Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Leather Jacket Blues

Very few items in the 20 th century have achieved iconic status.  Some have achieved this status  only to eventually fade from the collective societal memory. The two that have withstood the test of  time are the venerable Levi's 501 and the black leather jacket.

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What sets the leather jacket apart is the connotations, real or imagined, that it invokes. Almost immediately after it's inception motorcycle enthusiasts adopted it and made it their own.

The Schott Bros.  company of New York City began making leather jackets in 1911. In 1928 the were the first company to install zippers on these jackets. They began selling them at a Long Island Harley Davidson dealership for roughly 7 dollars. Motorcyclists took an immediate shine to them, and the birth of the motorcycle jacket and its ethos was thrust upon America.

In the 20's, only staunch individualists would ride motorcycles, and the wearing of leather jackets cemented their reputation as rebels, a perception that has endured to this day.

The seminal 1953 movie, The Wild One, defined an era that had yet to come. Marlon Brando sported a classic Schott Bros. Perfecto and a whole generation of teens readily attempted to emulate it. A few years later, the black leather jacket was de riguer for any rebel, teenage delinquent or garden variety dirtbag.

So much so, that Schott Bros.' sales actually dropped in the late fifties, as pretty much all schools across North America imposed an all out ban of this apparel.

The now venerable even survived the onslaught of sixties hippie culture because cats like Gene Vincent continued to wear them on stage.

Bands like  the Ramones adopted the Perfecto ( as well the also iconic Chuck Taylors) and the unofficial uniform of New York's Lower East Side and Punk Rock was created.

Musicians of all genres have also adopted the Perfecto as their own and the ever growing Rockabilly purist movement is its champion.

Historical documentation seems to be out the grasp of the general public and weird opinions and inaccurate perceptions continue on. People see what they want to see it seems. Here are some random perceptions that occur if you happen to be wearing a black leather jacket.

1. The Hoser

As some of my American friends may or may not know, a hoser is a somewhat derogatory term reserved for a particular type of Canadian that is usually found in the suburbs or rural areas. They are fond of the black leather jacket, but completely ruin its cool by pairing it with very large sneakers and mullets.

These brainless louts seem to have an attraction to bad classic rock ( is there any other kind?) and are prone to outbursts of air guitar whenever they hear Van Halen are are sent into fits of apoplexy should they hear some Rush, as they chant the mantra' "Peart rules!"

 They punctuate their sentences with copious quantities of " hey man" and actually do employ that quintessential Canadian expression: "Take off, eh!"

If you happen to be spotted by these directionless hosers in a bar while sporting your leather jacket, they will automatically assume that you are one of them and drunkenly invite you into the fold.They will be perplexed at your disdain of classic rock and eventually wander away. They will go home and watch endless reruns of the Blues Brothers and get coffee the next morning at the 7-11 wearing  pajama bottoms and that leather jacket.

2. The Vintage Cats.

These people actually get it. As you may happen to stop into your local Value Village, the amateur pickers will eye you up and down. This is not a challenge, it is an appreciative glance at your well-worn leather jacket.

Knowing nothing of rockabilly and its legacy, they just dig the jacket and will smile and tell you so. They might be secretly envious, because their endeavors at Value Village usually culminate in bad 80's clothes, broken umbrellas and really ugly sofas.

Just never you mind what I was doing at a Value Village.

3. The  Bad-Ass

Squares usually take things for face value, and the leather jacket is no exception. They might feel uncomfortable as you stand in line behind them at the liquor store. The fact that they are clutching a Cabarnet Sauvigon and you are clutching twelve Pabst is not lost on them.

They might feel a little fearful, hoping that the very greasy dirtbag in the leather  jacket doesn't jump them on the way to their Volvo and steal their expensive wine.  If I were a dirtbag, I would have no interest in stealing his wine or his Volvo.

The fact that I was clutching a guitar in my other hand seems to have been lost on the square however. Pabst+ Guitar+ Leather Jacket= Band Rehearsal.

Cops also seem to take a dim view on leather jackets.  They also fail to make the connection between jacket and musician. While hard core criminals wear either suits or shiny Ed Hardy shirts, the street level dirtbags that break into people's homes wear whatever they may have found in the dumpster.  Hell, even bikers don't wear Perfectos .

4.The Unspoken Threat.

This one happened to me personally not so long ago. On a damp winter night, I had to make my way to band rehearsal. Rockabilly rehearsals and beer are an inseparable pair, so I decided to take public transit.

No matter where you may live, one of the truisms of riding the loser-cruiser, is that every single bus has its resident drunk. Every single one, no matter what time of day.

This particular drunk entered the bus and demanded a free ride. A young, hip-hop wannabe, this idiot wanted to be heard.  My attempts at ignoring his stupid ramblings and desire for conversation were met with rising anger. He attempted to pick a fight as he hurled insults directed at my "greasy hair" and " leather jacket".

Drunk as he was, I am convinced that he was just as dumb sober, as my guitar case seemed to elude his perception. He seemed to be incensed purely by the presence of the leather jacket.

What he probably deserved was a good, stiff punch right in the face, but I reined in my desire to do just that. Maybe I had finally acquired wisdom, or maybe I just didn't want to deal with punching some retard in the face: any way that you can perceive it, had the cops shown up, one perfunctory glance at the leather jacket would have convinced them that I was the lowlife that evening.

5. What Are You Riding?

Whenever I go for coffee somewhere, I am always accosted by some dude riding a BMW motorcycle with a whole shitload of fairings and bags asking me what I am riding. When I point at the vintage bicycle that is locked up to a nearby pole, they always seem disconcerted. How can you be wearing a leather jacket and not be riding a motorcycle, they always seem to think. They fail to understand that, while a black leather jacket is fine for toting a guitar around, you would freeze your ass off wearing it while riding a motorcycle.

In closing, me, and my black leather jacket brethren are not dirtbags, criminals, bikers. Ramones wannabes, pickin'-a-fight, lookin'-for-Van Halen-on-vinyl, steal-your-last-beer-kinda-dude, anti-social lowlife or not even close to being a bad ass. I think that some gals dig it and we just wanna play some Rockabilly .