Understand that, at heart, I am actually a humble person. I am not cocky, but I am rather confident. I am not an elitist, except when it comes to things I find important, in which case you have a valid point. I am not a snob, the furthest thing from it. I have taste, I have my own style, I have my own way of thinking and going about things. These are mine. Understand that, at heart, though, I am a rather humble person. This does not mean mousy. I know that to be humble is to be marked by meekness, and I cast of that part of the definition. To be humble, and this is a personal definition of mine, not text book, is not to understand humiliation. Watch someone you love pass away and it humbles you, it shakes you, it pulls back the bullshit demeanor you wrapped around you like a woobie and leaves you exposed to the elements.
And yet when I read this series of pieces in the New York Times, it made me wonder what the hell the Great Gray Lady was doing. The New York Times is commenting on cool? Really? Isn’t that akin to the San Diego’s Padres mascot mulling over pitching changes in the 8th, men on second and third with two outs and a one run lead? The fact that the Gray Lady is nicknamed the “Gray Lady” should have told her to keep her broach wearing, long white gloved hands away from cool. She has no right there, no matter who her fashion editors and writers are. Hell, no mainstream magazine should attempt to touch cool, insofar as they are, well, mainstream.
Cool has always been a concept that’s fascinated me, only in as much as I have always considered myself to be cool. I remember thinking Mike Seaver was kind of a dork. I remember consciously bucking trends when I was a kid. I remember maintaining, forging ahead, doing my own. These things, to me, are cool.
I’ve written this before, but cool has always fascinated me. It is as much itself as it is a pop-culture phenomenon, a disease of the spirit, fed to us off the radio, television, and magazine covers. The first time Mars Blackman showed “Money” lifting off in a brand new pair of Air Jordans by Nike I was hooked. You bought them, we all bought them. I had Garbage Pail Kids as a youth, I wore Jams, I sported Vans, and I had posters of Andre Agassi and whales on my walls. These things were cool to me. You have to ask yourself what you found cool; you have to wonder why it was so important to you. I remember hip-hop; I remember the angry, disenfranchised look on those dark faces. They mesmerized me. They, I knew it when I saw it, were cool. So why does it bother me so much that the New York Times would try and quantify it for us? For the same reason it does whenever they write a single thing about hip-hop and delve into their grab bag of catch phrases. For 10 years we’ve read the same one: “bling-bling,” and bing-bling went out as a saying 7 years ago. We dropped one of the “blings,” but perhaps you didn’t get the memo.
The truth about trucker hats, and this is with the caveat that I have one myself. They are fucking retarded. When you walk the streets of New York and see a group of 5 kids in khaki’s, white T-shirts, and 5 Von Dutch hats, you have to ask yourself if they coordinated this, joined a boy band, or just fell pray to a sick joke.
I cringe when I see cool in articles. When I’m editing a piece, as a rule, if a writer insists that something is, indeed, now “cool” I will ask that person to find another word. By the very nature of a magazine writing about something, particularly a mainstream magazine, aren’t we placing the imprimatur of cool on it, doesn’t this go without saying? And even this is somewhat false, because once something appears in print, to me, it has already lost a modicum of what made it cool in the first place.Cool is disenfranchised by nature, it derives its power from having to survive as far as can be imagined from the ideal of popular culture. It is a movement, a flow, supported through spirit and not through the market. Cool derives from a culture. Not culture, not refinement, but from the group of people who live their lives on the cusp, periphery, on the outside looking in.
What, you don’t believe me? Then why in hell doesn’t our society look at white people as cool? There can be white individuals who are cool, sure, but as a group we are pretty fucking lame. It bothers me. I wish I was black. Think about these words in conjunction: Old. White. Men. See, whenever something goes backwards, whenever we want to mock something as out of date or behind the times we come back to those 11 letters spaced into 3 simple words. They create quite an image: cigar smoking, country club living, SUV driving masters of the universe. Decidedly uncool.
And why aren’t white people cool? This is going to be a bit of a stretch, but perhaps it is a class issue as opposed to a race issue. Perhaps it’s not white people who are uncool, but rather rich people, and maybe it’s that the majority of rich people also happen to be (or perhaps “happen to be” makes it seem coincidental) white people. Because trucker hats did not become cool with Ashton Kutcher, in fact, that’s when they lost their glean. Trucker hats became cool when some kid on the fringe dug through his father’s closet looking for something, perhaps just browsing, and ran across the old man’s Mack or John Deere cap. That’s when trucker caps became cool. When Ashton came home to Montana, or Wyoming, or wherever the hell it is he’s from for Christmas and ran into one of his old friends from high school, the kid who didn’t make it to high school but rather works in the plant downtown, when Ashton saw that kid in his dad’s old trucker hat and thought, “cool,” that is the exact moment that hat lost all ability to transfer onto him any sense of individuality. Hollywood is not cool. It can make cool things, but he is of Hollywood, and Hollywood is an institution, and that is so uncool.
