I can present many, many examples in defense of the sleeveless look, but let's break it down into 3 main categories that are relevant to this blog, the music industry & our whole concept of "celebrity" and self-image.
(A) I AM METAL - OR AM I?
What my white bread morning show friends don't understand is that the sleeveless shirt look is metal, a hallmark of the genre as much as black eyeliner is to goth. Only the show's executive producer & noted Def Leppard & Queensryche fan David Brody came to my defense. But am I metal? I always thought I could carry the sleeveless look, but maybe I can't. Lord knows I could never grow my hair long, never mind grow it at all for the past 15 years. Maybe those clowns I work with are right. I certainly don't look like these guys.
One of my co-workers referred to my look as "trashy," which I think is an unfair description. If you're a woman and you're called "trashy," that likely means you're loose and/or dressed like a slut. You could be wearing next-to-no clothing or more-than-enough makeup. I'm not sure what makes a man "trashy" outside of living in a garbage can. I don't drink Schlitz, drive a truck or fart in public. I don't live in a swamp or drink Jack Daniels for breakfast. I don't spit, chew tobacco, or beat women. I started cutting the sleeves off my old tees because I considered it "metal." I have plenty of other shirts, I'm not holding onto some sweaty memory.
If you go to any metal show, especially outdoors in the summer, you will see hairy sleeveless ruffians for miles. They all have their reasons, but I suppose the biggest reason they rock that look is to show off their tattoos. And isn't that a big reason why guys & gals get tattoos? Granted, the sleeveless look succeeds in displaying the Q*Ball tattoo on my right tricep. Now you can call me narcissistic and I can remind you that Bon Jovi has a Superman tattoo on his arm. And Jon loves his cutoff tees. "But Ron, you're no Jon Bon Jovi." Yes, and you're no Richie Sambora. My point is that I didn't get the tattoo to give myself a boner every time I gazed upon it. Tattoos are not just decoration, they usually represent something larger - in my case, an affirmation & a reminder that I was committed to making music professionally. I guess you can say it was my way of illustrating that I wore music on my sleeve (if I wore any sleeves at all, of course).
I am admittedly a square peg amongst most of my radio friends - I don't listen to or generally enjoy the music we play, I don't kowtow to the endless parade of celebrities who walk in & out of our hallways. I don't, as I prefer to coin it, "drink the Kool-Aid." That's metal. That's who I fucking am. I mean no disrespect to my co-workers or all the hardworking people who parade in & out of our studios. Some of them are actually pretty nice. I just don't buy it. If you want "trashy," just turn on your TV this summer, and catch the reality shows my morning show feeds upon to entertain. As for my look, it's not conservative, but it's far from outrageous. I have earrings and tattoos and an anti-authoritarian attitude. I challenge people. I wear stupid wristbands & pins from my childhood. I still own a pair of Doc Martens. I wear novelty t-shirts to promote being a geek fan of shit like Star Wars & John Cusack movies. I listen to bands my co-workers have never heard of or will ever hear of. I'm Judd Fucking Nelson. Once upon a time, Judd was very metal. He probably loved Mindfunk.
a metal band signed to a metal label. I listen to Baroness, Mastodon, Pantera, Judas Priest & The Mars Volta. I also passionately enjoy '80s music, jazz, Billy Joel, Enya, Motown, Adele, & Huey Lewis & the News. All decidedly non-metal. I have two tattoos, not 200, and doubtful that I'll get more than one more before I kick off. 2 tattoos is not very metal. My other tattoo is Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes, who often gets mistaken for Linus from Peanuts. Now I guarantee you that there are a ton of metal folk who would say my Calvin tattoo is not metal at all. But those people smell bad and need a shave and have no money. So fuck them. I got Calvin when I was 18 to cover a bad scar on my left leg (advice - do not slide on concrete in the rain when playing softball, even if that is metal). I always identified with Calvin - he was never taken seriously by anyone but his stuffed tiger Hobbes, but he was a creative genius, a philanthropist, a misunderstood poet.
(B) I AM VAIN. BIG DEAL - SO ARE YOU.
Vanity. Isn't that the biggest reason we even put clothes on in the first place? Girls won't wear shirts that make them look too fat, preferring those that will highlight their boobs and jeans that don't make their ass look too big. And men prefer that aesthetic, as well. I know I do. For men, the standards are not as high, but appearance is, of course, important.
Now if you would ask me to describe my overall physical appearance, I would best describe it as "inoffensive." I am aware that I am not God's gift to women, and it was easy to come to terms with that when I started losing my hair at age 18. Just gaze below at my hair before puberty and see how the mighty have fallen.
But vanity is not very metal. Metal is long sweaty hair and Paul Stanley's hairy chest and Ronnie James Dio. When I was 18, being bald was not - I repeat, not - cool by society's standards. Definitely much less cool than sleeveless shirts are today. In fact, mocking the bald was much more socially acceptable.
For a college kid who was already painfully shy around girls, this was not the sort of thing that brought joy to my world - it was fucking traumatic. At 20, I finally tried to embrace the inevitable and shaved the skull - I was in two bands, I had a steady attractive girlfriend (footnote: my steady attractive girlfriend fucking loved my Calvin tattoo), I was working in radio.
