I’m going to be at UCLA tonight discussing the kids today. I’ll probably say something like this:
I’m going to be at UCLA tonight discussing the kids today. I’ll probably say something like this:
Do you ever get this thing when you’re reading and you see a little squiggle that must be on your actual eyeball? The more you try to look at it, the more it sort of bounces out of your line of vision, right? The same goes for trying to define “cool.” Like “sexy” and “humor,” the more you try to define it, the more elusive it becomes.
Well fuck that. Check it out: “Sexy” is any kind of plausible allusion to sexual intercourse. Thigh-high socks and a short skirt imply it would be easy to get in there and penetrate her. Also, as was said in the intro, it’s “sexy” to exaggerate the difference between the genders. Women can grow hair longer than men, so they look hotter with long hair. They have bigger asses and thinner legs and are frailer than men, so they exaggerate all three with high-heeled shoes. Men are sexy when — ew, I can’t talk about sexy men.
Humor is simply a new way of looking at something we all take for granted. Like good art and social commentary, it takes a day-to-day concept out of context and forces you to see it in a different light. This is usually done best by depressed people because the only way they can stave off suicide is to have a quirky take on the world around them. When us non-depressed people hear this fun angle, it makes us even happier, like a normal person taking Prozac.
Have you ever read two less sexy or funny paragraphs in your life? Well, prepare for some of the least cool reading your eyes have ever smelled.
Cool began in the 1940s when teenagers were invented. Before teens, people aged 13 to 19 were simply underdeveloped adults. You have no idea how square people were back then. You’d have married couples who had been together for 40 years and never even see each other’s genitalia. Can you believe that? Isn’t it basically your genitalia at that point?
Anyway, when the WWII veterans came back from traveling the world, blowing people’s heads off all over Europe and Russia and fucking Africa(!), they got back to Brooklyn and said, “You have no idea how square you people are right now.” The vets bought motorbikes and started telling everyone to fuck off. Then in 1953, a motorcycle movie called The Wild One came out and told the world what I just told you. Two years later, Rebel Without a Cause came out and defined this new culture. They took the ex-soldier biker attitude, poured some James Dean on it and called it “teenage.” This concept was the birth of cool and it’s still very prevalent in the hipsters of today. The days of “young adult” were finally over and replaced with “Actually, fuck adults. I hate their stupid guts.” This is actually the first time the word “hipster” was used. No joke.
Teenagers had the power to do this because the baby boom provided a huge surge of population and people tend to take you seriously when you become the majority. This generation gap was not only the impetus of cool, it defined it. Whatever old people didn’t get became cool. If your dad is sketched out by negroes, you stick one of their dicks in your hand and say, “How you like me now, dad?”
The beatniks listened to negro music and even invented their own version called rock and roll (how funny does that phrase sound, by the way: “rock and roll?”). These guys were the first to realize how cool black people are and learned to harness their power to make more of it.
Across the pond, patriotic, working class kids turned their noses up at looking like shit and began dancing to negro music and wearing suits. They fought with greasers on the beaches of Normandy or something like that (JK, it was Brighton) and the whole thing was beautifully portrayed in 1973’s Quadrophenia. I grew up in Canada, where we followed British subcultures religiously. About half my friends were mods (the rest were punks), and I gotta say, I never met a mod with any kind of balls whatsoever. There’s something about teenagers dressing incredibly neatly that just screams nerd and it feels weird including them in this list.
Though drawing that mod chick did kind of give me a boner.
After the beatniks and the greasy rock and rollers you had hippies with huge bales of pubic hair eating each other out and coming up with controversial ideas, like “War is bad.” Whoa. Around this time, something really fucking weird happened. You see, young people not only love reveling in the current version of whatever cool is. They also enjoy going back a generation and redoing the previous version. In the 1970s there were truckloads of hippies but there were also TONS of greasers redoing the 1950s thing. They brought back Marlon Brando’s motorcycle jacket and put Brylcreem in their hair and perfectly simulated the damaged war vets from a quarter of a century ago. This shit is always going on, by the way. Today there are more hippies worldwide than there ever were in the 1960s. When I was a teenager you had to order green hair dye and Doctor Martens from one punk store in London. Today it’s a cinch to get all the gear you need for every subculture under the sun, no matter where you live. Shit, in Mexico City you have chaos punks fighting with emo punks because they think the latter isn’t punk enough. In my day, you’d have skinheads hanging out with fat goth chicks and anarchist peace punks and mods just because there were so few of them and the weirdoes had to stick together. Personally, I’m thrilled with the way things panned out. Fuck all that bullshit about the “commodification of youth culture.” The more the merrier. “Let a hundred flowers bloom,” as Mao would say (though in a slightly different context).
