (and everyone in the States had lost their jobs to robots from Japan). It almost wasn’t so as my mom had read a newspaper article about the band and the backwards masking on their song Snowblind (from 1981’s Paradise Theater). It’s quaint now to think that Styx was briefly thought to be in league with the devil (some music purists might concur), but it forced me to argue my case that my attendance would not be the first steps down a path to Hell. The ticket cost $13 and my first concert shirt – featuring Mr. Roboto’s leering mug – set me back another $16.

Rush – Tom Sawyer
Although we were only two hours from several venues, lack of funds, transportation, and ambition thwarted numerous potential concert ventures for me and my friends. There were few concerts for me before I reached college and the opportunity to see Rush was a day-of, last-second opportunity. Again, a ticket, shirt, and the chance to see a sold-out arena full of never-would-be musicians airdrum to Tom Sawyer on the Power Windows tour cost me less in 1985 than it did to fill up my car with gas last night.

Survivor – Eye Of The Tiger
Survivor was hardly a hip pick to see live, although they were a constant presence on rock radio throughout the summer of 1985 with several songs from their Vital Signs album. The price of admission to see Survivor included a day at the theme park adjacent to the amphitheater where they performed and the band were rock enough for me and my friend Brad, but commercial enough to appeal to our girlfriends at the time. My decision to commemorate the occasion by purchasing a shirt remains inexplicable.

Warren Zevon – Searching For A Heart
From the time I entered college until the present, I have now seen hundreds of live shows, but I believe the last time I purchased a concert shirt was the one I bought fifteen years ago when I saw Warren Zevon perform for the third and what would prove to be the final time. Not only possibly the most comfortable t-shirt of any kind that I have ever owned, it also had a very cool skull with a cigarette dangling from its mouth on the front (which would be a kind of logo, appearing on the backs of Zevon’s later albums). The venue was a small club and there are two persistent memories, one being the idiot behind me who screamed for Zevon to perform Mohammed’s Radio after every song. I can’t recall if he ever did, but he did play this lovely (and surprisingly) heartfelt ballad which Warren introduced by observing, “This song has been on three movie soundtracks in the past year and I’m really hoping it becomes a hit, so I won’t have to be @#$%&! playing Werewolves Of London in Vegas when I’m seventy.” Additionally, a dear friend played bass in a band with the Lennon Brothers (who would have some success with their band Venice), who supply the gorgeous harmony vocals on this song.