Remember ”Free Winona“? Now there‘s ”Free Martha.“ But did you know there was once a ”Free James Brown“? Billy Tsangares, the man behind the infamous shirts and the fast-talking, slogan-slinging owner of Y-Que Trading Post, has the air of a veteran news reporter, the sass of a political cartoonist (did he mention he was running for Hollywood City Council?). In 20 years, he’s sold close to a million shirts, but no one would ever know they‘re his. Once, he made a shirt with a rubber duck. Years later, crossing the street in Japan, he spotted a guy wearing the shirt amidst a sea of commuters: ”There he was, my duck!“ Today, at Y-Que, the T-shirts are breeding in the corners. They’re stacked in piles on tables, pinned to the walls, the windows. They‘re jammed behind the counter, where a taxidermied squirrel paddles a canoe. Billy’s Theory of T-Shirt Darwinism: A shirt survives if it strikes a core issue. If not, it is naturally selected out of the population. A shirt should be cheap (there‘s a $2.50 pile by the door), fast (it takes 15 minutes to whip up ”Nobel First Strike Prize“ with Bush in shooting goggles) and out of control (”Chinese Food“ anyone?). His greatest hits: Abercrombie & Fitch--style ”Sick Puppy“ with cheerleader, ”California“ in Coca-Cola logotype, ”Gay Mafia,“ ”Wag the President,“ ”Mickey Che“ (Disney, says Tsangares, has been ”sucking the money out of that goddamn mouse for years“), the California state flag with the running-immigrant-family street sign, ”Love American Style“ with a chubby-cheeked Anna Nicole and octogenarian hubby. T-shirts can mark pop-culture moments, but he notes that sometimes ”You can speed it up so much that the shirt becomes the trend before the event is even out. Now that is messed up.“ Nonetheless, he’s got his backroom silk-screen ”printing press“ ready to go should breaking news require a shirt: ”My guns are loaded.“
Jim Morrison at www.JesusHatesYour.com; (323) 868-6500.
Filth, 4010 Santa Monica Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 667-2430.