Even though I was a nerdy and mostly unpopular young person, I had some cool early musical tastes. At least, they were cool in a certain ways. In high school I fell in love with the movie The Hunger, and watching The Hunger I quickly developed an obesssion with the song Funtime, which was co-written by David Bowie and Iggy Pop and performed by Iggy Pop. I knew David Bowie, but I had never heard of Iggy Pop, so I went to the record store (pause here for a Gen-X Nostalgia Moment™) and I bought an Iggy Pop double album.
I was blown away by its awesomeness, but I didn't really understand for a while how cool Iggy Pop is thought to be in certain circles. Now I often listen to the WTF podcast with Marc Maron and a topic that often comes up is how people found out about cool music when they were young. Iggy Pop is a main example of a certain kind of cool, along with bands like MC5. In these discussions, there's frequently a mention of some older person -- a sibling, or cool friend, or even guy-at-the-record-store -- and how you need that person when you're young, to help show you the way. Otherwise, how would you know what's cool?
Sometimes these conversations give me a pang of impotent indignation. "Hey!" I want to explain. "I figured these things out all by myself! I didn't have a guide or a guru. I heard a song and instantly understood its peculiar genius! Don't I get .. points for that?" In fact, not only did tenth-grade me buy Iggy Pop albums, I also figured out to switch off Dom Imus and switch on WXCI, the local college radio station. WXCI was at 91 on the FM dial. Ha ha, get it? When I was young that allusion knocked me out! Over at WXCI I learned to love a band called "The Art of Noise" and their allusive and fragmented hit song "Close (to the Edit)."
It's ridiculous, but part of teen me always thought that being cool in a way that was different, clever and non-conformist was going to be a Big Deal in life, at least once I got past high school and into the wider world. I thought it would connect me to cool people. I thought others would value and praise me for my coolness. I thought there would be many moments in life where the discussion would turn to some obscure topic and I could say, non-chalantly, how when it came to Art of Noise, oh, I yes, I liked the Close (to the Edit) song. Wasn't the replayed sample of a sound of a car starting just the best? How cool.
Well, it wasn't like that. For one thing, I then went to Wesleyan University, where on the different-clever-non-conformist cool scale I showed up way, way behind. Wesleyan was full of kids who'd been networking in New York City high schools and elite New England boarding schools, taking LSD at age 11, traveling to Thailand in the summers and making art films for fun. The bar was high. Sure, I liked Iggy Pop. But I also liked The Cure. What kind of dopey suburbanite was I? I worked at channeling my inner cool, learned to love the Velvet Underground, and still hoped for for some kind of recognizable line on an invisible resume.
But the sad truth is that as time went on, I found it wasn't that big of a deal. People don't really care. Or if they do, they have their own coolness issues they're trying to sort out. That either makes them annoying and pretentious, or they're too busy with their own coolness issues to pay any attention appreciating yours. On top of everything else, in the age of social media it's hard to share about your cool things without sounding like you're showing off. But mainly, I found that the real stuff of life doesn't have that much to do with showcasing sophisticated tastes and obscure knowledge.
Sure, I still value trying to be a non-conformist, and sure, it matters to me that I read cool non-conformist books and go to cool non-conformist movies. But I don't care about these things because I think they will make me cool, I just care about them in the normal way.
These days I tend to think of cool in the way Jane Austen described women's fashion and beauty in Northanger Abbey: "Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it."