OK, sorry to go off at a tangent there. Punk is one of the weirdest accidents in the history of cool. Here’s the deal: As I just said, in the 1970s you had all these kids pretending they were back in the 1950s. Nobody did this better than Brooklyn goombahs. They styled their hair perfectly, wore sunglasses 24 hours a day, and had balls the size of watermelons. They were also some of the biggest morons in the history of youth and had that shitty, retard Brooklyn accent to really drive it home. Instead of hiding it, however, they owned the shit and pretended they wanted to be dumb. If you’re smart, you’re a fucking nerd and deserve to have your underwear pulled on. Hollywood was in Brooklyn back then, so if New York endorsed it, it became fact. 1950s movies like Grease, American Graffiti, and Lords of Flatbush were actually shot in the 1970s, and this remake of greasers became way more popular than the original greasers. Winkler continued the moronic Italian, ’50s, tough guy greaser character he did in Flatbush with the Fonz on Happy Days and “Bowzer” from a ’50s a cappella band called Sha Na Na did the same thing. When some low IQ, Queens meatheads wanted to start a band, they had no choice but to do what everyone else was doing and ride the goombah tidal wave. They called themselves the Ramones. If you weren’t a hippy in the ’70s, you were mimicking Brooklyn Italians mimicking 50s teenagers mimicking 40s war vets. As if this bizarre fashion double helix wasn’t twisted enough, the leaders of this movement (Arthur Fonzarelli, Bowzer and Joey Ramone) were middle-class Jewish kids! They were sick of having their underwear pulled by wops and were actually doing a mockery of this persona.
OK, this is where it gets even weirder: So, one of these bands, The Ramones, goes to London to show British people what it sounds like when Jewish nerds do Italian idiots do ’50s teens do ’40s war vets and everyone who hears them goes, “WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED TO MY MIND!? THIS IS THE GREATEST SHIT I’VE EVER HEARD!”
You see, instead of seeing this weird Brooklyn accident for what it is, Britain’s superior education over-analyzed it and created this huge cultural manifesto about class. The Ramones weren’t a crappy ’50s cover band. They were proletariats taking back the guitar from the man and telling the world, “You can do it too! You can do anything!” How they got that from “Hey, ho, let’s go” I will never know. New York City may have invented punk (accidentally) but Britain dressed it up and gave it a background. After The Ramones played their legendary London gig, we got the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Damned; Oi was born as a “working class protest”; and so on and so on. They really took the ball and ran with it. They still are. Amazing, eh?
DISCO, HARDCORE AND THE BIG BOOM 1980s
America was confused by Britain’s version of The Ramones, so they shaved their heads and sped up the music and ran into each other like methheads in jail. That was hardcore. Hardcore had a baby called emo. Now, at this point, subcultures went from one or two competing factions to what sociologists refer to as the “Big Boom of Cool” (I just made up that term but let’s start using it and it will become a fact). Punks and mods had been divided and subdivided into: chaos punks, anarcho punks, crusties, New Age Travellers, Nazi skins, anti-racist skins, boot boys, suede heads, rude boys, chelseas and scooter boys. When all this was going on, disco had appeared and offered girls something to do that was actually fun for a change. This collided into punk and became New Wave. That later tripped and became No Wave. It was anarchy. You couldn’t be a teenager without being some “thing.” Even nerds and losers became a thing.
It’s hard to point to the beginning of bangers. They’re just hard rockers, right? I mean, fucking Judas Priest started in 1969. However, the version we think of today — the long haired, zit-faced, stoned wastoid — really hit its stride in the ’80s. After that, the whole thing split into grindcore, thrash, prog rock, sludge, melodeath, death metal, black metal, speed metal — the list goes on and on. In a strange twist of fate, nerds recently figured out pocket protectors and military haircuts were making them an easy target and have adopted metal as their new home. This was a huge blow to the non-jock bully world and has left a lot of tough guys wondering what the fuck to do with their rage.
While cool fractioned off into more subdivisions than Christianity, black people were having block parties and playing records while talking about each other on a microphone. This became rap and basically ran cool for the entire duration of the ’80s and ’90s. Like punk, it fractioned off into IQ-related categories ranging from dumb people talking about killing people to smart people talking about people killing. The one thing that unites this group is the Four Elements of Hip Hop. They are: yelling poems about yourself, spray painting your nickname on other people’s property, spinning on your head, and playing records backwards for incredibly short periods of time.
Unlike the beatniks and the mods, this version of cool didn’t play well with other races and wouldn’t be amalgamated into the broader definition of the word until 20 years later — with hipsters.
