The first concert I ever attended was AC/DC with Love/Hate at the Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey. While I was excited for numerous reasons, the one thing I remember most is how desperately I wanted a T-shirt from that show. A concert T-shirt was the epitome of cool when I was 17. It was something that could only be obtained from actually being at the concert (this was before the days of e-bay and reselling concert merchandise online) and it meant that you were one of the few who got a ticket. Having never owned a concert shirt (since I had never been to a concert before) this was a huge quest. I had to have a T-shirt.
Once we entered the arena I made a beeline for the merchandise booth. I was getting a T-shirt that I would proudly wear around school the next day to show how “cool” I was. That’s right, I saw AC/DC last night. What did you do, watch Growing Pains? Sucker!
Full of giddy excitement and with the look of a serial killer in my eye, I proudly stepped up the merchandise booth to see which shirt was going to look coolest on me. Then I saw the prices. My jaw dropped. $20 for a T-shirt? What the hell was going on? Who paid $20 for a T-shirt? Looking back now, it seems pretty cheap, but back in the day, $20 was a lot of money, especially when one gained the majority of their income from part time work at Roy Rogers fast food restaurant. $20 could buy a lot of things. Dejectedly, I shook my head and walked away from the booth. I would not be getting my shirt and would have no proof that I was at one of the coolest concerts of the year.
After the concert (which was, of course, amazing) I saw a guy in the parking lot selling T-shirts. “Shirts! Who needs shirts? Ten dollars for shirts!” $10? That was half of what they were inside. My logical, naïve, teenaged brain figured that they must be trying to get rid of the shirts now that the show was over. Buying shirts at the end of the show must have made them cheaper if there were any left. I could afford $10! I was getting my shirt after all! What I obviously failed to realize at the time was that I had just purchased an illegal concert T-shirt. Bootlegged swag. Non-official merchandise. It didn’t matter to me, because I was going to be rocking my high school AC/DC style the next morning.
Since my first concert oh so many years ago, I have attended copious amounts of shows all over America. For a while, a T-shirt was must have for merchandise memorabilia. Parking lot bootlegged, or when I could afford it, the official shirt from a merchandise booth. Then in the late 90s I got into collecting sweatshirts and baseball caps from concerts. Now I alternate between sweatshirts and beanie caps. And for some reason, concert swag, or merchandise, is still as cool and important to me as it was when I was in high school.
And it’s not just T-shirts or outerwear. I like all the cool things you can get at a concert. Tour books, shot glasses, bandannas (dew rags), all of it is cool. I still have every ticket stub from every concert I attended, kept in a nice photo album, to help remind me of all the great shows I have attended. My prize possession is a pair of 3D glasses from the Kiss Psycho Circus tour. They are 14 years old and still look as new as the day they were handed to me. And while it really is just stuff it is still cool and important to me. I still get a chill when wearing my Iron Maiden beanie and reflect for a moment on how happy I was to buy it. I still occasionally flip through the 1997 Kiss tour book and smile.
Why do we love swag so much? Why is it that even in our 30s and 40s we want to own a shirt, cap, poster, piece of the concert we just attended? Why do I still feel like a school boy when I proudly wear my Pop Evil beanie in public? I guess it doesn’t matter how old we get, the thrill of our favorite bands, that we paid hard earned cash to see in concert AND wear their gear, makes us feel alive and youthful. At least, that’s how it feels to me. What about you? What merchandise do you collect? What’s your favorite concert possession? What kind of swag you got?
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