Cesar Padilla, owner of Cherry, a thrift store in Chelsea, spent more time on the Sunset Strip than any teen probably should. So, by the time he was 21, he was on the cusp of a rock T-shirt collection any rock fan would envy—until, while away on a trip to South America, his mother threw away his entire T-shirt collection.
Fortunately, Padilla had enough resilience and angst about the loss of what he calls his “misspent California youth” to start collecting all over again. And two decades after his mom trashed his T-shirts, Padilla took the shirts out of his closet and turned them into a book.
Ripped: T-Shirts from the Underground, released this month, is “a visual history of counterculture music T-shirts.” But while counterculture could imply any next-to-normal music era, Ripped is an archive of the rock scene of the 1970s and ’80s; the book’s 208 pages contain shirts from some of the most influential post-punk and indie rock bands that ever played. Some, but not all. Padilla, who keeps his almost 1,000shirt collection housed in a warehouse in Long Island City, says his collection, though quite impressive, is incomplete.
“There were a lot left out,” Padilla laments. “I’m missing Gang Of Four shirts. I’m missing Pylon shirts, and that really bothers me making a book and omitting things that are so close to my heart musically.” But Ripped also brings attention to little-known bands that, as he puts it, “never got their proper respects because they were in a movement that was so small, they were maybe even left in home towns.”
“I think bands like Big Boys are really important,” Padilla says. “They were pretty much the beginning of punk funk. Big Boys are responsible for a band like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
Shirts from obscure bands stand next to those of legends like New York Dolls, Debbie Harry, Talking Heads, Television and Lydia Lunch, whose “Fuck The World,
Feed Lydia Lunch” T-shirt bares an image of Lunch staring down the camera lens and extending both of her middle fingers to the photographer. It’s accompanied, on the opposite page, by an anecdote from Thurston Moore, recounting the time he played look-out while Lunch peed down the stairwell of a Bowery flophouse.
Lunch didn’t just lend her opinion to the book by way of her middle fingers.
She also wrote the introduction. Others, like Betsey Johnson, Will Oldham, Bob Gruen and Judy Nylon, offered T-shirt testimonials by writing first-hand accounts of experiences with many of the musicians to run alongside images of the shirts.
Words are nice, but Ripped is really about pictures. Photographer Andrea Thompson captured images of all the shirts just as Padilla preserved them in his collection— blood, sweat and unidentified bodily fluid stains intact. An image of a Ramones T-shirt still carries bloodstained fingerprints on the shoulder, serving as a red reminder of God knows what happened to the owner while wearing it.
Having so many shirts from such an era in rock music makes Ripped a wet dream for die-hard fans who wouldn’t be caught dead in anything remotely resembling an American Apparel deep v-neck. But what really makes Ripped important, as Padilla points out, is that it’s the first book of its kind to chronicle this “music revolution that never really took off with the masses,” instead remaining underground, and puts emphasis on post-punk’s heyday.
Reading Ripped makes you want to start a rock T-shirt collection of your own—hey, maybe one day that MGMT shirt will be worth something—but fat chance finding enough shirts for a collection on par with Padilla’s, as most of the original shirts in his collection came from batches of 50 or less. But if this fact leaves you undaunted, Padilla has sage advice for novice collectors: “Don’t buy it just ’cause it looks cool,” he cautions. “Don’t be that much of a whore.”
>Ripped, by Cesar Padilla, Universe, 208 pages, $30.