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PATCH JACKETS: I Can’t Believe I Wrote 2000+ Words About an Article of Clothing (A.K.A. Dude, What the Fuck?!)

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A long time ago in a galaxy about 800 clicks north of the present-day MetalSucks mansion, a young metalhead obsessed with all things fast, loud and rude, in a fit of boredom-induced enthusiasm, took a perfectly presentable denim jacket and made it not-so-presentable by adorning it with some pretty nifty (especially considering he could hardly draw a conclusion, let alone a stick figure portrait of Frank Frazetta) logos featuring the cream of the day’s thrash, crossover and hardcore crop before taking to the needle and thread to stitch Ride the Lightning, Bonded by Blood and T.O.H.C. (that’s ‘Toronto Hardcore,’ which obviously never developed into the force that N.Y.H.C. did, but I was a homer) patches in various spots. This, in an overt display of where my musical allegiances of the day lay and to signal to other aimless street wanderers that if you know those fucking bands, then we should talk, if not hang out, and maybe even go so far as to form a band someday [This actually happened: a random dude saw the Ride the Lightning patch whilst we were both scouring around a record store, a conversation was struck up and a few months later we were jamming on some pretty shitty originals and badly played covers in my parents’ basement].

But that was then, in the days previous to the broader acceptance of heavy music and the days of patch jackets having become ubiquitous, if not trendy. Make your way on down to a yearly gathering like the Maryland Deathfest and be prepared to put your head on a swivel if you’ve made it a goal to eyeball the number of folks strolling around with jackets bogged down in patches of their favourite bands. But the questions that need to be asked – aside from the one that goes ‘Does anybody give a shit, really?’ – are such: is covering up every millimetre of vestiary real estate a movement or just a progressive explosion of how to go about expressing what it means to be an excited fan? And what does it all mean, if anything?

The glass half-full part of me likes to think that those who dare to wander around with all that extra weight in sewn/ironed on embroidery are not only giving chiropractic professionals wet dreams involving spinal adjustments and sleeping on a pile of Benjamins, but are flashing their support for as many bands at once as possible. Voracious love voiced all at once, as it were. Technically speaking, a jacket with 20-25 patches strewn all over it makes more of a overt support statement than the single band I can show support to via my measly torso’s ability to only wear one measly t-shirt at a time. I can show love to two bands at once if I’m sporting a shirt and hoodie. A solid three is the limit should I decide one day to cover my chrome dome with a logo hat. Isn’t that the same thing as making likes and loves known via a patched up jacket, just on a more reserved level? Compared to the likes of me, are the patched up folks bigger fans? Super fans, even? Is it as simple as patched up dudes and dudettes being rabid supporters of this little thing we call metal and shouldn’t we celebrate their willingness to scream it from the rooftops? If not, what’s the problem?

The problem is there’s always an equal and opposite reaction to everything and the glass half-empty part of me looks at things more cynically, usually by unjustified deduction after a little bit of personal experience has been sprinkled on top. To that point, I’ve found myself engaged in more than a few conversations with people who’ve made it glaringly obvious they know very little about some of the bands whose patches they’re so proudly sporting. Too many times, a person’s lack of knowledge inadvertently emerges in the midst of a discussion as the lonely patch stares back at me, secretly laughing along with my stifled inner asshole and his inability to scream out something along the line of “YOU OBVIOUSLY HAVE NEVER ACTUALLY FUCKING HEARD SODOM!” It’s called conflict avoidance, not wanting to get into a dick swinging match, and/or possibly stickhandling around a more heated tete-a-tete after questioning credentials. It’s here that I then start to unfairly generalize about every and all individual I encounter that has his or her jacket patched up to the extreme. If I had a therapist, she’d probably tell me to knock it off with the stereotypes and prejudging. I’d counter that by saying, “All fairness and political correctness aside, isn’t that one of the building blocks of every society?” Another discussion for another time and place.

Also stirring the pot of cynicism, is the phrase “insecure metalheads” I’ve heard tossed around more than once over the years to describe those who feel the compunction to load up on logos. Intellectually, I can AND can’t imagine someone, A) feeling the desperation of acceptance so deeply, and/or B) wanting to have their likes and identity thrust into the face of the public and feeling that covering a jacket in logos seems like the way to go. But again, isn’t it the same thing as wearing a band shirt? There’s nothing stopping me from wearing a plain black t-shirt at the moment. Instead, I’m sporting an Exhumed tee with some sort of chainsaw battle depiction on it. And as much as I’d like to have faith in humanity as being somewhat level-headed and reasonable when it comes to self-image and self-centeredness, there’s no doubt this is the result of someone’s narcissism and the wholehearted belief that the world has that person, and only that person, in its crosshairs and that casual onlookers won’t have a snarky leg to stand on if they see a collection of obscure patches hanging off someone’s back and arms. In reality, though, if travelling however long to stand in a hot parking lot in the most murderous city in America at MDF or somehow successfully following the crow’s path to get to a field in the middle of Europe and camping out alongside thousands of drunken Germans and their lack of urinary aim doesn’t already scream dedication to the cause, a patch jacket shouldn’t be the dealbreaker for you or anyone eyeballing you from across a crowded room of black t-shirts. A crowd in which I’m probably standing.

