After tagging Trackosaurusrex in yesterday’s post, I clicked on over there to see if they had picked up the questions and run with them. Unfortunately they hadn’t (at least not last time I checked), but I sure was glad I stopped by. Because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have learned that a new King Kog t-shirt had “dropped.”
This latest t-shirt is based on the Crass logo. If you don’t know what Crass were, here’s a gross oversimplification: Crass were basically to anarchist punk what John Coltrane was to jazz, or what Kiss were to schlock rock, or what the Grateful Dead were to being really stoned and smelly. Take every anti-establishment sentiment you can think of, multiply it by a self-righteousness factor of 30, and then play it through a bullhorn at a protest. So naturally as a fiercely anti-consumerist and anti-commercialist enterprise their logo is an obvious choice to place on an American Apparel t-shirt promoting a bicycle fashion boutique.
Looking at the King Kog t-shirt immediately transported me back to my youth and evoked fond memories of bringing home my first Crass record. I knew immediately I had to have a Crass record, not only because their logo was much more enticingly esoteric and knotty than the logos of other bands like the Dead Kennedys, but also because the people who wore it seemed themselves somehow more esoteric and knotty. (Though that was mostly because of their dreadlocks.) Sure, I had no idea what Crass were about, and there was no Wikipedia to tell me, but I sensed I was on to something. This notion was immediately validated for me when I opened the record, which was wrapped in a poster of a badly burned baby or something. Paydirt! I put it on the turntable and was suddenly transported from my bedroom to a squat in England somewhere. Crass seemed to be very upset about the Falklands War. Did I know anything about the Falklands War? Not really. Did I know what they were fighting over? Something to do with sheep, though that might have been a metaphor. Did I know where the Falklands were? Well, I had thought it was that place in Jersey where the Giants play, but if that was the case I wasn’t sure why Crass were so angry about it. Did I know anybody who had been in the Falklands War, or who had been killed there? No. Did I have any idea the Falklands War had actually ended years ago? Nope. Did I like what I was hearing and did I draw their logo on my pants? Absolutely. Did I do my homework that night? Absolutely not. How could I? People were dying in the Falklands!
So needless to say, I was grateful for the opportunity King Kog was giving me and the rest of the cycling world to once again celebrate cluelessness. “Will I pay $22 to own a t-shirt that has been egregiously appropriated from an icon of my youth I didn't adequately understand in the first place?,” I asked myself. And the answer came back, “Yes sir, I will.”
Excitedly, I slipped it on and straddled the orange julius bike with the intention of parading my affection for both Crass and fixed-gear bicycles all over Brooklyn, but I realized right away that this was not like other garments I own. It was ironic, sure, but not in a good way. My Iron Maiden Vans are ironic, but it’s that kind of tongue-in-cheek irony that ridicules both the band and the wearer. “Sure, Iron Maiden are patently absurd,” they say. “But I’m not afraid to be absurd. I’m stupid, Iron Maiden is stupid, and so what! Let’s party!!!” My UNDFTD World Champion/Cinelli/Eddy Merckx/Black Flag/who-knows-what-else rip-off t-shirt is also ironic, but that’s also tongue-in-cheek irony. The notion that I’m a world champion is as patently absurd as Iron Maiden, Cinelli is a cool old-skool company to which I want to give mad props, Eddy Merckx is another cool old-skool company and also a guy from the 70s who rode a fixie sometimes, and Black Flag were mostly about suburban alienation, drinking, and puking, which is also what fixed-gear bikes are about now. Even my Major Tailored hat is ironic in a fun way. Sure, it might be a brazen misappropriation of a sporting icon’s name and a tasteless attempt to make money off of somebody who died without any himself, but it’s also a great pun and a tight hat. (That's "tight" as in cool--it fits fine.)
But the Crass shirt just wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t making fun of something stupid, because while Crass may have taken themselves extremely seriously they weren’t stupid. Also, it wasn’t an homage to cycling’s past, because really Crass don’t have very much to do with the history of cycling. Instead, I kind of felt that wearing a copy of the Crass logo on a t-shirt advertising a boutique was somehow offensive—like I had slipped a pig’s knuckle into their vegan broth. I also felt that the act of purchasing and wearing this t-shirt professed not a familiarity with and an understanding of Crass but rather my own ignorance as to what it is they actually represent. It was like wearing an "I'm With Stupid" t-shirt that points to yourself. Sure, maybe Crass themselves might consider this t-shirt an homage and an expression of the DIY ethic. They may even approve of someone wearing it while making metal horns in order to sell it. Still, I felt like that friend of a friend you meet at a bar who can lecture you about politics, 70s punk and French cuisine with equal superficiality, and then move on to tell you everything that’s wrong with the beer you just ordered.
Of course, if you’re one of those people, the King Cog Crass t-shirt might be for you. But it wasn’t for me.