Oct 192009

I invented the duct tape wallet. Or at least I think I may have. Frankly, I haven’t gone to a lot of trouble to try and figure out the historical truth, and I suspect it would be a very hard thing to prove. Here’s the story:

I was one of the founding members of the Jim Rose Sideshow in the early 1990’s. We toured all around the world, and one of the highlight tours for me was Lollapalooza in 1992. It was a huge ego rush, being able to “hang out” with real live rock stars. Even more fundamentally, other performers appreciated what we did, and we got lots of positive feedback from them. But being a performer puts strange kinks into your lifestyle. One is that you have a great deal of “down time” while you are simply waiting around to perform. You can either do meaningful things with this time or you can waste it. Unfortunately on Lollapalooza, we usually performed in “sheds” or large outdoor performance spaces away from the big cities. You couldn’t just walk to a museum for an afternoon’s edification.

One thing to do to pass the time was arts and crafts. I began to notice that the technicians (don’t call them roadies) used a great deal of duct tape, and would often simply discard the roll before they got to the end and leave a significant amount of tape. I also noticed it wasn’t really duct tape, as the fabric was tightly woven into a crosshatched pattern. In fact I learned it was called “gaffer’s tape”, and indeed was a significantly superior product than ordinary duct tape. It was also available in black, and I think yellow. There was a lot of this stuff just lying around, waiting for something useful to be done with it.

I don’t remember what my inspiration was for my wallet. I recall being on the tour bus, and simply began to cut and fold the tape into a wallet. To do it for the first time is sort of a puzzle, as you have no instructions to go by. I was pleased with my new wallet as it came out rather well. I decided to make another one which I think was yellow. I may have shown my first wallet to Matt Cameron, then the drummer of Soundgarden, as I decided to give him my second one. I replaced my old Nylon wallet with my new duct tape version, and have never looked back. From time to time I would have to make a new one as the old one wore out. If I recall correctly, all this happened before all the duct tape books came out, but the one thing I’m sure of is that I figured it out for myself.

Fast forward to 1996. I had become a big Soundgarden fan, and remained friends with Kim Thayil after the tour was over. A Rolling Stone magazine article written by Charles Cross about Soundgarden’s new record Down on the Upside appeared in the Feb 8, 1996 issue. The article opens with an intimate description of how Chris Cornell makes a new duct tape wallet each time he records a new Soundgarden album!

“Chris Cornell cuts black duct tape with surgeonlike precision and pieces it together in the shape of a wallet. Soundgarden’s lead singer makes a new one every time his band records an album. “The last one I made was during this point in the recording of Superunknown”, he says, not bothering to look up from his handiwork. “I always want a new one to last until another album is in the works.” At that, drummer Matt Cameron pulls out his wallet, another duct-tape model crafted by Cornell during the last album. From the back of the recording studio guitarist Kim Thayil complains, “I guess I don’t rate. I had to go out and buy one for 10 bucks”

Looks like Matt Cameron taught Cornell the wallet thing! This got to me enough that I even asked Kim about it, and indeed Kim told Cornell that the idea originally came from me. I suspect, but do not know, that this Rolling Stone article was the real “break” as far as publicity goes for the duct tape wallet. During the late 1990’s I would see duct tape wallets around, and even saw them for sale on the Internet.

The article concludes: “After two hours of work, Cornell finally finishes up his wallet and gets ready to head back to the control room. He’s used a cut-up drum head for the wallet’s plastic sleeve compartment. Cameron razzes him: “You could mass-produce them and sell them at Lollapalooza: ‘the Chris Cornell signature wallet.’ ”
“Yeah, I could make a mint,” says Cornell, shuffling his credit cards from the old model to the new one. “The best part is that if your wallet rips, you can just put another piece of duct tape on it.”

In October of 2002, I believe, I “invented” the polypropylene tape wallet. Polypropylene is even superior to the gaffer tape, as the adhesive is stronger, and there is no “grain” or weave to split along. The tape I’m talking about is the kind used in conjunction with Tyvek vapor barrier house wrap. The Polypropylene film is incredibly strong, especially considering how thin it is. It’s much thinner than duct or gaffer tape. The adhesive is an acrylic, and is very “tacky”. This quality is needed to allow it to stick to Tyvek, which is itself quite slick. Tyvek vapor barrier and the associated tape are made by Du Pont, but Lowe’s Home Center makes a house brand that is comparable. Owens Corning makes a pink polypropylene tape. Thankfully, Owens Corning doesn’t insist on plastering their logo on their tape like Du Pont and Lowe’s do. Plain pink is good. Remember the Pink Panther? Look for the Pink Panther logo when buying your polypropylene vapor barrier tape! Here is a wallet I created using the Lowe’s house brand polypropylene house wrap tape.

This tape can be also be used in conjunction with ordinary Tyvek to make form fitting credit card envelope protectors. Surprisingly enough, the new gel ball point pens are able to create a durable mark on slippery Tyvek.

Now, go forth and make your own wallets and credit card protectors!

 Posted by on 10/19/2009 Art

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