The Rise of the Anti-Cool
I never write about pop culture. I think our tolerance for its ephemeral idiocy fades as you mature. But the concept of ‘cool’ was a defining thing once. You either were or you weren’t. You knew it when you saw it but you could not define it. A definition that was indefinable. The writer in me liked writing that sentence.
Surfers were once, in my life, the image of cool. I still think surfing is pretty cool because it is such a human act taken to such extremes. But I don’t think surfers are particularly cool anymore.
Rock stars used to be cool. Making in your face music while giving the world the finger and acting like children gone wild. Unfortunately most of them didn’t grow out of it and still dress the way they did when they were in their prime. It is a little weird when I see these characters blowing through town on their millionth tour. Well, back before the pandemic, which now seems to have lasted a lot longer than it has.
I think the concept of cool started in the fifties with the famous bad boys. Hard to believe but Elvis was probably the pinnacle of that genre in his time, though the undisputed king of cool, to this day, was Frank. You know, Sinatra. Just listen to In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. Tired, sexy, dark, but somehow optimistic and always in charge.
I also think I can identify the end of cool and the thing that killed it. The Sex Pistols did it in back in ’77. Their playing was bad, they could care less about what anybody thought, and they pissed on the notion of being rock stars. And they were completely great. I can say they released me from the need to be cool. Their example made me a musician and eventually an artist.
Cool, today, is manufactured. It pains me to write this but all of pop culture is so unbelievably fake I really cannot believe people buy into it. I guess it is a kind of collective need to be momentarily entertained or stimulated. But that is not my rant right now.
On the surface, the concept of cool seems pretty silly. But it was a way of separating yourself from what was accepted as the status quo. To be the bad boy or girl. A way of creating an identity of your own. I think it still survives in that role, though the word may not be used these days.
I think about the word itself. To be cool was to be detached, to not be getting heated up about something stupid or out of your control. To chill, literally. In some ways, given the last year of fearsome uncertainty, being cool became a necessity to get through hard times.
When I talk to strangers about our shared experience of the strangest year of my life, I find this quiet attitude. We got through it, or we didn’t. I can’t talk to the latter as they have painfully moved on. And I cannot talk to the deniers, those who choose to deal by not dealing, the uncool scared people.
Who is cool to me these days? First, my friends who worked through this at personal risk to their friends and family, not to mention random strangers. Most of them didn’t have to. They could have collected unemployment and protected themselves. But they see their work as what they do and they do it. That is so fucking cool.
I am not cool. I never have been, nor have I aspired to it, other than being a performer in a rock band, but we were nerds like those guys in the Sex Pistols. We did it because you could express yourself and have fun at the same time, without the pressure of being cool. That was pretty cool, in hindsight.
I hate reminiscence, though I certainly indulge in it. Too many years on this planet to not reflect on things you did and felt long ago. Once, a few incarnations ago, being cool and knowing what was and wasn’t, was a paramount level of awareness. That is cool but that, man, is not cool.
The ultimate put down.
Thanks for indulging me this lovely Sunday morning. Time for a macchiato, which, to this writer, is the coolest thing I can imagine right now! M