Update, February 17th: The Guardian reports that Meshach Babcock’s vest has been removed from display at Macy’s and will soon be returned to its rightful owner.
“My vest was the pioneer of the heavy-metal vests in Oregon City. It’s one of a kind,” says Meshach “Attack” Babcock, 23, a union carpenter with Local 146, and bass player for Maniak, an Eighties-style speed-metal band he started in October of 2013. The following April, at their first live show, a Battle of the Bands in front of 100 students at Oregon City High School, Babcock’s vest went missing.
“The show went great — everyone was definitely shocked. The singer’s loud screaming style caught everybody off guard,” says Babcock.
Before the show, Babcock had taken off his vest — a denim garment decorated with a brightly colored back patch depicting a barbarian holding a severed head, honoring late heavy-metal legend Ronnie James Dio, and 20 smaller patches displaying the names of bands like Coroner, Rigor Mortis, Mercyful Fate and Cannibal Corpse — and thrown it onto a pile of other jackets backstage. That’s the last time he saw it.
“People in school thought the jacket was the coolest thing ever,” says Babcock. “After it was stolen, I’d talk about it all the time. I was still upset about it.”
Fast forward to shortly after midnight on February 6th. While seated at the Spot, a taxidermy-themed bar in Molalla, Oregon, about 30 miles outside of Portland, Babcock got a call from Sergio Ginez, Maniak’s drummer. Ginez had spotted the vest on the Facebook page of veteran Florida metal band Nasty Savage. “My heart dropped into my stomach,” said Babcock. “I’m jumping up and down screaming in the bar. The dead giveaway was the Nasty Savage patch and a Misfits patch I sewed inside, because I’m a punk on the inside, and the heavy metal on the outside.”
When he got the news, Babcock was in Molalla to watch the Super Bowl. “But I said, ‘Sorry, guys, I need to go home to figure this out.’ I don’t have a smartphone; I have a flip phone, so I had to go home to use my computer to track it down. Word spread and friends were tagging me in pictures of it and sharing it in my Facebook timeline,” says Babcock.
Further investigation revealed that the vest was mounted under glass in the Ralph Lauren section at Macy’s flagship store in New York’s Herald Square. “The jacket was purchased by our creative team,” says Ryan Lally, spokesperson for Ralph Lauren. “It was for display, and if he can authenticate ownership, we’ll bring this guy his jacket back. It’s a fashion hero story.”
This particular vest itself dates back to the 1960s, and carries with it an unusual provenance. “My grandfather wasn’t an outlaw biker, but he spent time with them,” says John Huteson, a Portland musician who was given the Levi’s denim vest by his grandfather (also named John Huteson). Huteson passed it along to his friend Cory Boyd, lead guitar player in Spellcaster, a heavy metal band from Portland, who ultimately gave it to Babcock. “Cory and I were best friends from sixth grade, and he ended up giving me the vest because he saw how interested I was in it,” says Babcock, who had just turned 13 years old at the time.
Babcock’s friend Nick Prom created a Facebook page titled “Macy’s Give Back Meshach’s Vest.” Within a couple days, the page got over 2,000 likes and was visited by 50,000 people. Local radio station 102.3 broadcast the story.
“I want my vest back, but also, it would be wonderful to find out how it made it there and who the culprit was,” says Babcock. “I could have taken a picture with them or let them try it on, but I don’t understand why they had to steal it. I don’t want to press charges, but I just want to know why.”
“We are aware of Meshach’s claims and are actively working to get to the bottom of this,” said a spokesperson from Macy’s. “The vest in question is in a vendor shop, and is not Macy’s property. We have reached out to Meshach via social media and will work with our vendor to assist him. We hope that this gets resolved quickly.”
Maniak recently came off a yearlong hiatus, and has performed as an opening act for major metal bands like Anvil, Flotsam and Jetsam, and Raven, but they haven’t yet garnered as much attention as the vest. “It’s ironic that my vest is more famous than my band, but it’s flattering that Ralph Lauren and Macy’s think so highly of it,” Babcock says. “If I get it back, it’s amazing. This is what I wanted the whole time.”