Friday, May 11, 2012

Why I Will Never Be Cool

Tennessee Ernie Ford

I was not a popular child. That's the only real explanation I can come up with for my musical tastes. I liked Madonna as a child, and Oingo Boingo, but by fifth grade I didn't even know which New Kid on the Block was which. In junior high, I pretended to like Boyz 2 Men, but realistically, I spent most of my time at home, where my mother's boyfriend was playing his Johnny Horton records.

Thus an unusual ear was formed. Most popular music slid right off it, but a song like Bobbie Gentry's “Ode to Billie Joe” had me mesmerized for days. The positive effect of this is that I can out-hipster the hipsters. I dug into the history of popular music with idiosyncratic and insatiable appetite. There's always something new out there to find, you just have to hear it at the right time. I listened to Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen and the fucking Carter family and Dylan and Joni Mitchell. But the list doesn't stop there. Because there's John Denver too, and Glenn Campbell and Conway Twitty and Vera Lynn and everybody you wouldn't be caught dead listening to.

This is why I will never be cool.

Coolness is primarily humanist in perspective, which is to say it has to do with canon-making. It's cool to like old music so long as it's not music your grandmother liked. She was never hip enough to dig Chuck Berry.

I don't care if my grandmother liked it. I don't care if nobody but my grandmother liked it. I will listen to blues, to funk, to country hits that they sell on tv, to folk rock, to novelty music. I will listen to Harry Chapin singing about the “wild man wizard” inside of him when he gets high. And not for the pleasure of being different, because I mainly hide these tastes like leprosy.

With all that said? Led Zeppelin still sucks. I guess it must be music for cool people.

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