Posts Tagged ‘hip’

This morning I stumbled upon The Catalog of Cool, a book published in 1982 and purchased around the same time. It was tucked away in a low corner of a bookcase, long forgotten. Edited by Gene Sculatti, a contributor to Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970’s, The Catalog of Cool gives us…well, let’s hear it straight from the editor’s typewriter.

WHAT IS COOL?

Elvis was cool, but so is Elvis Costello. Sinatra was cool, but so is Blondie. Naked City was cool, but so is Dallas. Lolita was cool, but so is The Godfather.

True cool is eternal. Neither fad nor fashion, trend nor taste, the concept links past and present with a snap of the fingers. Zap! Gillespie and Dylan. Toreador pants…and toreador pants. Cool is the essence of style – daring, personal, rare. Yet, in a world of ever-encroaching uncool, it has become harder and harder to distinguish the real thing.

The Catalog of Cool stands as your ultimate guide, leading you to those rare and enduring items, the coolest of the cool.

The book uses a variety of far-out fonts and visual tricks to draw in the reader, including lots of photos and illustrations. It’s been 30 years since this hopeful bible of hip was released. I thought it would be interesting to leaf through and see how well the coolitude of some of the mod, rad and groovy stuff listed within this time capsule has stood the test of time. Or at least my test of time. I know, I know. Cool is in the eye of the individual, but for now I’m going to ignore that inconvenient fact and look at this through my very individualized lens. Maybe you don’t think that’s cool. No problem. I’m cool with that.

After some introductory notes and history the book is divided into eight chapters: Sounds, Screen, Ink, Threads, Good Looks, Rest ‘N’ Rec, Tube, and Wheels. There’s plenty of juice in each, but I’m not here to rehash everything. Instead, let’s focus on four chapters: Sounds, Screen, Ink, Threads. Perhaps we’ll revisit the others at a future date, but for now let’s go mining for those sparkly diamonds and dull zirconias.

Sounds
– Much to his eternal credit or damnation, Sculatti starts with Abba which he refers to as “polar pop.” It’s a bold move to proclaim Abba cool back in 1982, so props for his fearlessness.
– He includes The Flamingos based solely upon their cover of “I Only Have Eyes for You” which he says “sounds like a transmission from outer space.” Lots of people like the song (including me), but I wonder if including a one-hit wonder group would compel a current version of this book to include Semisonic or Blind Melon. God, I hope not.
– He mentions The Rolling Stones with the caveat “dead from the neck down since ’67.” I would’ve phrased it exactly the opposite while pushing the date forward to 1972 or so.
- I had never heard of Swamp Dogg before buying this book and, quite frankly, I had forgotten all about him until a minute ago. But anyone who has the cojones to write and record a song titled “California is Drowning and I Live by the River” shortly after the release of “London Calling” deserves some sort of acknowledgement. And bless his soul, he’s still around doing that thing he does. Whatever that is.
– All credibility would’ve been lost had The Velvet Underground gone unmentioned. Thankfully they didn’t, so now we can move forward.

Screen
An entire essay is devoted to James Bond and, with tepid apologies to Roger Moore, Bond’s screen coolness is laid at the Scottish feet of Sean Connery. There’s a bit of bemoaning that the world has changed too much to properly continue with the Bond franchise (and remember, this was 1982), so the idea was floated that 007 should slide gently into retirement, buy a home in Jamaica, consider writing a book and spark up a spliff. And until Daniel Craig came along, that would’ve been the right decision.

The film choices are, as you might expect, eclectic. Any list of films which includes Bringing Up Baby, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Dirty Harry and Motel Hell is worth note. However, what really jumps out is 1972’s Prime Cut which is described as “Totally flipsville!” Yeah, that’s certainly one way to put it. Makes me all the more proud I had my moment with Lee Marvin.

Ink
Since writing about writing takes a lot of writing this is the longest chapter. The usual suspects dot the list of great cool books, although the omission of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is curious. It’s not the greatest book ever written, not by any stretch of the imagination. But when the editor defines cool as “the fullest expression of what it is that’s different or unique about a person” it’s hard to see how Hunter Thompson skipped past his radar. Yet Ozzie Nelson’s 1977 autobiography Ozzie made the list. Go figure.

