Well, I may not be a young man, but I have headed West. My husband and I are in Los Angeles to attend the 90th birthday celebration concert for none other than Willie Nelson. How cool is that! And the best excuse ever for missing my April 30th deadline for posting a new essay.
So rather than leave a blank page, I’m reposting an essay first published in March 2014. (OMG, has it really been that long!) Not coincidentally, it happens to deal with “coolness” and singer-songwriters.
Uncool Is the New Cool
I was at a gathering the other day when I overheard a remark that caused me to commit an impulsive act. I shot out of my chair, ran over to a perfect stranger, and delivered a huge bear hug.
This very large man, who could have been Tony Soprano’s younger brother, was engaged in a conversation about popular music. His female companion, pointing a finger, had said in a mocking tone, “Don’t ask his opinion. He likes Barry Manilow.”
“You like Barry Manilow?” I repeated as I hugged him. “I love Barry Manilow. I have always loved Barry Manilow.”
There! It was out in the open. Finally, after all this time. The relief was enormous, and completely overshadowed the thirty-five years of derision, and the fact that we were now probably regarded as the two least-cool people in the room. Did I care?
Back in the seventies and eighties, rock ruled. You were supposed to like the Foo Fighters and Guns and Roses. If you were young, and a Barry Manilow fan, you kept it to yourself. That is, if you wanted to appear cool. Confessing that you liked his sincere ballads instead of angry lyrics condemned you to the purgatory of the terminally un-hip.
Among the uber-cool, Barry was regarded as a Las Vegas performer, a creator of songs to be played on elevators, and someone who sang to your mother. Does it get any worse than that?
But come on, people. It’s time to own up. How many of you, like me, sang along to “Mandy” at the top of your lungs, in the privacy of your car? Or “Copa Cabana” in your shower?
And as long as we’re on the subject, let me step out of the closet completely and confess to also liking ABBA (I dare you to resist dancing), The Carpenters (I chose one of theirs as my wedding song), and Kenny Rogers (“Lucille” was such a bitch!).
So, who determines what’s cool? Who’s the decider? Not just in music, but in all things?
Is it the “Meh” list in the New York Times Sunday Magazine? Personally, I don’t think that’s cool at all. I think the list itself is the epitome of “Meh.” And it certainly isn’t cool that the print’s so small! (For those of you not acquainted with “Meh,” it’s a lot like “Feh.”)
Looking back over the years, you realize that what’s cool is nothing more than a fad. Whether it was poodle skirts, James Dean, Mustang convertibles, or discos, every decade had its own coolness standards.
A membership in the Playboy Club was once considered cool. (How lame was that?) Being a Playboy bunny? I’m not sure that was ever cool. (Well, maybe.)
Gold chains on men were cool. So was Jennifer Aniston’s haircut. How about wearing sunglasses indoors? Remember man-bags?
The list goes on. Icons of hip are forever changing.
I wonder, do we finally outgrow the need to be cool, or, as we age, does coolness switch gears from conformity to being your own person? I sincerely hope so because I looked awful in a poodle skirt.
Besides, being cool is exhausting. I’m happy to skip right over all the information about what’s “trending.” Last year’s handbag will do just fine, and I’ll wait until the hot new restaurant cools down before making my scene. That is, if it lasts long enough.
I’m just happy that I know how to program the GPS in my car, and that I can text my grandkids. I think that’s pretty cool!
And as for Barry Manilow? I recently read somewhere that he was #1 on a list of “10 Pop Artists for the Terminally Uncool,” beating out the likes of Celine Dion and Cher. Way to go, Barry. As the song says, “Looks like we’ve made it!”
I’m proud to be uncool with you. I love you, Barry Manilow.