Welcome to the October edition of a one-of-a-kind anonymous advice column presented to you by The K. Each month’s letter is selected and responded to by The K’s resident therapist, Mr. Kind. Trust us when we say that he is a brilliant and tender soul with a knack for telling it how it is.
Dear Mr. Kind,
Me and a friend recently got in an argument because I called him out for wearing a Nirvana shirt despite only knowing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and taking more than 10 seconds to remember Kurt Cobain’s name.
He seemed sincerely bummed and told me he tossed it in his Goodwill donation pile, so now I’ve started to feel kind of bad. I am not typically pretentious but there is something about wearing a band shirt and not knowing shit about the artist that really gets to me.
What is the point to begin with? These are bands not logos and I have convinced myself, admittedly a music nerd, that it is disrespectful to Cobain and the culture. AND SO MANY PEOPLE WEAR THAT STUPID JOY DIVISION SHIRT. I don’t even know a single Joy Division song off the top of my head.
So please tell me, am I wrong to be so peeved? Or maybe, just maybe, am I in the right?
Take It Off
Dearest Take It Off,
Thanks for writing in and I am happy to tell you that you may just be right… You’ve stumbled upon one of the greatest pop culture debates out there and I think it’s safe to say that many lives have been lost and friendships broken due to this age old quandary. To keep things simple, I’ll go ahead and list out the loose reasons that it should be okay followed by a number of red flags that negate it being just at all.
If you bought the shirt at the artist’s show or directly from the artist’s website, you’re in the clear. Honestly, if the artist is still alive and is not a “headliner” then in many regards, it is ok. Supporting living artists is so important and in the streaming/no live music era, even the big dogs aren’t making much. So feel free to buy most every artist’s new merch so long as you either like their music or the shirt itself. Yes, I said it. That is OK.
When it comes to dead artists, I genuinely believe that unless the shirt was a hand-me-down from a parent or you scored a good deal at a thrift store then you have to recognize the implications of wearing the tee. When Tupac died, he became bigger than life itself. A symbol. A martyr. Iconic. His family naturally took ownership of the rights to his music and merchandising. Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters, whose brands represent demographics so far from that of Tupac’s, not only found loopholes to repeatedly use his image- they stole photos from photographers and did not credit or pay them for the images that were printed tens of thousands of times. In the case of Kurt Cobain, your money goes to the major corporation printing them and in part, Cobain’s daughter who reportedly makes over 95 thousand dollars a month off the licensing.
Being mindful of what you wear ultimately is broken down by who is profiting and whether they deserve it. Because there are a whole lot of brilliant, living people who probably deserve it more and you’ll look a whole lot cooler. So fuck any band merch from Brandy, Urban, Forever 21, and anywhere of the sort. It’s stupid and you shouldn’t buy it- if that artist is still alive and you really do love them buy it direct. Ultimately, the “name 5 songs” rule should be an easy standard to set, but in this economy, there is a whole lot more at hand.
Let me know what your friend says and stay strong, music justice warrior. Hopefully I’ve added a couple of weapons to your arsenal.