David Remnick: Hanif Abdurraqib is a New Yorker contributor, and he's based in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. He's a poet, an essayist, the author of a number of books largely about music. Like most true music lovers, Hanif is also a fan of the stuff around the music, the merch. He's got a huge collection of concert T-shirts, and he agreed to show me some of his favorites. Hanif, you've picked out some concert T-shirts and some music that go together, and you're going to share them with us today. How big is this famous collection of tees?
Hanif Abdurraqib: I have 73 as of right now, but this weekend I might--
David Remnick: 73 tour shirts and one tie?
Hanif Abdurraqib: One tie, yes. Truly, maybe not even one tie.
David Remnick: How did you get into getting vintage tour T-shirts?
Hanif Abdurraqib: I'm fascinated by the kind of wearable ephemera that is attached to music I got when I was young. I was really into pins, band pins from years and years and years ago. Then I was very into backstage passes, which you can still buy online. I have a small collection of just backstage passes from bands and concerts, but the shirts are fascinating. The shirts really are fascinating to me, because not only are they-- it's like a more extreme version of going to a thrift store, but I have 73 tour shirts this weekend. I'm going to an auction right down the road to bid on a couple of other ones. By the end of the weekend, I'll maybe have 75.
David Remnick: What's your key source for this stuff? Is it eBay or something more specialized?
Hanif Abdurraqib: It started out on Etsy, because Etsy dealers are a little more-- you can find very specific. Like, this dealer has all the old hardcore punk shirts. This dealer has old R&B shirts, but now I have much, like, with my sneaker collection, I have, like, a person who sources these for me because otherwise I would--
David Remnick: You've got a guy [laughs].
Hanif Abdurraqib: Yes, I've got a guy because otherwise I would spend all my time just online doing this. It's one of those things that I noticed was taking up so much of my time.
David Remnick: That wouldn't be productive. I don't care if you have a MacArthur, that wouldn't be productive. What is the first T-shirt we're talking about and the first song that goes with it?
Hanif Abdurraqib: The first shirt is-- I don't know if it's this one. This is a shirt of the band DeBarge, the singing group, the family group, DeBarge. This is from their Rhythm of the Night tour. This shirt is like a teal blue kind of thing. It has the band's name above a red square that they're all in. The thing that I love about DeBarge in general and that I love about this shirt is that with DeBarge these photos in the '80s, they all look dressed like they're all going out on a very different night on the town.
David Remnick: There's a lot of big shoulders.
Hanif Abdurraqib: A lot of big shoulders.
David Remnick: A lot of primary colors in those suits.
Hanif Abdurraqib: Huge primary colors. A lot of large pocket squares.
David Remnick: All right, let's hear a little music from DeBarge. What's the song?
Hanif Abdurraqib: The song is Rhythm of the Night. The great single that this shirt was based off of.
[MUSIC - Rhythm of the Night - Song by DeBarge]
I know a place where we can dance the whole night away
Underneath electric stars
Just come with me and we can shake your blues right away,
You'll be doing fine when the music starts, oh
Hanif Abdurraqib: The music video for this song is very delightful.
David Remnick: I can only imagine. We are dancing on Zoom here. It all comes back.
To the beat of the rhythm of the night, dance until the morning light.
Forget about the worries on your mind, you can leave them all behind
To the beat of the rhythm of the night,
Oh, the rhythm of the night, oh yeah
David Remnick: It all comes back. It all comes back. [laughs] Okay, Hanif, next shirt.
Hanif Abdurraqib: Next shirt is this shirt from The Judds Farewell Tour, which is The Judds I love and adore and this shirt is just them in a blue square. Their name is in red. They're holding the guitar. The back has their--
David Remnick: Some seriously big hair, very big hair and it's a farewell tour.
Hanif Abdurraqib: The back has their farewell--
David Remnick: You're getting the whole tour. You're getting the whole tour itinerary. Did you see The Judds when they were through?
Hanif Abdurraqib: I did not. No.
David Remnick: Too young.
Hanif Abdurraqib: No, during '99. In '91, when they came through, I was maybe five years old. No, six or seven years old. I was a little too young.
David Remnick: Knock it off. knock it off.
David Remnick: All right, let's hear The Judds. What are they singing?
Hanif Abdurraqib: They got Why Not Me? One of my favorite songs.
[MUSIC - Why Not Me - Song by The Judds]
You've been lookin' for love all around the world
Baby, don't you know this country girl's still free?
Why not me?
Well, you've finally come down to your old hometown
Your Kentucky girl's been waiting patiently
Why not me?
Hanif Abdurraqib: I adore this song. It's both like a classic Judds song. It's both sad and a little sweet.
David Remnick: What does this song tell us about you, Hanif?
Hanif Abdurraqib: I think what I love about The Judds in general, but particularly Why Not Me is so much of their music is steeped in longing and feeling on the outside of an emotion that they cannot get into or the outside of an affection that they can't otherwise access. I feel like that has, in some ways, that is a defining point of anguish for, I think, me and everyone in my circle, we all grew up like emo kids and punk kids who felt really outside of many things except for our own one or two really fluorescent feelings.
David Remnick: I like that. Next T-shirt.
Hanif Abdurraqib: All right. I have a shirt that is as old as me. Jimmy Cliff from The Power and the Glory Tour, 1984.
David Remnick: I like that. How much you want for that?
Hanif Abdurraqib: This I could just send to you in part because it no longer fits me. Jimmy Cliff on the front, Power and the Glory written across his head. I adore this shirt. This is actually one of the first vintage tour shirts I ever got.
David Remnick: What are we going to hear from Jimmy Cliff?
Hanif Abdurraqib: Many Rivers to Cross, a classic.
David Remnick: I love that organ opening.
Hanif Abdurraqib: Yes, it's perfect.
[MUSIC - Many Rivers to Cross - Song by Jimmy Cliff]
Many rivers to cross
But I can't seem to find my way over
David Remnick: What an incredible voice he had.
Hanif Abdurraqib: The intro, the organ to vocal intro is one of my favorite moments in, I think, all of music, maybe.
Wandering I am lost
As I travel along the white cliffs of Dover
David Remnick: I'm really sorry I never got to see Jimmy Cliff. I don't think he's performing anymore.
Hanif Abdurraqib: Yes, that's a dream.
David Remnick: It really is, it really is.
Hanif Abdurraqib: There's a handful of artists who I think I mourn the fact that I missed them. Then when I listen to their music, it's like that morning returns anew.
David Remnick: Who's in that group.
Hanif Abdurraqib: A lot of it with me is folks that I was maybe old enough to go see, and I just didn't, and then we lost them. Late era Johnny Cash. Phyllis Hyman. I really love Phyllis Hyman, That's someone I miss.
David Remnick: This is the one inheritance I got from my dad. We didn't have much money, but he would take us to see music and musicians that I didn't think anything of at the time. Then I realized, "Oh, my God, I got to see Louis Armstrong when I was 11," or Dave Brubeck or Ella Fitzgerald. It's a very lucky thing. Hanif, thank you so much. Be well and good luck at the auction this weekend.
Hanif Abdurraqib: Thank you, David, I really appreciate it.
David Remnick: TheNew Yorker's Hanif Abdurraqib. He wrote for us recently on the great musical collective known as Chocolate Genius Incorporated. You can read that essay at NewYorker.com.
[MUSIC - Many Rivers to Cross - Song by Jimmy Cliff]
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