I have spent my entire life trying to be cool. And I am fully aware that the least cool thing you can do is admit you are seeking coolness. But, I’m nothing if not honest.
Coolness is a basic innate swag. Either ya got it or you don’t. But, there are certain things you can do to up your coolness culpability. Like trading in your Jansport for a Hershel backpack, your Skechers for Nikes, your minivan for a Prius.
And you can listen to music.
My ascent into the music world began in 1973. I spent $5.00 to sit in the rafters of the Spectrum in Philadelphia and belt out, “She’ll have fun, fun, fun till her daddy takes the T-bird away!” with my older sister and a couple of friends whose parents were oblivious as to what could transpire at an over-sold music venue in the mid-seventies.
It didn’t take me long to learn that though the act of going to a concert upped my ante; going to a YES concert with Penny (aka Patty) was infinitely cooler than bragging about bopping to the Beach Boys.
And so began my descent into the depths of rock. I went to every show for which I could get a ticket. I saw Electric Light Orchestra, Queen, Genesis, J Giels (because Bob Shalita was going), REO Speedwagon, Neil Young, George Harrison, Badfinger (because Day after Day, any day we’d follow Const DePaulis anywhere) Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Traffic. I segued into adoring the Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, The Clash and Patti Smith. In college, I started going to multiple-day music festivals with the likes of Steve Goodman, Bonnie Raitt, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Earl Scruggs, David Bromberg, Aztec Two Step and my all-time favorite, John Prine serenading me into oblivion.
I was incredibly cool.
As I matured into motherhood, I found that I much preferred watching American Idol on TV to standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowded concert hall hoping for a glimpse of a guitar hero. I soon channeled my inner cool into being the ultimate youth sports fan and PTA parent.
Definitely not cool. But we give up a lot for our kids.
As those same kids got older, I realized it was important to keep current. Learn their culture. Try to understand their love of expletive-infused rap songs.
And so I turned off the all-news radio and found WFUV, Fordham University’s progressive radio station. I’ll Shazam songs and text my daughter links to new bands.
“Mom,” she’ll answer. “Mumford & Sons are hardly new.”
But I keep trying. I watch every single one of those screaming shows on TV. I giggle at Blake Shelton’s brazenness and swoon over Keith Urban’s accent. I watch while texting back and forth to my friends Laura and Jean, proclaiming my love and support for indie artists with sweet stories and pretty faces. And inevitably they reply with, “She was totally off pitch!” Or, “He was absolutely horrible.”
“But she sang a Stevie Nicks song!” I’ll protest.
“Everyone sings Landslide. And that was the worst rendition I’ve ever heard.”
“REALLY? Why? How can you tell?” I wonder.
“Can’t you hear?” they exclaim.
And just like that, my secret is revealed.
It’s hard to be musically cool when you’re tone deaf.
But, I continue to fake it.
Last night I watched the Grammy’s. I judge artists’ worth on listening to lyrics since I can’t master the melody. I didn’t know that Adele’s performance of All I Ask was anything but stellar until I read it on Twitter. I loved Justin Bieber’s sweet words, “My Momma don’t like you and she likes everyone.” I wasn’t cray cray about Tay Tay’s Out of the Woods, just because Bad Blood is oh, so much more relatable. And I won’t even go Gaga because I recently learned that she apparently has an incredible Star-Spangled voice beneath her freaky façade.
I know it’s so much cooler to like Kendrick Lamar and his butterfly pimpings than Taylor Swift’s red lip primpings. And it’s not because I don’t like rap. I used to get quite a kick out of ‘Lil Wayne’s plays on words, dirty as they may be. And listening to Eminem was like reading a novel that you just can’t put down.
While I watched every minute of the Grammy’s last night, I realized just how uncool I really am. I was genuinely happy for Meghan Trainor. I cried when Taylor Swift cried as her BFF Ed Sheeran won Song of the Year. And my heart pounded as if she were my own daughter while I anxiously awaited the Album of the Year reveal.
And though, there are obviously many, many other people in the world who love the mainstream singers like I do, I know it would be infinitely cooler for me to favor The Weeknd and the lack of feeling in his face.
But for now, I’m going to keep on listening to the words, keep on trying to hear the beat and keep on hoping that one day I’ll be content in my coolness.
Kind of like LL Cool J.