Music History

This Bootleg Fugazi Shirt Was So Clever that Ian MacKaye Endorsed It for Charity

Fugazi leader Ian MacKaye gave this unlicensed shirt his blessing and requested that royalties be donated to charity

fugazi shirt

Ian MacKaye doesn’t give a fuck about t-shirts. MacKaye’s label, Dischord Records, doesn’t sell t-shirts. His legendary post-hardcore band, Fugazi, never licensed a Fugazi shirt. MacKaye made his position clear in 2013, when official Minor Threat shirts were sold at Urban Outfitters (MacKaye reluctantly licensed them after growing tired of fighting bootleg shirt sellers). “I just don’t give a fuck about T-shirts,” he told the Washington City Paper.

This is Not a Fugazi T-Shirt

Fugazi’s decision to eschew apparel merchandising created an unusually large bootleg t-shirt market for the post-hardcore icons. During an interview for the book The Art of the Band T-Shirt, MacKaye described a tiresome process of calling bootleg shirt sellers and asking them to cease production of Fugazi shirts. One seller was so clever that MacKaye approved shirt sales for a charitable cause. MacKaye said:

I managed to trace one design back to a fairly well-known t-shirt company in the Boston area, and I called to tell them to cut it out. I spoke to the main guy there, and, of course, he wanted to do a deal. And, of course, the answer was still no. Still, we had a nice chat. He was curious why we didn’t want to sell shirts, and after I explained our position, he seemed to respect it. About one month later, a friend at a record store alerted me to the ‘This is not a Fugazi t-shirt’ shirt. I traced it back to the same Boston dude. What a smart motherfucker he was! I called him up and said, ‘Okay, you’re funny and you’re creative, so let’s see how creative you are with accounting.’ I asked him to choose an organization doing good work in his community and give them what would amount to the band’s royalty for the shirts. I think he chose a women’s shelter up there, and as far as I know he sent them money right up until he quit the business.’

The Fugazi shirt bore an inscription (“You are not what you own,” a lyric from the Fugazi song ‘Merchandise’) on the back, which made it look even more convincing.

Related: Ian MacKaye on the Culture Creature podcast

Whether or not that “smart motherfucker” intended it, his ironic Fugazi shirt design seemed like a conceptual nod to René Magritte’s painting The Treachery of Images, which bears the inscription “this is not a pipe” under an image of a pipe. Magritte’s painting illustrated the difference between a thing and a visual representation of that thing.

this is not a pipe magritte

The folks over at took this postmodern idea one absurd step further with the ‘This is Not a Fugazi T-shirt Mug’:

this is not a fugazi t-shirt mug

Image by Dinner

Nirvana’s Seahorse T-Shirt

Nirvana took a similar approach with a ‘seahorse’ shirt that was marketed towards the end of Kurt Cobain’s life. Cobain had developed a fascination the male seahorse’s ability to give birth. The shirt was unusual for a major label rock band because it eschewed branding: Nirvana’s name did not appear on the front of the shirt, and only appeared in a small disclaimer on the back: “yeah, this was a nirvana shirt…”

nirvana seahorse shirt

In the years since Cobain’s death, the Nirvana logo has been slapped onto the front of the shirt, and the logo-free version is only available on vintage garments.

To learn more about Ian MacKaye and Fugazi, hear an Ian MacKaye interview on our very own Culture Creature podcast.

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