I was confident in my own skin. That's metal.By the time I was 25, every mook who was seeing too much forehead in the mirror got the razor blades out and shaved their heads rather than considering cutting their wrists. Shaved heads are metal. My buddy Seth Kushner, a great celebrity photographer and expert on "geek culture" who's been hanging on to the remnants of his hair for the past decade, claims that bald guys need to accessorize (see "stupid wristbands," "goatees") & admits that I do it well. He's right - bald may be socially acceptable now, but you still run the risk of resembling an egg if you don't color it up a bit. God forbid you have that godawful skin line between your neck and your skull, or worst of all, having a skull that could be mistaken for a misshapen cantaloupe.
Some guys just can't pull it off.
It's not all about the skull tho. I have hairy forearms & legs and I can live with that since Bon Jovi is much hairier (it's an Italian thing), but I wax, I trim unwanted ear & nose hairs, I shower daily, I believe in baby powder & deodorant. I use a tongue scraper. Grooming is important to me. My morning show buddy Greg T. shaves his whole fucking body, which both intrigues and horrifies me. I have my limits. But if I'm wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, I make sure it doesn't look like I've got Buckwheat in a headlock and that any inoffensive sprouts in that area are tended to.
I care about my appearance. I'm not sure if that's metal.
If a chick rocked the sleeveless look, no one would raise a plucked eyebrow. A few guys would be high-fiving each other by the water cooler. But I'm not a chick. I'm a recently divorced 35 year old dude. I lost 20 pounds, I'm working out 3-4 times a week, it's summer time and I'm in the best physical shape of my life. I'm no Adonis, but I'm happy with the way I look. But I can accept criticism too - a male co-worker once observed that I rolled the sleeves up on my t-shirts too high and he was right, it looked stupid (perhaps this is why I now avoid sleeves altogether?) If this guy can go sleeveless for a living, maybe I'm entitled to rock a sleeveless tee every once in awhile.
(pictured: Disturbed's David Draiman. Not metal.)It's either that or buy a Mustang and have a midlife crisis. The homemade Metallica "Ride The Lightning" tank top is the slightly less destructive option. Or I could opt to be like Metallica and have a midlife crisis while inside my sleeveless t-shirt.
(C) I DON'T GIVE A FUCK WHAT YOU THINK
I can go on and on. But at the end of the day, it comes down to not giving a fuck. Not giving a fuck can be liberating, and that's definitely metal. If I gave a fuck what you thought back in 2005, I wouldn't have called my record label "Bald Freak Music." I am anti-establishment. I am a free spirit. But I'm sensitive, and as an artist, and as a person, I care about my image. Everyone wants to be liked by someone. But at what cost? When I was doing online dating (god fucking help me) years ago, one of the girls I was courting was involved in entertainment and asked me what the name of my label was. "Bald Freak Music," I proudly announced. But she didn't get it, she even put me down for it, as I recall - "it's not popular sounding, it'll be rejected by the mainstream." Exactly. Who the fuck wants to be popular, bitch?
There are exceptions to my apathy. Trust me, if I'm going on a date with a lovely lady, I put on a nice shirt. I shower, I don't talk with my mouth full or stick my elbows on the table. You'd be lucky to go on a date with me, girls. I'd treat you with generosity & respect & you'd have fun with me. Unless I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, of course, then the date would be a fucking disaster.
And shit, if I liked you, like really liked you, I'd probably let you go thru my wardrobe - I want my girl to be down with how I look and what I wear, that's for sure. Women know fashion better than me, no matter how metal I think I am. Looking good for your woman is metal. Unless she makes you burn all the sleeveless shirts, that would not be metal at all. I get to at least keep one.
At a radio station where I see the same 15 people every day, it's different. I'm confined to a studio for most of the day making sweet love to Pro Tools and FTP sites. I'm a supporting character on the show, barely a blip on the map. I jokingly autograph the show's photo 'jock cards' with a question mark under my picture because I assume our listeners look at the card and ask, "Mommy, who the fuck is that bald guy?" That's fine. Every show full of talented people needs a guy like me who doesn't give a fuck if he's the question mark. And besides, do you think I care what this guy thinks of me?
Not giving a fuck about what this guy thinks is most certainly metal.
That said, I think that every one of the females on our show is a true looker, even when they're wearing their pajamas, have their clown shoes on, or didn't do their hair or put makeup on. These women are objectified a helluva lot more than my sleeveless Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago t-shirt was earlier today, and I appreciate that. I think it's important to look good in front of girls, so if the sleeveless look ain't cutting it, maybe I should take it a step further, up the ante so to speak. Maybe something more of a chain mail vest?
"You're getting old, Ron." I know, Bennett. I know.
The moral of my tale is this: WEAR what the fuck you want. DO what the fuck you want. Guys & girls alike will find that even when they make their best presentation, they are summarily rejected, often for no good reason at all. So fuck it - do what makes YOU happy, not what you think will make everyone else happy. It's about confidence. The people who love you will love you no matter how you look or what you wear. They may ask you to cut your hair or shave your beard or take a bath, but they will ask you because they love you. As for wearing a Clutch t-shirt with the sleeves neatly trimmed off and a baseball cap, pretty much my standard summertime uniform for the past decade, simply put - it's me. Love me for it, celebrate it. That would be pretty metal.
And if you think that not giving a fuck about what people think of your fashion sense doesn't come with its rewards, I present to you Lady Gaga, our Superstar of the Moment, who came up to the radio station last week for an interview. Here's what she wore.
But sorry, Gaga - it's mine. Get one of your handlers to make you one. You can wear it with your dead skin mask next week. That would definitely be metal.