T-shirt collection serves as roadmap to memories

Guest Columnist

I am pleased to have found my lost Literati Bookstore T-shirt, which I misplaced. Ultimately, I found it wadded and buried at the bottom of — yes, you guessed it — my T-shirt drawer. I’m not sure why I didn’t dig deeper sooner.

Guest columnist Scott Saalman shares the stories behind his shirts (photos provided).

It’s a simple, light-weight grey one with an old-timey typewriter on front. I bought it last summer in Ann Arbor and misplaced it last fall. My fiancée Brynne has the same shirt. We also have matching Pretenders and Nick Lowe concert T-shirts. We’re that couple, but it’s more so a testimonial to our shared interests rather than efforts to coordinate matching wardrobes.

I also have a Powell’s City of Books T-shirt. Book junkie John Rumbach told me about magical visits to this book mecca in Portland, Oregon, so I went. Many strangers, fellow book lovers, have commented on my shirt. In Paris, a woman approached me and my Powell’s T-shirt at a restaurant just to tell me she had been to Powell’s too. She said she was from Chicago, I said I was from Indiana, then she returned to her table. Nothing more was said. It still ranks among my favorite conversations ever.

This winter, during R & R in Cozumel, the resort staff nicknamed me “Flash” because of my $4 red DC Comics T-shirt with the famous golden lightning bolt. Commenting on my real-time vacation pictures posted on Facebook, Jasper restauranteur Josh Premuda pointed out that I wasn’t wearing my BREW T-shirt in the lower latitudes. I replied that the shirt, once a favorite of mine that advertised his restaurant, no longer fit me comfortably. Either the shirt had shrunk (wishful thinking) or I had expanded (perhaps due to an overindulgence of BREW Burgers, the “Best Burger” in our state, according to the Indiana Office of Tourism Development). Josh offered a simple solution: “Cut it into a belly shirt.” For the record, Brynne and I now have matching Cozumel T-shirts.

My very first concert T-shirt advertised a 1983 Jimmy Buffett show, which was my very first concert experience. I loved my Buffett shirt. Reluctantly, I let my high-school girlfriend Jane borrow it. We broke up. I never saw it again. Thirty-six years later, I still miss the shirt.

The first cool T-shirt I remember wearing had “Dy-No-Mite” on the front. My mom bought it for me circa 1975 because we both liked watching “Good Times.”

A current favorite T-shirt has a black and white image of beret-cladded folk rocker Richard Thompson. Recently, someone saw this shirt and commented, “Oh, man, I love Willie Nelson,” mistaking Thompson for Nelson. A different person that same evening asked me where I got the Paul Michael Ash T-shirt, mistaking Thompson for Ash. This made me smile since Paul was a great friend and local beret-wearing musician who died way to soon. Ironically, it was Paul who first taught me about Richard Thompson.

My newest concert T-shirt, illustrated with cacti and a hawk, advertises rocker Alejandro Escovedo’s 2019 winter tour in support of his latest release, “The Crossing,” a stellar concept album documenting the immigration experience.

Early in the concert, as the Mexican-American, Stetson-hatted Escovedo took a break between songs to enlighten us on the backstory about the plight of his two immigrant characters threaded throughout “The Crossing,” a belligerent, big-mouthed, bigoted woman in the second row brazenly interrupted the critically-acclaimed Americana/punk/rock star by shouting, “Shut up and play your music.” Escovedo, visibly taken aback by such a rude reception, addressed her directly. “Are you serious?” he asked. “I would never go into your home and tell you what to do.” Gracefully, he tried to reason with her via messages about the importance of tolerance and kindness. In return, she gave him the finger.

The audience, roiled by this heartless beast who in essence had built a wall between us and the great man on stage and who had cast a prickly cactus-shadow of discontent across the venue and robbed us of our show, unanimously booed her. We were all recipients of her one-finger salute.

Esovedo, giving up on telling his story, gripped his electric guitar and ripped into a fast, raw, visceral rocker that filled the small Louisville music hall with something akin to the soundtrack of blood boiling. He let his music do the talking. Still, the woman continued being an ass. She liked the attention achieved through her boorish behavior. Three security guards drug her away as she squirmed and kicked during mid-point of an Escovedo song. Escovedo didn’t bat an eye; he delivered the goods.

The wall was removed. We cheered. It became one of the greatest rock shows I’ve ever witnessed. I bought the T-shirt on my way out, out of respect for Escovedo and in defiance of the evicted woman. I wear it proudly, as a symbol. Let the man tell his story. Sometimes a T-shirt is much more than just a T-shirt.

See Scott, Abbie Rumbach and Andy and Henry Hagedorn perform stories and songs at the Jasper Public Library, 6:30, Wed. Feb. 20. Free admission.

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