A Certain Tee
Sometimes my friend wishes I’d wear a different shirt. “Great. Let’s talk to a bunch of people today.” It’s just that almost every time we go out with me wearing it, some conversation has to happen. “Oh, I saw them in concert. It was one of the craziest experiences of my life.” That’s usually about how it goes. Servers in restaurants, customers in line, tourists—lots of people have something to say about it. Just a few days ago, I swear the person working at the taco place made me an off-the-menu vegan special just because she liked my B-52s shirt.
The B-52s are an Atlanta party band. Their biggest hit is the party-starter “Love Shack,” but “Roam” and “Rock Lobster” are some of the crowd favorites. And they toured…a lot. It seems like just about anyone going to see music in the late 80s and early 90s got a chance to see them if they wanted, as has been told to me over and over when I wear their shirt.
For those of you who don’t know, one unmistakable attribute of the band is that one of the lead singers, Fred Schneider, is openly and unapologetically gay. In fact, his vocal performances embody some attributes that are routinely parodied by wider culture as stereotypically gay. But they are also stereotypically joyful. The iconic music video of “Love Shack” features an unmistakable and previously undiscovered young talent many know today as the most honored person of color in Emmy “her”story: RuPaul Charles. The music video has a whole lot of other things going on, too. You might have to watch it a few times to catch all the strangeness of the video. It’s like a David Lynch movie on anti-depressants.
This kind of weirdo joy embodied by the B-52s makes it fun to compare people’s responses to my t-shirt to the kinds of responses I get when I wear my collar in public. My friend who is a priest in Portland, Oregon says that people sort of look at him in his collar the way they might look at a velociraptor ambling down the street. It’s not quite so dramatic here, but I feel what he means. The warm smile and sort of squinting glee in a person’s eyes when they focus in on the t-shirt is, frankly, adorable. The easy way people feel they can approach me is delightful, even if it makes us late sometimes.
This response makes me wonder if my silly concert tee actually sends a clearer message to the world around me—better than my collar and better, perhaps, than even my First Unitarian t-shirt I love so well—about what I stand for and what I value. I have been searching for Joan Jett, Tina Turner, and Fred Rogers t-shirts of late. I wonder what kind of response those might get around town. Which of your own t-shirts gets you the most interesting responses? And is there a t-shirt you think might show the world a little more about what you value? After all the times I’ve been stopped to talk about my t-shirt, it’s only fair I ask about yours!
Rev. T. J.