It can’t be that Thompson was slighted for drug use. The list contains plenty of books either written by or featuring characters who lived in a constant drug-induced haze. Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, Mine Enemy Grows Older and Red Dirt Marijuana among them. I don’t want to speculate, but I will anyway. I imagine it’s jealousy. They both worked for Rolling Stone around the same time and Thompson, for all his boorish behavior, was far better known than Gene Sculatti. Maybe excluding him was a small knife to the ribs, a “this is what I really think of you, Mr. Gonzo” thing. Perhaps it gave Sculatti a measure of professional revenge. But all these years later it is Thompson’s works which remain in print while magnum opuses like The Catalog of Cool can only be found by unlikely accident. If the intent was to diminish Thompson it didn’t work out too well. The lesson is clear, boys and girls. Nothing good ever comes from jealousy.

This chapter also contains essays on Sci-Fi, the coolest PI’s and magazines. One thing which particularly caught my eye was a magazine called Sleazoid Express. How great is that? Sleazoid Express. The name hints at a certain type of content, but it’s not exactly what you might imagine (although it’s close). The thrust was analysis and reviews of those gritty movies popular around the Times Square area. Not porn, rather early slasher and gore films. Wizard of Gore, Africa Blood and Guts, Revenge of the Shogun Women, films like that. Whatever. I just think the magazine’s name was pretty awesome and deserved mention.

Threads
Not surprisingly this is the funniest chapter in the book simply because today’s fashion always looks hilarious tomorrow. From mini dresses with a Campbell soup label print to clip-on bow ties to sack dresses to zoot suits to tab collar shirts there’s a rib-tickler in here for everyone. Hairstyles are also discussed. I suppose I could run through some of those beauties too, but it’s easy enough (and leads to more immediate laughter) to scout them down on your own. It’s not difficult. Just find any ‘hip’ film or music video made more than five minutes ago.

I’d continue on but I’m suddenly possessed by a desire to don shades, slip into my harness boots, learn to snap my fingers both on my right and left hand, and go hang out on a street corner looking all disinterested. You’re welcome to join me. That is, if you feel cool. Well do you feel cool, punk?

You can point to the post-war prosperity and social changes wrought more than a half a century ago, when the future glistened with optimism unlike any we’d ever experienced. Industry and invention streamlined everyday tasks allowing people to concern themselves with more conceptual matters, matters not tied to the business of daily survival. New attitudes were born, attitudes whose values were deeply rooted in perception and individuality. The cultural shift was on, man. Living a good life was still noble, but a growing segment of folks felt living a cool life held equal validity. The concept of cool, of being considered cool, matured and exploded into the societal commons.

Soon people from all walks of life strove to be cool. They wanted others to think, “Man, that is one hip cat. I want to be that awesome!” Many would argue coolness is innate; it’s not something you can manufacture. There’s some truth to that, but the fact remains many people carefully cultivate their image to highlight specific cool attributes. Maybe it’s through wardrobe, how they dress. Maybe it’s by the car they drive. Some project it through the books they read and the music they listen to. Perhaps it’s via a professed love of cinema. (The artsy stuff with subtitles and abstract imagery and soundtracks by Mahler, not low-brow trifles starring Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler. These film people are serious about it, dammit.)

We promote personal coolness through behaviors, both overt and subtle. Through the way we walk, the tone of our voice, the vocabulary we use. It can be reflected by our scope of knowledge or worldly understanding of the human condition. We don’t specifically label these things as “cool”, but let’s be honest, they’re partly intended to add to our mystique. Whether you’re a cool cat or hipster, rad or groovy, wicked or bitchin’, fly or hip, it all comes down to the same thing: A desire to accurately tout our unique brand of coolitude.

Cool is also constantly morphing and very fragile. It doesn’t take much to torpedo it. Quite often shifts in society mean the cool of yesterday becomes the dorkdum of today. Certain people make it a point to dismantle the coolness of others as a way to demonstrate their own coolness, a pretty ironic approach. If you are one of those folks I’m going to save you the effort of hijacking whatever cool currency I’ve banked by confessing a few guilty pleasures which, by their very nature, blast my cool armada out of the water.

