John Fogerty, the former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman, has always projected an appealing everyman image. That was particularly evident at a recent event to promote his latest solo album, which is due out in May. The gathering, which was held at a swanky jazz club in Manhattan, consisted of Fogerty sitting onstage and answering questions from a rock critic about the new album. The critic wore a suit, as did many of the industry people in the audience, but Forgerty wore jeans, boots, and an untucked plaid flannel shirt. He looked like he'd just come inside from cleaning the gutters, or maybe chopping some firewood. In other words, he looked pretty much like you'd expect John Fogerty to look.
That spell was broken, however, at the end of the event, when Fogerty thanked the rock critic and then pulled out a plastic-bagged flannel shirt identical to the one he was wearing. "Here," he said, "have one of my 'Fortunate Son' shirts."
Turns out Fogerty sells this shirt, and two others like it, on his web site. Put me in, coach—I'm ready to play "commodify my image" today.
Of course, there's nothing new about a rock star selling apparel like T-shirts or hoodies (Fogerty sells those too). But a T-shirt with someone's name emblazoned on the front communicates the straightforward message "I like [whomever]," while a flannel shirt communicates all the complex, work-with-your-hands cultural values that flannel shirts have accrued over the years -- values that generally conflict with commercialism and selling out. In fact, the flannel shirt was adopted as a sartorial symbol by Fogerty's generation back in the 1960s (and has periodically found renewed currency with subsequent generations) precisely because it's an inexpensive, unpretentious way to show solidarity with the common man. That solidarity has rarely been better expressed than in the Fogerty-penned Creedence song "Fortunate Son," a devastating takedown of the privileged class. Now, in a perverse twist, Fogerty has used that song title as the name for a flannel shirt he's selling (and for 70 bucks!), as if he alone were the spiritual heir—or maybe even the spiritual wellspring—of flannel's virtues.
But wait, it gets weirder. Another flannel-associated rocker is the longtime punk bassist Mike Watt, who first came to prominence in the 1980s band the Minutemen (and was later in the band Firehose, whose fourth album was called Flyin' the Flannel). Now Watt—a guy who's loudly championed a do-it-yourself, anti-commercial ethos for his entire career—is selling his own branded flannel shirt, just like Fogerty. And how did Watt get into wearing flannel in the first place? According to this video clip, it's because he and Minutemen guitarist D. Boon were—wait for it—big Creedence fans.
Meet the new Flannel™, same as the old flannel. Except the irony doesn't come out in the wash.
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