Falling somewhere in the middle of all this is the declarations by self-appointed legislators of The Rules Of Being Metal. These small pockets of faith defenders have determined that if you’re not letting those within any immediate sight line know of your metallic allegiance at all times, you might as well leave the hall, ASAP. Good lord. These days, I wouldn’t make the move to a patch jacket, but that’s your prerogative should you want to go there sartorially. Wearing the patch jacket uniform 24/7 as a display of trueness? Really, I thought the social codes, cliques and conventions of high school were done when I graduated high school. When were we all suddenly subjected to the same regulations as bike gangs and their showing of colours?

Let me tell you about a friend of mine who lives in the Midwest of your United States. Dude is a responsible contributing member of society somewhere close to the big 4-0 with all sorts of real life obligations nipping at his heels and brain. When it comes to his extreme music bona fides, dude is real as fuck. He plays in a powerviolence band, has another one-man noisecore project on the go, and could fill a more than a few nights around the firepit strictly gabbing about deep underground punk, hardcore, death and black metal. I’ve run into him at fests regularly over the past decade where generally he’s packing patches. I’ve also encountered him in non-metal settings and even though he comes across as unrecognisable and almost normal – I said, almost! – there’s never been reason to doubt he’s not down. I’m sure you know similar folks, and have probably encountered more than a few on the other end of the spectrum. We don’t all have to be decked out at all times and chasing posers down the street in a drunken rage like Paul Baloff to be a metal loving human being of the highest order.

Honestly, however, two things have come up in the past little while that have made this a discussion deserved of some attention. First, mainstream retail outlets have cottoned to the idea of patch jackets (and other band merch) and anointed them as hip with the result being that people are co-opting underground culture in an attempt to appear edgy in the mainstream eye. As well you have people who probably don’t even realise they’re endorsing a band and in another case, people who are endorsing a boardroom created entity (here, here and here). This is not new and will be an ongoing issue that will always impact underground cultures, but if we all just take solace in the fact that Chris Brown looks more like a inauthentic stooge wearing a jacket with Suicidal Tendencies, Municipal Waste, etc. logos on it and that his posturing and posing has no impact on how awesome The Fatal Feast is, everything will be all right.

The second item that has brought this whole thing into a brighter spotlight is the fact that there are sites on the interhole where you can commission others to wrangle up a bunch of patches and sew them onto a jacket for you for a fee. Now, there’s a bit of a grey area here. Being of the mind that, “Hell yeah, I want to support bands A-thru-Z” is a perfectly fine course of action. If you’re in the position of, “Here are a bunch of patches I’d kindly ask you to place on my coat because I can’t sew/I’m too busy working 80 hour weeks/my mom has arthritis,” then so be it. If you only end up wearing it to shows and can’t do the every day display of dress code defiance, then so be it as well as I understand some of you have real jobs to go to. The downside to this sort of thing comes when you have people who don’t know any better strutting around with any old collection of patches designed to up their cred in the eyes of people who worry about this sort of thing. The schism here isn’t really about dollars and cents and the people making money off constructing a jacket for a third party – we live in an insane age of unfettered capitalism and politicians will never stop telling us we gotta keep growing the economy – as it is about giving people the opportunity to buy that cred. I understand this makes me sound my age and you should count yourself lucky that I haven’t started rambling on about how I had to walk five miles uphill in July snowstorms to get to the bus stop where a bus with two flat tires would drive me another 200 miles to actually get to school, but there’s something about how easy it’s become to shell out for the sorts of things old timers had to seek, dig and battle to find. Maybe that’s the deeper, underlying issue at play here? Today, people post pictures of their jackets all over Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and where ever else to smatterings of digital applause, and in these eyes, that makes a lot of room for inauthentic individuals to embark down the path of look-at-me exhibitionism. That’s not to say I’m painting everyone with the same brush, as I said earlier.

Granted, my opinion on this matter has softened measurably in the long while it’s been since I first had the idea for this bit of blather and now, which is why I’ve also avoided mentioning it under my usual Bravest Man in Metal schtick until now. None of this is unique; it’s the age old battle of true vs. false, real vs. fake, thrashers vs. posers that plagues every social construct that has formed around music scenes and sports teams to the beer/brewing community and midwifery practicioners, it’s just that the background scenery and accoutrements are different. If you want to fly the flag via a buttload of extra exterior adornments, then by all means. Be loud, be proud – there’s an analogy here to dusting off the audacious patch jacket at a weekend metal fest and the explosion of rambunctious behaviour during annual gay pride celebrations that I’m sure will make a few of you more than uncomfortable. However, I don’t think it’s out the of the realm of expectation and courtesy to ask if you’re going to, at least don’t sew/iron on a Diamond Head patch if the only Diamond Head you’ve ever heard have been Metallica’s covers. It’s not hard to keep it real. Is that too much to ask?

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