It seems to me that we as a human race are always reaching for that ever auspicious goal of being “cool.” The fact of the matter is that everybody wants to be cool, though if you ask me, not everyone is sure what exactly being cool is.
So who is the judge of cool? Perhaps the geeks can recognize cool because they are so aware of what they are not. Then again, it could be those who strut about wearing their cool clothes, talk in their cool language and try to stay ahead of the trends.
The jury is still out, but most can agree that those who are comfortable in their own skin tend to come out on top. Those who constantly mimic others in desperate efforts to achieve that coveted title usually fall short.
Music is much the same way. Everybody th’ink’s they know what is hip at the time and try to play to that vibe. Record company A&R men, as well as executives, make a good deal of money trying to play this game, but the outcome is always the same. The plain fact of the matter is that trying to come up with a new product or idea that is cool is the very thing that prevents it from ever becoming so.
This theory can be applied to things outside of music, like baseball. Take a guy like Joe McEwing, former utility infielder for the New York Mets. He was one of the most popular players on the team for several years in the opinion of both the fans and his teammates. This was not because he hit 30 home runs a year or could perform magical plays in the field, which he could not. The truth is that Joe McEwing was cool because no matter what he did, he always tried his damned hardest to be a good player and a good teammate, and everybody could appreciate that.
The very same can be said for music. Artists, like Ashlee Simpson, are not cool because everything they do and every move they make has been done before and is repackaged and remarketed to reach the “youth of America.” On the other hand, artists like Ryan Adams, Spoon and Drive by Truckers are always cool for a few reasons. They understand their place in the great music cosmos and they do things their own way. They are not held back by the barriers of major label pressure. Musicians who appear at times unpolished, lazy or standoffish are always cool because they apply their craft without seeming to be overzealous about it.
Whole movements can effectively be classified as cool or not cool. Take for example the emo movement, which of course was started as an artier offshoot of hardcore punk. In its early stages, one could theorize that emo was cool, back when bands like Rites of Spring, Fugazi and Sunny Day Real Estate were the sound of the day. About a dozen years later, the movement has grown old and stale, with every new band sounding like ones that came before.
Britt Daniels, front man for the band Spoon once asked the question, “What is emo, and how come all of the emo bands claim that they’re not emo?” Indeed, it has become clich? for bands of this subgenre and their fans to try and start separating themselves from the rest of the movement because it has simply become uncool to be a member of this group. What was once vibrant and creative has been overdone, played out and boring.
So once the whole saga has been revealed and studied, can we definitively say what is cool in music? Not at all. What we can theorize is that artists who do not pander to the masses and can take themselves at face value will always be cool. The posers who dream of being on the cutting edge, but try to make it the easy way, will never quite get there.