Confessions of a Guy In a Black T-Shirt Who Jams
I grew up in the segregated south. Not that segregated south, but a later one where kids had to pick a musical team and stick with it. We're not talking casual music listening here, but rather hardcore fandom. Musical genre was as much of a kid's identity as his name.
Most guys went for the jam. We didn't know there was a band named the Jam, though we knew Ram Jam because -- you guessed it -- they jammed. "To jam" meant to play heavy. Songs that jammed featured guitar solos, shrieking singers, and gut-rumbling rhythm sections. Led Zeppelin jammed. KISS jammed. Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, Van Halen -- they all jammed.
There was a look to the boys who liked heavy music: Levis, feathered hair, and concert tees. We were the Guys In Black T-Shirts Who Jam. (I mean no disrespect to my sisters here, but at that time and in that place this was very much a guy thing.)
Even within this culture there existed a subculture. The really heavy dudes listened to Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. These were the guys who smoked in the bathroom and kicked your butt at the bus stop. They owned black lights and Camaros, and dated girls with feathered roach clips in their hair.
No self-respecting Guy In a Black T-Shirt Who Jams dared to get mellow.
No self-respecting Guy In a Black T-Shirt Who Jams dared to get mellow. Uncle Ted made it very clear on 'Double Live Gonzo' that anybody who wanted to get mellow could turn around and get the fudge out of here. Only he didn't say fudge. He said the big one, and then he went caribou hunting with his official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle.
I was a card carrying Guy In a Black T-Shirt Who Jams. To this day I'll only wear Levis, though admittedly the black concert tees have given way to black polo shirts. I loved heavy music, the harder the better.
But I had a secret.
Not only did I occasionally like to get mellow, but I really dug punk, post-punk and new wave. The Clash and X were my favorites, but I'd listen to anything that nowadays would be labeled alternative or indie. 'The Night of the Living Dead Boys' was glued to my turntable for a good year. Music didn't have to be obscure for me to dig it: I loved the Cars, the Police, Devo, 'I Ran (So Far Away)' and Gary Numan's 'Cars.' I dug funk, too.
Not in public, though. Outside the safety of my bedroom I loyally waved the Guys In Black T-Shirts Who Jam flag.
That all broke down with the arrival of R.E.M.'s 'Murmur.' It was time to pack away my concert tees and wave my freak flag high (a phrase coined by the king of the jam, Jimi Hendrix, on 'If 6 Was 9'). Safety pins found their way into my clothes and ears, and my feathered bangs were replaced with an asymmetrical Peter Murphy 'do.
Occasionally somebody would call me on my poseur nonsense. "Dude, you aren't new wave. You were the biggest KISS fan of all of us."
"I was not."
"What are you talking about? Your room was like a KISS shrine."
"KISS sucks," I'd say, with an insouciant flip of my Misfits bangs.
If KISS were cool enough for the 'Mats, then obviously they were okay to listen to ironically, if nothing else. Next up for redemption were Aerosmith, lovingly covered by R.E.M. for the B-side of 1986's 'Fall On Me':
I couldn't relegate Aerosmith to my Guys In Black T-Shirts Who Jam past if R.E.M. liked them.
The chasm separating heavy and alternative music was narrowing, and when grunge broke nationally, it closed completely. A 1992 special edition of Soundgarden's 'Badmotorfinger' included a five-song EP named 'Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas,' or SOMMS for short, that included covers of both Black Sabbath's 'Into the Void' and Devo's 'Girl You Want':
Guns N' Roses got in on the crossover action with their 1993 covers album, 'The Spaghetti Incident?', wherein they offered their version of songs by Fear, the Dead Boys, the Damned, the UK Subs, and the Sex Pistols, among others. That same year Faith No More defied crazy old Uncle Ted and made it okay to get mellow with this Commodores cover:
Heavy music now has a proud and welcome place in my power rotation, along with alternative, indie, punk, post punk, new wave, krautrock, alt-country, grunge, classic rock, Scandinavian death lute, and whatever other genre you care to throw at me. All that matters to me is that it's good music.
But between you and me? Deep down inside I'll always be a Guy In a Black T-Shirt Who Jams.