Thursday, September 09, 2010

Dearth of the Cool

Gorilla Bananas has catalogued the disappointing career of sunny Swede Ulrika Jonsson. I shuddered - not because I've met Ms Jonsson, but because she cost me my fleeting Cool.

The quest for Cool is futile. Like Celticity, you either have it or you have not. We Welsh are effortless Celts.

Despite living only a few miles from the English and even having a lot of them all over the place back home, we remain relaxed in our sexual license, enthusiasm for herbs, proliferation of dark-haired plump women and speaking of an Xtreme language ("So, you change the endings of your words, do you? Well, we change the endings, middle and beginnings. Ha! let's see your dictionary help you now, Herr learner?").

Our Scotch cousins try too hard, what with the skirling, man-skirts and sheep guts. That work-ethic marks them out as Calvin's Krauts. They even grow kale, although health statistics suggest they don't eat it.

So to Cool. Like the joy of drink, it's easier to describe than to define. If we take the important stuff:

  • Jazz - yes; jazz fans - no.
  • World music - yes; your own folk music - no.
  • Unthinking Left - yes; any sort of Right - no.
  • Tea is cool; coffee is for those who can't cope.

I was once in the happy position of having Cool thrust upon me. On a weekend in London I ambled into HMV on Oxford St to buy some t-shirts. It was uncool to buy records there - that's what small shops in Soho are for. The HMV staff were nonetheless fairly cool, belonging as they did loosely to the class of what Americans call "record-store clerks".

Thrumming through the racks of the usual Pop Art sludge and '68 slogans, I struck medium-sized gold. It was a promotional t-shirt for the "What a Wonderful World" duet by Nick Cave and Shane MacGowan.

It portrayed the two crooners sitting side-by-side and black & white in a public house, arms across one another's shoulders, cradling cigs and glasses of some refreshment.

It was perfect. The Cave/MacGowan version is my favourite song, the artwork was tasteful without being primly minimalist, and a master-stroke had printed all of this on an off-white background - the colour that all credible t-shirts aspire to. And it was the last one in the shop. Indeed, I've never seen one anywhere else, and it remains my most cherished non-human possession.

Elated, I picked up another t-shirt and headed for the till. Record-Store Clerk #1 took one look at Wonderful World and gave me an almost-approving glance. He showed my purchase to the smoky Berlin cadaver at the neighbouring till. Her lip flickered. Indie Cool beckoned.

I saw myself, a few weeks later, deconstructing and rerolling unfiltered Camels in the editorial office/fuckbox of a lower-case fanzine in West Hampstead, muttering "Yeah, but when I say Beefheart I'm thinking Snakefinger" and filing down tenor sax reeds with a straight razor. I'd even pass off my unpalatable right-wing views with a shrugged "Ask Joey Ramone".

It would hardly be worth buying any pants, given the risk of friction burns from having them wrenched off by the rhythm guitarists of Japanese all-girl bands. Possibly twins.

Then #1 came to my second t-shirt. Anything tied to a mainstream television comedy show might have passed through the Irony Mesh, but the self-consciously surreal Reeves & Mortimer meant the instant Death of Cool. On reflection, I ought to have received some credit for audacity in presenting The Clerks not with Vic'n'Bob themselves, but rather their gormless "Ulrika-ka-ka-ka" sidekick, but there's no right of appeal in the Court of Cool.

Mind you, that wasn't my worst encounter with record-store clerks. There's a hardcore faction camped out at Tower Records in Tel Aviv. I rather like Israeli pop music of the 1950s and decided to buy a couple of compilation CDs while on holiday in the White City.

"You're buying this?!" barked the Clerk, brandishing "Our Tiny Country" like a Manx passport. "It's for my Dad," I mumbled, thereby slandering a man who thought music took a wrong turn when it spurned Skiffle for "that Presley boy and his drums". I thought of grabbing some last-minute Aviv Geffen, but rightly decided it would only make matters worse.

I'm glad I've now moved into the post-Cool phase of life. I've two children, a mortgage, car, career, standing orders, and a wife to run it all. I'm expected to dance badly at weddings, and look forward to embarrassing my daughter at school and in all social settings. I visit National Trust properties and enjoy war films in which our side wins. I find Felicity Kendall attractive.