Abba – I like Abba. There, I said it. For someone who falls decidedly into the rock and roll camp with all its pounding beats, scorching guitars, and attitude requirements, admitting even a slight fondness for this Swedish foursome could get my R&R club membership revoked. I don’t care. I thoroughly dig S.O.S. and Take a Chance on Me. I sing along to Fernando. I’ve seen and enjoyed both the Broadway production and film version of Mamma Mia. And I believe Dancing Queen is about as perfect a pop hit as has been recorded in the past 50 years.

SpongeBob Squarepants – The main character has the word “square” imbedded in his name, fer chrissakes. That alone kills the any chance of coolness as surely as authentic English cuisine kills any chance of satisfying hunger. Now I realize in some circles there’s a certain cache attached to liking SpongeBob. To these folks it demonstrates your willingness to buck convention, to be your own person. It says you get it. If getting it means you derive tremendous pleasure from a cartoon aimed at five year olds then I guess I “get it.” I’m quite certain if asked during a job interview how you spend your free time and you answered, “Watching 22 uncut episodes of SpongeBob without taking a break,” your chances of getting the job would be seriously hampered. Unless that job was as a fry cook at The Krusty Krab.

Reading the Encyclopedia – This long-standing personal pastime may seem fine, but it damages my coolness quotient in a few ways. First it’s important to understand I’m not talking about Britannica. Britannica might earn me a pass. No, I’m talking about the World Book Encyclopedia. Additionally, I’m not talking about a recent edition of World Book, I’m talking about the 1972 one. This might also be fine, and even something to encourage, if it were 1973 and I were 11 years old. But it’s not 1973 and I’m not 11. Yet I love to pull out these dusty volumes and leaf through abbreviated articles aimed at grade schoolers, articles so out dated that the Oregon section describes current homesteading opportunities available for those with a covered wagon, a few tin pots and pans, and a crazy dream. I can’t even say this multi-volume set was passed down over the decades like a sacred family heirloom. It was actually sought out and purchased on eBay seven or eight years ago. So while the cool folks fill their reading time with hip, intelligent magazines, novels and works of scholarly non-fiction, I sit marveling at faded photos of old men picking oranges in a Florida grove and scanning articles about fancy new computers which fill rooms as large as any college field house. Excuse me while I get my pocket protector.

Of course we all know real coolness comes from being true to oneself. You create your own cool aura. Always remember nothing and no one can diminish this power. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to go catch up on The Lawrence Welk Show marathon I taped over the weekend. And a one and a two…

This past weekend I finally took the plunge into the world of multi-functional handheld devices. No, I didn’t get a pen that doubles as a laser pointer. Nor did I purchase a plastic egg containing the wildly versatile Silly Putty. (It stretches! It bounces! It copies ink off newspapers!) As much fun as those things are, I ventured in a different direction, plunging headfirst into 2011 with an iPhone4. What an amazing device! Let me tell you, there’s nothing like a smart phone to make a person feel dumb.

tricky little devil

Never mind the research and soul searching preceding the purchase. The choices and variety of features available on these suckers are such that DaVinci would’ve said, “I’m outta here.” Call me crazy, but I’ve always believed a cell phone’s main purpose in life was to be a cell phone. Oh sure friends and family have continually preached otherwise as they crouched over their own little rectangular devils providing updates on everything from the latest adventures of Pippa to the mixed reviews for that Indian restaurant in town. They’d give me those superior glances as they snapped a photo and boasted seconds later it was now online. When I’d dare ask, “How’d the Mets do this afternoon?” they’d chortle before holding their phone two inches from my face where the game’s box score glowed like the devil’s playpen. I knew what they thought. “That poor dinosaur. By the time he finds out what’s going on in the world it’s already old news. He’s not even so 5 minutes ago; he’s so 5 years ago.” Their eyes revealed pity not unlike one gives a misguided child. Still I stuck firm to my belief that a phone is a phone is a phone.

Sadly, regardless of what I believe, the world pushes forward. And I suppose there’s a sort of value in keeping up with the various doings of Pippa and local Indian food. So rather than keep my dinosaur status, rather than continuing to be a lone Cro-Magnon among a community of post modern Homo sapiens, I caved. (Cro-Magnon. Caved. Ha! Comedy gold, I tell ya!)

