Wearing The Music by Jonny Steiner

Posted: March 30, 2008 by Maximum Mike in The Rocking Chair Blog

I have to say I looked great. Fluevog Shoes, Donna Karen Jeans, a Ted Baker shirt and over all that a black suit jacket. I was not going to a nice dinner or a play, not even a college party. I was going to see Arch Enemy and Iron Maiden at the Hammerstien Ballroom in Manhattan . Due to the popularity of my college radio show “The Hot Box with Jonny and Chaya,” I was able to get free tickets to many concerts. This time no one wanted to go with me because it was around midterm time and my friends weren’t sufficient fans to risk failing exams. So I went alone.

I picked up my tickets (2) and proceeded to seek out one of the forlorn looking kids without a ticket lingering about outside. After a sweep of the crowd, a motley crew (you like that?) of Metal Heads, I saw a guy that looked like he could use a pick me up. He was a little chunky, with dark red hair and was wearing an old sleeveless Iron Maiden shirt. His pants were another story altogether. Baggy and worn like a WWII Parachute, they seemed to have been sliced by a Japanese Katana and repaired with zippers over every hole. Needless to say, they were black. I approached the young man and asked him if he wanted a free ticket to the show. This is our exchange to the best of my memory. Let’s say his name was Josh.

Me: Hey man you want a ticket to the show?

Josh: How Much?

Me: Free.

Josh: Get out of here.

Me: Look I have two tickets right here and I am offering you one. Do you want it?

Josh: For real?

Me: For Real.

Josh: No strings.

Me: Well you have to be my date. Just kidding have a good time.

Josh, who looked every bit the Metal-Head, did not trust me in my incongruous garb to be a Metal fan or even attend a concert. In my daily dress I do not look like I can wail along with Iced Earth and Testament. The thing is that does not matter. Being a fan of a Rock band is not the same as rooting for your favorite baseball team. The love for our Rock heroes comes from within. Outward self -representation should not have to indicate where your musical preferences lie. I have found, in my concert going experiences, the most judgmental and unforgiving cliques of music fans are Punk-Rockers and Metal-Heads. This results from their strict self-imposed dress code. Through that lens, it is amusing when you realize that Punk and Metal are the two forms of Rock most strongly Anti-establishment. The way I see it, the more immature members of each society are so paranoid about being encroached upon by people who either do not respect or understand their music, they have created their own establishment. The dress code then becomes more of a defense mechanism than an actual statement. Based on the way I dress, if I approached any one of these kids regardless of my knowledge they would call me a poser or a Narc. If a Rock show is about people sharing a communal experience then anyone who would exclude another person based on their clothing is a poser.

Interestingly enough when speaking of bands themselves the opposite seems to be true. The mode of dress of a specific artist needs to be representative of what they want their music to convey. When I saw Dream Theater they were all in black. Simple and effective; perhaps the lack of pretense in regards to their clothes leaves the audience with no choice but to take the music as it comes. Another Rock sub-genre, whose dress is more haphazard than stylish, are Shoegazers: So called because of the droning music and listless performances of the artists who seem to be staring at their shoes rather than make eye contact with the crowd. A standard in their mode of dress are the Converse All-Stars whose bleached white laces seem to glow beneath the stage lights.

This can also work against a band. I hate to have my column be the Green Day bashing hour, especially since I used to love them but we will go there one more time. I recall a recent poster on which the boys were all dressed in red and black it seemed like an ad for Hot Topic more than a Rock poster. If we are to take them by their music and believe them to be Punk what do we think when we see these perfectly groomed corporate representations? Let us extend this to Electronic music. On Armin Van Buuren’s live DVD, an event in front of almost 20,000 people, where all the audience and the performers were dressed to impress, Armin was wearing a ratty old t-shirt and jeans. This shows a lack of professionalism. The band Kiss, whose professionalism only goes as far as the latest product they are hawking, have never made any bones about the corporate nature of their machine. Even the ceremonial removal of their makeup for 1983’s “Lick it Up” seemed a calculated move to get the band press after the previous album “Creatures of the Night” sold dismally. There are many who would argue it was precisely the mass marketing of the Grunge look that added to Kurt Cobain’s feelings of disillusionment, and caused him to take his own life.

At the Arch Enemy show I remember thinking how well put together the band looked. Angela, the lead singer, was wearing tight black jeans and a red and black shirt festooned with a power fist. The rest of the band wore all black to varying styles and lengths. It was later that I read that Angela, who is one of seven children, has known how to sew from a very young age. She travels with a sewing machine in order to help her with alterations of the band’s stage wear. Believe it or not, Ozzy Osbourne also designs his stage costumes. The line between personal style and corporate sponsorship is easily spotted. Take for example Lilly Allen who is coming out with her own clothing line. In sharp contrast, Amy Winehouse’s heroin chic beehive serves as a testament to the turmoil in her personal life. Perhaps artists with no style say it best by letting their music speak for itself. Either way it is up to them to match the two, not up to us to create an establishment to contain them.


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