Blog post by Rachel Doran ‘19.
From childhood onward it is engrained in our minds that music is an outlet for self-expression; not only for the musicians, but for listeners as well. For every mood, for every phase of our lives, there is a genre or an artist or a song that we gravitate towards. Hearing a certain song can bring back vivid memories of a specific moment or feelings of a certain time in our lives. For me, Aaron Carter brings back memories of the carefree days of early elementary school where afternoons consisted of playdates dancing and singing along to Aaron’s Party blasting from my bright blue boom box in my bedroom, the walls adorned with posters of the boy himself outfitted in perfectly early 2000s attire complete with bleached blonde spiky hair. Eric Clapton’s Layla invokes memories of driving to preschool in the back seat of my dad’s blue Saab 9-3. Not to brag, but at age three I knew all of the lyrics by heart. I Gotta Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas reminds me of those awkward middle school years, jumping up and down with my friends at countless bar and bat mitzvahs. R. Kelly’s Ignition (the remix of course) takes me back to the night of my first high school dance. I can’t quite put my finger on why that is the one song that sticks out from that night, but I think it had something to do with the fact my date knew every word.
While music choices from my past may not be the proudest representation of my taste, they nevertheless capture important moments in my life as well as the little moments that may have seemed like nothing at the time, but years later are awesome memories. Some of my earliest memories are those of singing with my dad in the car on the way to the preschool. Fun fact about him is he did not believe in traditional children songs and lullabies. Instead of Twinkle Twinkle, he would sing Blackbird and Going to California to put me to sleep. When he was getting me riled up, Twist and Shout was his go to.
Though I will forever be a diehard Aaron Cater fan and his albums have secured a permanent place in both my glovebox and my heart, I would like to think my taste has evolved. After Aaron Carter I followed in the footsteps of many other American preteen girls and devoted my ears to Taylor Swift and her ballads of teenage heartbreak. In fact, my first concert was Taylor Swift’s Speak Now tour. I remember on the way out of the arena my mom stopping at the merchandise stand to buy t-shirts for my sister and I. I didn’t really care about having a shirt with T-swift’s face printed on it, but my mom said “some day you’ll be happy to have a t-shirt from your first concert.” I didn’t really get it then, but I certainly get it now. Though a Taylor Swift T isn’t exactly as cool as the Led Zeppelin, Queen, and U2 t-shirts my parents collected in their day, I see where my mom was coming from.
Looking at the band and concert T’s in the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection provides insight into the importance of music in our lives and reminded me of the vast opportunities for self expression music provides. The culture surrounding a musical genre, or even a specific band, has its own style both in terms of music and in fashion.
The “Mount Deadmore” t-shirt (CCTC #2006.19.01) was designed by its donor, Benjamin Scott-Killiam, a Cornell alumnus (’08). When he was a junior in high school, Mr. Scott-Killian designed the image and posted it on an online fan forum. A fellow forum member decided to use the image to print t-shirt for the 2004 summer tour of the remaining members of the Grateful Dead. The four remaining members appear in Mount Rushmore, and a blurry image of the deceased Jerry Garcia appears in the clouds to the upper right of “Mount Deadmore.” The back of the shirt dons the lyric “’Bound to cover just a little more ground!’ which is a quote from Jerry Garcia’s song ‘The Wheel,’ a steadfast of live Grateful Dead. Two copies of the shirt were sent to Mr. Scott-Killian as a ‘licensing fee.’ Mr. Scott Killian reflected, “The t-shirt you have in the collection has been to many Dead-related concerts and sheltered me through many adventures and experiments of adolescence.”
Mr. Scott-Killian attended Cornell with the Costume Collection’s own Professor Denise Green who is also a donor of concert T’s to the collection. Professor Green donated a t-shirt she got at her first concert when she was 15 years old: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in Dallas, Texas (CCTC #2012.14.14). From their spot on the lawn at the Smirnoff Music Centre, Professor Green and her friend Sarah watched The Wallflowers, with lead singer Jakob Dylan, son of Bob Dylan, open for Petty. Petty headed the show off with ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’ and ended the night with an encore of two of his most famous, ‘Free Fallin’ and ‘American Girl.’
Green also donated a Joni Mitchell screen-printed henley that she created while she was a student (2012.14.19). She recalls making the print during a period in her life when, “I only listened to Joni Mitchell.” Professor Green received the Limited Too top when she was in the seventh grade and subsequently tie-dyed it. Years later, when she was a junior in college, she screen-printed the back of it. She then wore it the year after her graduation at the last Burning Man Festival in 2008. She wore this shirt plenty before and after the festival as well and at this point it has degraded beyond repair.
Another donation contributed by Professor Green is a pink raglan Polyphonic Spree t-shirt. The Polyphonic Spree hail from Dallas, Texas and were formed by Tim DeLaughter in 2000. A unique combination of chorus, symphony, and rock-and-roll, they gained popularity by playing clubs in Dallas and later the UK. The screen-printed design on the shirt’s center front has a psychedelic, ‘60s vibe which is reminiscent of the band’s psychedelic pop-symphonic rock style.
FSAD’s own Charlotte Jirousek (1938-2014), Associate Professor of Textiles and Apparel and Curator of the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection from 1992 to 2014, also has a musically-inspired item featured in the collection. Jirousek purchased the navy screen-printed Iggy Pop t-shirt at a street fair in London, England in 2003 and gifted it to her grandchildren (2009.15.04). It was worn by Sam Catterall and Arlo Lee and was later donated to the collection by her younger daughter, Zoe Miller-Lee.
Our music taste evolves throughout our lives, just as our style does. While our concert T’s may not live on in our closets forever, the music and the experience sticks with us. The image of T-swift whipping her hair and twirling around on stage in a gold fringe mini dress at the XL Center in Hartford remains engrained in my memory, though my Taylor Swift t-shirt was long buried in a dresser drawer of my bathroom closet. As part of my research for this blog post, I have decided to donate it to the Cornell Costume & Textile Collection. While I am certain it has seen the end of its life in my wardrobe, I am thrilled that it will be of use to future generations of CCTC research assistants, Cornell FSAD students, and users of our online database alike.
Rachel Doran (’19) is a research assistant in the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection majoring in Fashion Design Management. She is a recent recipient of the Charlotte A. Jirousek Undergraduate Research Fellowship and is in the process of researching and curating an exhibit on changing ideals of the female body.