Friends and family chide me for holding onto my t-shirts far longer than I should. When I find one that fits right and feels comfortable, I tend to wear it past the point that it literally starts unravelling. One of my favorites is a Zildjian shirt my dad gave me about 15 years ago for Christmas, complete with huge holes and frayed sleeves.
I’ve always loved this shirt. Not only the fit, but the fact that it signals something about who I am and what I do. Your t-shirt is a statement of identity, preference and taste, just like the car you drive. It says something about you before you say a word. In the case of my shirt, it tells other drummers that I play the drums. To most everyone else, it’s simply an interesting design. In Boulder Colorado, a stranger approached me on Pearl Street to ask what the “Arabic” writing on my shirt said (Zildjian is actually Armenian for “son of cymbal maker”, but the trademark stamp design is in Ottoman Turkish).
Other drummers will often notice the logo and nod with an insider’s smile. A few weeks ago I wore it to the gym and got the official nod from another guy there. 20 minutes later he approached me and asked, “Do you play?” I said yes, and he continued, “I’m sponsored by Zildjian, and DW too.” To a drummer, this is the equivalent of meeting a racecar driver sponsored by Red Bull and Ferrari. Instrument manufacturers don’t just hand out sponsorships to anybody; they’re reserved for a rarified strata of musicians.
Now I was studying his face closely, but drawing a blank. After apologizing that I didn’t recognize him, he introduced himself as Roy McCurdy. Jazz drummers like Roy are generally regarded as being among the most technically skilled. Indeed, many of the most insanely awesome rock and metal drummers mastered jazz before becoming famous for other genres. Jimmy Chamberlin of Smashing Pumpkins and Danny Carey of Tool are good examples. Jazz drumming is hard, and requires a ton of discipline. The fact that Roy built an entire career out of drumming alone is impressive, but even more so that he did it in the jazz world (it turns out he’s also a professor of Jazz studies at USC).
After chatting some more, I was able to get myself into private lessons with Roy. All thanks to my ratty Zildjian shirt. Living in L.A. of course greatly increased the odds of such an encounter; musicians, artists and Hollywood folks are plentiful here. Up in the San Francisco Bay Area, imagine the cool people you might strike up a conversation with when you wear your 2006 RubyConf shirt, or your Bump schwag shirt. The more “insider” the shirt, the better. One chance encounter on a BART or Caltrain ride in your ratty shirt could lead to an interesting new path in your life.