All I have to do before dying is avoid humorous clothing (hats, Simpsons socks, "kipper" ties) and being jail-baited, and Paradise should beckon. Unless the gates are manned by a Recording Clerk Angel, rooting through my après-vinyl purchases with a beady, kohl-framed eye.


Gorilla Bananas said...

You've really got a t-shirt with Ulrika on it? I think you ought to get it valued by an expert, it's like having stamp with the Queen's head missing. As for the clerks, I would deliberately buy Max Bygraves albums and eyeball them with a big gorilla stare.

Gareth Williams said...

I hate to break it to you, Boyo, but the hat faux pas is one that already seems to have been committed - we even have photographic evidence (see previous page's sidebar). I'd even describe it as your signature garment. But cool is as cool does as Nain used to say whilst smoking a Silk Cut without inhaling.

Francis Sedgemore said...

Effortless Celts indeed!

Oes gafr eto? Sorry, but the Welsh goat is now virtually extinct, owing to the vast numbers of the beasts sacrificed as part of our barbaric eisteddfod rituals. A sick, sick nation is the Wales: so far from G-d, and far too bleedin' close to England.

Brit said...

I once purchased a Simply Red best-of from WH Smiths, using a voucher, and I didn't even say "It's for Mother's Day".

How does that rate in the cool/not cool stakes, would you say?

Ian Plenderleith said...

Excellent post - we've all been there, shrinking beneath the worldess glower of the hip priests. The bravest thing I ever did as a teenager was to go into Sanctuary Records - Lincoln's token cramped, smokey, indie-vinyl emporium where only the leather-jacketed could linger post-purchase - and bought a copy of McCartney 2. I think it was 10p cheaper than in Littlewoods, and in any case I had nothing to lose in terms of cool - I was wearing a navy blue snorkel parka.

Ian Plenderleith said...

I meant to say 'wordless', not 'worldess', but I quite like the latter too.

No Good Boyo said...

The Ulrika number is long gone, GB, just like I'm convinced I let an Edward VIII threepence slip through my fingers years ago.

Gaw, mun, that was part of a dressing-up game with Arianrhod, based on the Red Army driving the Emir of Bokhara into Afghanistan in 1920. I didn't do it to impress the typing pool. By the way, I have an idea for a post for the Dabbler, and ought to finish it at work tomorrow.

You're right, Francis. I'm surprised the world doesn't boycott us. We're about the same size as Israel, after all.

Brit, it's amazing what you can get away with in WH Smiths, it's some sort of Tangiers of the retail world. Something to do with the strange-smelling carpet cleaner they use. As for cool/uncool, consider yourself a William Burroughs figure, annihilating all rational through.

Praise indeed from il miglior fabbro, Pop, especially as you are a vinyl maven. It also brings back an earlier humiliation at the hands of record-sellers, which I'll link to for the benefit of more recent chums:

xerxes said...

I'm baffled by celticity, is it something you want, like sex appeal? Or is it more like flu? And don't give us (Sir) Tom Jones, it won't help.

No Good Boyo said...

Celticity is something we Welsh inherit, the Scotch aspire to and the Irish fight over.

English undergraduates in my youth used to claim Celticity, along the lines of "Er, my grandmother was sort of half-Irish, I think", while sipping uncertain pints of Guinness. They meant some gleeful Corkmen dismembered their Ascendancy uncle and built a collection-box from his bones.

Engagement Ring said...

I love this post. I don't think anyone, no matter how cool they are, hasn't been in this position. I'm American and I like to think of myself as cool, but I still do some nerdy ass things most of the time. But sometimes the nerdiest things can be the coolest. For instance, I went into a Tower Records some years ago and unapologetically searched for a Tom Jones album. I had recently become enough of a fan that I wanted to hear his music as much as possible. The store clerk laughed, but had a good time finding awesome albums for me. Coolness be damned, TJ is king!

Gyppo Byard said...

You remind me at the end there of the Mitchell and Webb sketch "This film has been classified 32A, containing scenes of a grown up nature..."

Anonymous said...

I can drink tea and coffee, although not at the same time.

Alicia C said...

"post-Cool phase of life" - right on - cool was highly overrated

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