This was not going to be my next topic but following a comment on my last blog and a few rumblings across social media of late, I thought I’d tackle it now: the hijack of rock and metal by the high street.
When I was in my teens and getting seriously into metal, you had to really search for the stuff, be it the music itself or any related merchandise. The occasional t-shirt in a record shop or via mail order was as good as it got. Now though, things are very different.
Take a look in some of the larger, better-known high street stores and intermingled with the rails of skinny jeans and garish luminous colours, you are likely to see a Led Zeppelin, Motorhead or even an Iron Maiden logo. It’s not an attempt to broaden the clientele though; this, apparently, is ‘fashion’.
When I wore a Cradle Of Filth or Dimmu Borgir t-shirt in the past, I was looked at, even sneered at in some quarters, like I was a freak. To a lesser extent, it still happens. I’m not and never was a freak. I was just being public and proud about my love of my favourite type of music. More than that, I tried to follow my heart and not the fashion in which everyone else seemed interested. Again, the same is true today. Look beyond the clothing and you’d see a teenager working hard at his exams, a young adult studying law at University and finally, a 30-something with a respectable job and a family. I am not evil, I’m certainly not a Satan-worshipper, and yet, I have been treated a little like a social pariah throughout my life. I’ve had it easy – take a moment to remember Sophie Lancaster who tragically died from injuries sustained from an attack caused by the clothes she wore. Utterly despicable.
And now, for some bizarre reason, the world has done a complete 180-degree turn-around. There are girls wearing sparkly Rolling Stones tops who have no idea who Mick Jagger is. And others who think that ‘Fear Of The Dark’ is just a phobia that they’ll grow out of when they are older. And yet they insist on wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt as they sit in coffee shops nattering about the latest episode of ‘X-Factor’. Don’t misunderstand me – if the kids are wearing these items because they like the music, that’s great and should be encouraged. But if it’s just to fit in or because they’ve been brainwashed into thinking it is cool, that’s another matter entirely.
Personally, I won’t wear a shirt unless I’m a fan. If I don’t have at least one album by a band and if I don’t listen to said album on a regular basis, I won’t buy the shirt. In fact, these days, unless the band is very special (i.e. Haken, Evergrey, Katatonia) I am unlikely to even buy a shirt until I attend a live show. Then, I’ll get one with tour dates on the back (see previous blog!!)
Furthermore, much to my fiancee’s annoyance, I won’t even let anyone else wear a shirt if they’re not a fan.
The likes of ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ have a lot to answer for. For some reason, large sections of society get obsessed by these vacuous programmes and the people in them. I use the word ‘people’ very loosely by the way. In between scenes where the characters discuss important current affairs such as tanning or going clubbing in broken English, you might catch a glimpse of one of these rock-related garments. It might only happen once, but that’s enough. The viewers may have many faults but when it comes to fashion, they seem to have photographic memories and that ‘sheep chromosome’ kicks into life. Must follow, must follow.
But it’s not just t-shirts that are becoming fashionable. A few years ago, I bought a pair of New Rock boots with the metal-plating on them. To me, they looked seriously cool and I’d wear them at gigs or festivals. Still do in fact. The looks I’d get on the tube in London or at motorway service stations were hilarious, but I’d not worry about it. Now I see women’s shoe shops in trendy up-market shopping centres selling footwear adorned with spikes and studs as if it’s the norm.
Even hairstyles are not immune, with it seemingly more and more fashionable for teenage boys to grow their hair and leave it looking all messy and unkempt. Before age caught up with me, I had long hair. I kept it clean and tidy, yet the grief I got from most people was unrelenting. Now though, it seems acceptable and fashionable for youngsters to sport some kind of bird’s nest on top of their head that probably hasn’t seen a brush in weeks. Russell Brand and Frankie Cocozza, you have a lot to answer for.
The answer to all this is simple: if rock and metal is not your life, don’t wear something that suggests otherwise. As someone very wise once suggested on another social media outlet, if you can’t name at least three members of the band, you shouldn’t go near the shirt. If you’re already wearing the shirt, go to the nearest hardware store, buy a bin-liner and put that over the top. I’m not suggesting or endorsing vigilantism but wouldn’t it be cool if real metal heads could police this?!
I would prefer it if these ‘fashion’ outlets stopped selling these garments altogether. But failing that, there should be a list of questions sitting behind the counter and, if the prospective purchaser can’t answer 2 out of 3 correctly, they should be refused the sale and told politely to stick to songs containing just three separate monosyllabic lyrics.
At the end of the day, heavy metal is not fashion, it is a way of life.