Recently I heard an interview on my local NPR station KERA with musician and author Ted Gioa who wrote a book called “The Birth (and death) of Cool“. He talked about trends in culture and the public’s mindset over the past few decades and how there has been a shift recently. A shift from what was generally seen as cool and desirable in the 1980′s and 1990′s to something different today. Something less about trying to live up to some unattainable goal or status and more about exuding a since of uniqueness and personal style. Gioa spoke about the shift in marketing, and how the new generation of adults (Gen Y) will respond better to reality than to fantasy, and it really gave to cause to think about myself.
I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Jazz (with a capital ‘J’), in so many ways Jazz especially certain figures in the Jazz world exemplify what I think we all would say is cool. Miles Davis, I think is the most obvious example of this; having coined the term himself “Birth of Cool” in his 1949 Capitol Records release by the same title. There is no question that the man is cool, he set trends in music, fashion and verbage, and on numerous occasions caused me to wish I was him. Cool. I was a child of 1980′s and I remember the Nike ads featuring a “cool” shirtless Bo Jackson and the ones with Spike Lee and Michael Jordan dressed in garish Nike active wear. Their coolness sold shoes and I was sold on them just as millions of other Americans were. Even further back the fantasy and mystery of super heros created an idea or a person for people to look up to. Back them, celebrities were all beyond attractive and all had a perfect image that they portrayed to their fans. People at least wanted to believe that they were that way; something to be admired.
It seems that now, we live in the the age of the the cynical and ironic. Are you a hipster? Nerdy chic? Metrosexual? Do you wear “cool” eighties fashions and listen to Justice, or do you wear horned-rim glasses and think that Greenday are posers, or do you wear skinny ties and wish you were Donald Draper? Clothes are being dug out of the closest, musical tracks out of the archive and trends out of textbooks. Outwardly the influences of the past are everywhere, I would argue that we are in the midst of a Renaissance.
Is cool dead? I don’t know. It seems to me though, that it may be taking on a whole new meaning. I’ve read that some think the hipster sub-culture and for that matter, popular culture in general is the be-all-end-all “movement”. In that, after it reaches it’s climax (in approximately 2012 by my estimation) the world will literally implode due to the amount irony, apathy and pollution from fossil fuel burned by all the cargo ships from China bring merchandise to every Urban Outfitters in America. Okay, may be a bit of an exaggeration, but needless to say, it is fascinating how culture is changing. I’m still not completely sure where I stand on the issue but until I do I’ll sit here in my Terminator shades, drinking a martini, and listening to music from a band that you’ve probably never heard of.