31 Mar Texas Roundup and The Story of My Favorite Shirt (Longhorns Dance)
It’s an exciting place to visit, Texas. But I don’t think I could stay. Let’s talk about cowboys!
I realize that much time has passed since I’ve done a post here, and I apologize. I always think that I’ll be able to do this from the road, but for some reason or another, it just never pans out that way. Most often because I’m terrified of public wifi, and it takes a lot of searching and googling and downloading things to get all the meat together to make the really good posts.
Today’s is about my favorite T shirt, which I’ve had for years and years and years and always goes on the road with me when I travel. I didn’t realize until this morning though, that the mystery behind the infamous print had been solved since I bought my own knock off back in the early 2000s. I wore it a few times on my trip to Texas the last two weeks and was asked several times where it came from and why I had it.
From last year’s trip to Raleigh (in case you didn’t believe it’s always with me):
I woke up like this (this being “too late for the free breakfast that comes with my room “). Raleigh is lovely though! pic.twitter.com/1zdgfVjwbE
— Tyler Dårlig Ulv (@tylerthebadwolf) October 6, 2017
When people ask about it, almost 100% of the time the guess is that it’s a Tom of Finland drawing, which I’ve always chastened was certainly clearly an influence, while noting that the original illustration was ultimately unsourced.
And I didn’t make that up. That was the narrative for years: that Malcom McLaren and Vivienne Westwood had sold the print on shirts at SEX (their provocative King’s Road boutique), and that the shirt/print had gained a sort of cult notoriety after Alan Jones’ arrest for wearing the it in public, and Sid Vicious’ being photographed wearing a nearly destroyed iteration. It was always sort of assumed that McClaren had done some sort of graphic reassembling or altering of some existing works to create the nearly-penis-touching cowboys.
But, after much speculation and guessing about where Mr. McCLaren had come up with the image, a blog post in 2011 by the prolific cultural documentarian (though he lists himself merely as a writer) Paul Gorman lead to the discovery of the original Jim French illustration that McClaren lifted without credit to create the now conic shirt.
In context with French’s other work, it is ultimately unsurprising that he should be the source of this provocative and intimate scene. Jim French, while he was the architect of what we have come to view as the COLT man, excelled in creating art (based on his own photographic studies of models in costume or nude) depicting intimate closeness between ultra-masculine looking men in stereotypically masculine roles: the cowboys, the construction workers, the native Americans, and the blue collar laborers (it’s a bit of a Village People-y vibe, when viewed from a distance).
That was the magic of his ability; not that he would depict hardcore sexual engagement between men, but that he would show masculine intimacy in an often sexualized way. The cowboys on my shirt are a prime example of this aesthetic – they are naked and near to one another without being aroused, while one adjusts the other’s neckwear. These were men who unashamedly touched and held one another for their own sake, and not in a presentational or pornographic way to entice the viewer (though that was definitely the effect, it somehow usually escaped being the point).
COLT has gone on to maintain some of that aesthetic, however modernized it may have become. Where other studios are focused on sweaty jocks aggressively and violently pounding away at one another, COLT still occasionally produces magazine-quality photo spreads of beautiful, extra-masc men who smile and are openly prideful, rather than suggestively naughty or outright filthy. Their video content has become sort of bland and generic, but that was never what defined the COLT man to begin with. The archetype of the COLT man was timeless, where the pornography produced in his image has always felt of whatever era from whence it originated.
The shirt’s icon status has spawned many (sometimes humorous) copies and clones (my copy is of the original Jim French print, sans Malcom McLaren-added quotations about ennui). Here are a few of my personal favorites:
Sincere thanks to Paul Gorman for taking the time to recognize the cultural significance of work like this, and for devoting so much space on his blog and in his brain to dissecting the origins of it. It is possible that without his analysis this illustration might have lived on forever without a legitimate source. And I’d still be telling people as much, while exhaustedly explaining that, “no, it’s not a ToF work. But I get why you think that…”
We could use more people paying this degree of attention to works like this.