I work for magazines, which is both uncool and very cool. Very cool because I have taken a very difficult road through life; I struggle with what I do; I have a dream that I absolutely, at all costs must follow and sacrifice for. It has led me to a career where I make, on average, 1/3 the annual salary of any of my friends. That is cool. But I take ideas that is see on the streets, music that I hear in clubs, movies that I watch months before they come out, young passionate idealists who are trying to make the world a better place and I commoditize them. I shrink wrap them into a form you can understand with catch phrases and pithy lingo and shiny pictures and I help put that into a book like thing that you then go out to purchase to see what’s bubbled up from below. It is in the commoditization of cool, in the taking of an organic thing and bubble wrapping it into a pretty package that I strip away any intrinsic value to you as an individual. And yet you buy it. Hell, I own a trucker cap. And an iPod. (But lay off the iPod, because fucking hell that is the coolest thing I have ever bought in my life.)
Cool makes this thing called life worth living. Cool is a brisk breeze, a day off, a big glass with ice and carbonated Coca-Cola. (Crap, that was really uncool of me to name Coke there.) Cool is on a pedestal because life is difficult, and at times what is cool, is given to us from other places. In rare moments we find it for ourselves. I'm stealing this from someone else, though I don't remember where I first read it, but why do you think so many marriages appear happier in that early stage a few years after the wedding when the couple is scrapping to make a dollar out of fifteen cents, and yet falter once the couple has made it? This is simplification, but it has something to do with cool. Cool is the spirit of the thing, it is the endeavor. Cool is not the accomplishment of something, it is the work it took to get there. Cool is about ease; ease of spirit, ease of accomplishment; ease with oneself.
Movements are cool. Think back to when Howard Dean was cool. Remember that grass roots campaign thing that we all bought into? Remember the threat from below? Howard Dean was the political pale rider about to cut a swath straight to the White House door. Movements fight to create change to the benefit of the individual. Most of us sit safely in the cheap seats with admiration for those individuals who place everything on the line to alter situations. We don’t admire them because they have with nothing to lose, to the contrary, those individuals involved in movements have everything to lose. It is their willingness to defend their beliefs, to fight for what they consider cool, that we admire. But ultimately movements lead to the formation of groups, one of whose effects is to codify the cool that innately springs forth in a free-flowing environment. Remember when Howard Dean became uncool. YEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!! Because it was then that we realized he wasn’t peripheral, he wasn’t a lone gun, he was a loose cannon member of the Democratic Party, and he lost his hold on us. This red faced yahoo shouting onto my television screen is a member of a political party that is trying to wrestle power from President Bush? We better not vote for him, because we need someone who has a legitimate chance, someone who’s an insider, someone who has been a cog in this giant political game, who, rather uncooly, knows the Potomac Two Step by heart.
It always has been, and always will be the individual that is cool. Which is why the New York Times should just leave well enough alone. Jim Morrison or the Doors? It’s an easy answer, really, and took you a second to answer, because Jim was one cool mother fucker. His vibe passed onto the band, but he was the cool. It’s off-center somehow, and I don’t really know how.
I’m 28-years-old now. I can feel myself getting less cool, although I will never be uncool. Part of that lies in the fact that, at my very core, I understand exactly who I am. It’s just that, as I near 30 and round the bend to true adulthood, there will have to be disclaimers. “That Jarret, he’s a pretty cool older dude.” Something along those lines. But I will tell you something, the part of growing up that I am really learning to love and cherish is the knowledge and acceptance that this is happening. The hetero lifemate once told me that there are glorious experiences and beautiful people here in this ugly world called adulthood who accept you no matter what happens, so long as we all hold on to that tiny thing inside of us we know is wholly, and uniquely, ours. But if, even at 28, I can feel my cool receeding with the tides of my youth, then what the hell is an old newspaper doing writing about it? No matter how many editors were in what place with such-and-such remarkable people and they all come to consensus, somewhere in that process cool got lost. It left. It’s no longer there. To me, it will always be individualistic, and I wish people would just leave well enough alone. I can’t believe I have to get pissed off about this stuff.