Saturday, July 21, 2012
Staring forward into the light on Friday night, I wondered about being cool, and how long the illusion holds. Almost all of the coolest things on the planet eventually lose their cachet and become hopelessly unhip.
Eric Clapton used to be a guitar god, then one day he recorded a lounge-lizard version of "Layla" and became an old man. Michael Jackson was cool until Nirvana released Nevermind and kicked MJ from his perch atop the music charts. MySpace was cool (unlike Facebook, which has never been cool), but now no one's on MySpace, it's a digital ghost town much like Google+, and no amount of gussying up will bring MySpace back into the realm of cool. Liz Phair was cool, and a critic's darling, when she released Exile in Guyville. Now she's a very meh songwriter who stooped so low she let The Matrix produce her tracks. The CD sold well but Phair became an older version of Avril Lavigne. Not cool.
(There are a few exceptions. Neil Young remain relevant; ergo, he's still cool at age 66. Part of that may be that Young has never really tried to be cool. He plays and warbles; you either take it or leave it and he doesn't seem to care either way.)
I have friends in their 50s who are cool and friends in their 20s who will never be cool, no matter how many trends they follow. It's not an age thing so much as an issue of awareness and currency. Many of my peers stopped listening to new music around 1990. To them, everything being released today is just noise — and once you close your ears to new things, you're more likely to stop keeping up with pop culture, and eventually life is just one big memory. Nothing new happens except for keeping track of the grandkids and posting increasingly inane updates on Facebook.
The chatty badass rondavis is cool. Not as cool as leopard slugs having sex, of course, but that's a tall hurdle to clear. Good enough to say that rondavis isn't going to be snapping his fingers to the hits of the '90s and thinking those songs are still hip. That would leave him feeling dead and gone, and he's not there — not yet, at least. That won't happen for another 12 months or so.
Me? I've never been cool, despite my close personal relationship with rondavis. I used to hate the idea of being square, but nowadays I don't mind at all. I'm a goob; I like to read books and watch chick flicks and rom-coms. I'm a fraud; for all my professed love of politics, I couldn't care less about the process or the outcome. I'm uncool in the important ways; I have no need to stay aware of every new TV show, every piece of new music, every trend and meme introduced by the hiparazzi.
I am cool in ways that mean nothing to the trendanistas. I can recite poetry. I can cook circles around almost anyone I know. I put down the toilet seat after I pee. Ersatz coolniks will snicker and call me an old man. It's OK. I've been called much worse by far better people.
I looked into the bright light Friday night and saw a future of quiet, growing confidence. I've never been more comfortable in my skin. Sure, it would have been nice to stay up all night this week and catch the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. But seriously, who cares? Things like that come and go with frightening rapidity. They don't resonate. Ultimately, they don't matter.
(Plus, it's hard to maintain excitement for a film that will forever be known as the shooting massacre movie. Things like that have a way of bringing down the hype.)
What matters most these days is the long view — aligning myself with people I want to know for the rest of my life, and writing off others who can do little more than flit from person to person and place to place. If they focused just a little they would see how quickly time is rushing past us, and how vital it is to have some solid ground under our fleet feet.
Maybe they don't want to accept that fact. Maybe they're afraid to face themselves and the superficial nature of their lives (the people aren't superficial — they're whip-smart and deep — but their lives are, and they deserve better). I guess I don't blame them. It's easy to put on a mask of chuckles and skin-deep good times, while the feeling of soul-sucking inner hopelessness causes them to burn out in a blaze of outward nonchalance. That's what rondavis has done for most of his life — though it's catching up to him, and fast.
Ron, meanwhile, will focus on what's important: taking care of myself and being as kind as possible to the handful of people in my life worth loving — showing them by example that friendship is a lifelong commitment and not a passing fancy or trend, hoping — but not expecting — that the message is honestly embraced. That would be nice.
That feels like the cool thing to do.