As rap bounced along its merry way, punk got a lot less colorful and became a sloppy version of metal. Their leader killed himself and that was the end of that.
INDIE ROCK 1990s
In the center of all this hullabaloo came Lollapalooza and the zenith of indie rock. It’s tricky talking about this because “independent rock” is intertwangled throughout all of these but you couldn’t do a chronology of cool without mentioning Pavement and Sonic Youth and those stupid mechanic’s coats that has someone else’s name in an oblong.
Dance music has been a constant option throughout all these morphing definitions because girls represent 50% of the population and they don’t give a shit if Brian Baker left Minor Threat to pursue metal. Clubs like Paradise Garage in New York City were playing so much dance music and getting people so high, they changed the way the music was made. They invented garage music, which evolved into house, and then you had all that weird shit, like intelligent drum ’n’ bass and dub step and jungle and other hilarious terms British people like to get into arguments about.
Drugs may have been big with the hippies but it was mandatory with rave culture. How could you not be high? The music sucked. But you couldn’t have told us that. After sitting on a huge couch and making out on GHB for five hours and then dancing maniacally on E for another five, there was nothing else in the world but clubland. We said shit like, “Rock and roll is finally dead,” and, “Guitars are over,” with a straight face. Oops.
By the end of the ’90s, rave and grunge were wandering aimlessly around kids’ bedrooms wondering what to do with themselves. Rap was still hanging in there but the excitement of hearing Niggaz Wit Attitudes say, “Fuck the Police,” was long gone and too much R&B was making it sound like our parents’ music (and this whole thing began with saying “Fuck adults,” remember?). Electroclash tried to get on this list by being a new New Wave but was hammered back into the ground by kids that were sick of all this shit. They were born and raised in the Internet, and the whole concept of “one thing” just wasn’t cutting it anymore.
Around 2000, André 3000 from Outkast saw The Strokes play a show and shat his drawers (I was there — dude’s jaw was on the floor). He started looking into what white people were doing and decided it would be fun to join them. Then Kanye West started wearing tight jeans and black cool became amalgamated with white cool, which ended up as the word hipster. For the first time since the beatniks (or the 1940s hipsters when the term was first coined), everyone was on the same page. The Internet generation’s idea of cool includes everything on this list and much more. Girl Talk makes songs out of every song in the world; it’s totally illegal and every show he plays is totally packed. Ninjasonik takes Matt & Kim’s “Daylight” and raps over it while on tour with hardcore bands like Cerebral Ballzy. Punk rock is a huge part of hipster culture but so is rap. It’s all a big confusing mess and nobody over 30 can figure it out. Perfect.
Tight pants, track bikes and thrift store clothes seem to define the look but there has never been a version of cool that has fewer rules. A hipster is, as the dictionary says, “A fashionable young person (between 15 and 29 — fuck, that leaves me out) with an interest in contemporary alternative music (and some older shit, too).”
Of course the detractors have a lot to say. They claim hipsters are rich kids pretending to be working class (trucker hats, Pabst Blue Ribbon). They say hipsters have no political agenda and are simply patsies being duped by big corporations to owe their soul to the company cool store. If anything, hipsters are the hardest fuckers to make money off of. I mean, I did a pretty good job of it but I pulled it off by trying not to make money. I interviewed King Khan’s tit and wrote an article that was “Gloria. G-L-O-R- I-A” 3,000 times. If someone else wants to give that a whirl, go bananas.
In the meantime, the entire record industry just collapsed trying to persuade them to at least pay for something. TV, magazine, and marketing in general are next to walk the plank and the generation gap has never been wider. Have you ever seen a baby boomer try to text someone? Have you ever tried to explain Twitter to an old person? Cool was born as a way for young people to tell old people, “I don’t want to be like you.” Today they’re saying, “I don’t want 2 b like u,” and grown-ups don’t even know how to open the message. Old people react to this exactly the same way they did when Bill Haley and the Comets first sang “Rock Around the Clock”: They clench their fists and scream at the sky in frustration.
These critics have no idea how transparent their criticism is. No matter how hard they try to make it sound justified, the real beef is, “They’re young and having fun, and they make me feel old and out-of-it.” So while the so-called “hipsters” (they never call themselves that; angry, old people are the ones that resurrected the term) are out partying and getting laid and enjoying their youth, thirty-something bloggers are getting up early in the morning and typing furiously at their keyboards about “the kids today.” Ha! They accuse hipsters of being obsessed with irony, yet it’s the old person’s grumpy attitude that defines what a hipster is in the first place. How’s that for ironic?
REPRINTED FROM THE STREET BONERS BOOK
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