What I’ve discovered goes far beyond any amazing technological advancements and into something far deeper. Like with other traumatic life events the new ownership of a smart phone brings with it a whole set of psychological stages its owner must pass through to become a fully realized member of the “connected society”.

Stage 1:  Gleeful Regret – This stage is categorized by an intense adrenaline rush when you tell the salesperson you want to buy a smart phone. You ask questions, get answers, and hammer out the details before signing the agreement in blood. The salesperson disappears and emerges a few moments later holding a very sleek box. Your pulse quickens. They open the box and remove the phone, then hold it up for you to see, much like one would a newborn. Although you don’t smoke you’re overcome with an urge to pass out cigars. You’re in full “Gleeful” mode.

The mood shifts. They begin doing a variety of furtive tasks to the phone – plugging and unplugging it into a mysterious, unseen doohickey behind the counter, tapping a keyboard with speed not unlike The Flash on crystal meth, all the while looking as serious as Dick Cheney at a Halliburton shareholder meeting. No one dares speak. During this forced silence you remember the old you, the you of yesterday, and wonder when and why you crossed that invisible line from “a cell phone is only a phone” to “this mini-computer also has a phone”. You begin to rethink the cost, not only of the phone, but of your newly inflated monthly bill. You stare at that thing being programmed not 3 feet away and can’t imagine how it will ever fit in your pocket. A thin line of sweat breaks out across your brow as you recall all the times you’ve dropped your current phone and it bounced like a rogue basketball across a busy street. My god, what have you done? I’ll tell you what you’ve done. You’ve embraced “Regret”.

Stage 2:  Nervous Anticipation – You regroup and conquer the bout of regret long enough to leave the store and head home, your nifty new purchase safely tucked away in a stylish bag. As you merge onto the highway you notice the other drivers are driving much more recklessly than they did a mere hour ago. You think, “Why is that trucker in the 18 wheeler riding my bumper? Doesn’t he know I have precious cargo aboard?” You wish for a yellow iPhone on Board sign to plaster on the rear window, but it’s not to be. Instead you proceed with the overcompensating deliberation of someone carrying a lead beaker of plutonium across a floor of marbles. Or like that old man across the street backing out of his driveway.

Stage 3:  Joyful Celebration – You’re home, you’re safe! You carefully place the bag on the table, remove and open the box, and take out the new addition. It’s time to dance the Dance of Joy! Then 30 seconds later…

Stage 4:  Stressful Confusion – Well, there it sits. The questions come like an Uzi emptying itself into your brain. “How did they say to turn it on? Why are keyboards popping up for no reason? How do I make a call? This thing does make phone calls, right?? How come my teenage daughter works the screen like Monet worked a canvas, yet I can’t figure out the Weather app? And why does she tell me to stop tapping the screen with my fingernail?” Then, “Okay, now I need a keyboard. How did I do that before? I’m swiping my finger across the screen and all I get are trails of finger oil.” Pause. “Hmmm, I wonder how far I can throw this.” You quickly realize the best course of action during Stage 4 is a stiff drink.

Stage 5:  Baby Steps – Alright, a contact was added! You begin thinking that in your excitement you’re tapping the screen with too much vigor. After all, how durable is this thing really? If a light touch makes things pop up, expand, close, move and do somersaults how sturdy can it be? It’s late and it’s all too much to process. You decide to call it a day and lock your precious in a strongbox for the night.

gossip girl

Stage 6:  Breakthrough! – A new day, a new beginning! Refreshed, it all becomes clear. A few downloaded apps later, aided by a more thorough peek at the User’s Guide, and you’re sailing! What a variety of important goodies literally at your fingertips! Oooo look, an app that acts like a cigarette lighter. That’s cool!  Oooo look, an app that makes your face contort and look like something from a funhouse mirror!  Oooo look, a mood finger scan!  Oooo look, Talking Tina the Giraffe!  (She’s so cute!) How did you live without this all this stuff?

Wait! What’s that noise? The mini-computer is making a strange noise!  It sounds like a…a…a ringing of some sort. Why is it ringing? Stop that! Stop ringing! Doesn’t it know Tina is talking? Doesn’t it know I’m hungry for Vindaloo Chicken?? And for goodness sakes, doesn’t it realize there’s a hot rumor abounding about Pippa in Monaco???