The History of Cool

I’m going to say that our modern sense of cool began in the 1940s with Frank Sinatra, a midnight crooner who drank in classy bars with a pack of rats. Then Miles Davis showed up and perfected the art of jazz, which was the art of improvisation, the art of making it up as you go along, and people like Kerouac started living to this beat. Teaheads began getting high together and ushered in the age of hippies – Bob Dylan turning on the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix tripping on stage.

The 70s were weird and gave way to the even weirder early 80s. Blame cocaine for making everyone less cool. Things stopped making sense when David Byrne appeared on the scene. While the mainstream kids got swallowed up in a ridiculous sea of hair bands, the counterculture started digging the Talking Heads. It was at this moment, I believe, when your stereotypical, modern-day hipster was born. Now eccentricity became desirable. You could wear goofy glasses and clothes that didn’t fit, as long as you threw around the word ironic (regardless of whether you understood its definition).

With the 90s came Kurt Cobain and flannel. For whatever reason, he detested mainstream success and offed himself for selling out. Because cool implies exclusivity, once too many people like you, you’re no longer hip. While this may be common knowledge, it’s a stupid mindset. Snoop Dogg sold out but is still super suave.

And now, in the 21st century, we are left with a fragmented society in which Johnny Depp is admired for wearing crazy hats and leather flair. The kids in Brooklyn and Wicker Park grow beards and ride bikes and don’t eat meat because beef isn’t green, but cool remains a subjective abstraction. Pinning it down is impossible.

In conclusion, I leave you with this exchange from America’s most culturally relevant family:

Homer: So, I realized that being with my family is more important than being cool.
Bart: Dad, what you just said was powerfully uncool.
Homer: You know what the song says: “It’s hip to be square.”
Lisa: That song is so lame.
Homer: So lame that it’s… cool?
Bart+Lisa: No.
Marge: Am I cool, kids?
Bart+Lisa: No.
Marge: Good. I’m glad. And that’s what makes me cool, not caring, right?
Bart+Lisa: No.
Marge: Well, how the hell do you be cool? I feel like we’ve tried everything here.
Homer: Wait, Marge. Maybe if you’re truly cool, you don’t need to be told you’re cool.
Bart: Well, sure you do.
Lisa: How else would you know?

 

Unjustly Obscure Albums – Vol. 4

Dead Heart Bloom, Strange Waves

“An eerily smooth assimilation of the Beatles and The Bends that seems too pleasant to be true.”
-eMusic.com

“Coming on like the ocean, ancient, enveloping, and with just a little darkness beneath.”
-Under the Radar

This band has all of three fans on Facebook, and I’m one of them. All their stuff is good.

Dead Heart Bloom – Someday Will Not Come Again
Dead Heart Bloom – Strange Waves

Google A to Z

Out of morbid inquisitiveness, I decided to see what the top Google search terms were for each letter of the alphabet (i.e. what is the first suggested result if you only type in one letter). An intriguing snapshot of the current internet zeitgeist emerged…

A – amazon
B – best buy
C – craigslist
D – dictionary
E – ebay
F – facebook
G – google
H – hotmail
I – irs
J – jet blue
K – kohls
L – lowes
M – mapquest
N – netflix
O – old navy
P – pandora
Q – quotes
R – rebecca black
S – skype
T – target
U – usps
V – verizon
W – weather
X – xbox
Y – youtube
Z – zillow

Unjustly Obscure Albums – Vol. 3

Grand National, Kicking the National Habit

The debut album by London-based duo Grand National sounds something like the Police if they’d recorded disco tunes. While the songs are pop-like in structure and layered with sweet harmonies, they are also defined by their heavy beats, looping bass riffs and hypnotic synth lines. This is dance party music for anyone who loved the 80s.

Grand National – Drink to Moving On
Grand National – Talk Amongst Yourselves

Netflix Picks: Documentary

As a cinephile with an insatiable curiosity, whenever I find myself with a free hour or two, I scan my streaming Netflix queue for a documentary to absorb. Non-fiction films seem to me a better product than most of the rubbish Hollywood churns out for the sake of entertaining the masses. While I’d never consider sitting in front of the TV to be a productive use of one’s time, documentaries at least provide us with food for thought. Here are a few gems you might want to check out the next time you’re feeling blasé:

Brother’s Keeper (1992)

This acclaimed documentary from filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky explores the odd world of the four elderly Ward brothers — illiterate farmers who have lived their entire lives in a dilapidated two-room shack. When William Ward dies in the bed he shared with his brother Delbert, the police become suspicious and arrest Delbert for murder, penetrating the isolated world that left “the boys” forgotten eccentrics for many years.

Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

A family in crisis is “captured” through home video in this searing documentary about the Friedmans, an upper-middle-class family who found their world turned upside down when father and son were charged with child molestation in 1987. The media inundated the airwaves with coverage of the alleged crime, but some of the best footage — seen here publicly for the first time — was shot by the Friedman family members themselves.

Cocaine Cowboys (2006)

This penetrating documentary from director Billy Corben pulls out all the stops to explore the many dimensions of Miami’s cocaine-trafficking boom of the 1980s, as told by the smugglers, cops and average citizens who were there. The film is an unflinching study of Miami’s most notorious and lethal vice — from how the drug was moved and its financial impact on the city to the havoc and violence that followed in its wake.

Collapse (2009)

In an avant-garde soliloquy, investigative journalist Michael Ruppert details his unnerving theories about the inexorable link between energy depletion and the collapse of the economic system that supports the entire industrial world. Helmed by filmmaker Chris Smith (American Movie), Ruppert’s monologue explains how the lies and political propaganda fed to Americans by big business will eventually lead to human extinction.

Touching the Void (2003)

Mixing interviews with dramatic re-enactments of the event, this gripping docudrama retells the mountaineering trek gone awry of Simon Yates (Nicholas Aaron) and Joe Simpson (Brendan Mackey), who falls and breaks his leg while climbing in the Andes. Yates, who’s tethered to him, attempts to lower him to safety but fails, forcing him to make a pivotal decision that may or may not save both of their lives. The question is, was it the right one?

Unjustly Obscure Albums – Vol. 2


Zeus – Say Us

“Zeus doesn’t have a dedicated lead singer; songwriters Mike O’’Brien, Carlin Nicholson, and Neil Quinn all share that role, and they switch instruments with equal frequency. The result is an album relatively devoid of patterns, since no single musician remains with one instrument long enough to repeat the same trick twice. Zeus’’ retro state of mind remains consistent, though, and the band fills Say Us with vocal harmonies, vintage guitar jangle, and riffs culled from a lifetime of classic rock fandom. It’’s part British Invasion throwback and part 21st century indie rock, with a hint of heartland twang tying the package together.”
-All Music Guide

Zeus – Fever of the Time
Zeus – Kindergarten

Easter Sunday – Jesus’ Son

“The sun lowered itself through the roof of clouds, ignited the sea, and filled the big picture window with molten light, so that we did our dealing and dreaming in a brilliant fog.”
-Denis Johnson

Jesus’ Son is a book of short stories, some of the best I’ve read. The narrator, a young man known only as Fuckhead, possesses the drug-addled soul of a poet. As we accompany him on his journeys across 1970s America, his simple yet profound observations about the human condition affect us on a visceral level. He humorously conveys the pleasures and pains of existence in such a way that one can’t help but nod in quiet recognition of the notion that we are, all of us, borne from the same seed.

The 1999 movie starring Billy Crudup, as FH, and Jack Black, as a spastic emergency room orderly named Georgie, is also an underrated gem.