Meditation on Cool

August 12, 2020

steff 1 - Version 2.jpeg

You collect leather jackets. All of them vintage 20th Century, with patches of skulls and naked ladies, pins from heavy metal bands and biker gangs. You have never ridden a motorcycle in your life. That silly gold stud you put in your right ear during high school. It lasted three weeks. You took it out before visiting your grandfather, who would never understand jewelry on a boy.

The Atkins diet robbed your adolescent body of energy until one day you fell down the stairs, but it made you thinner, a prerequisite of being cool. Picking up your first can of beer at 14 in a gangway with miscreants. LSD. Cocaine. Quaaludes. At 16, you sold your entire comic book collection (including Spiderman #1!) to buy a pound of marijuana. Rolling joints all night, you sold them from the Jack in the Box across the street from your high school. A hard pack of Marlboros in your jean jacket pocket shone like a red badge of courage. Feigning a hatred of school to impress one group while maintaining high grades to appease another. Doing anything to fit in. A late bloomer and heavyset, you mastered the art of the put down, the burn, what they now call roasting. Honing your wits. In lieu of having a young man’s physique, your place in the group depended on it. But try as you did, cool just never happened to you. It remained ephemeral, like grace.

A stone cold fox in your grade, Katrina, once bequeathed you a backstage pass to the Judas Priest concert. It wasn’t a date. She would meet you in the parking lot behind the venue, where you smoked a joint and she pressed the coveted sticker onto your jacket. She “knew” the band and, well, those doors were not open to you. “Have fun,” she said. That was the last you saw of her. Still, you had a backstage pass, enabling you access to the bacchanal behind the curtain. At last, cool! The reality was this: you spent the entire concert standing in the corner of a dark, rank hallway smoking Marlboros, neither in the room where Katrina and the other girls were, nor by the stage where Judas Priest was. You saw the band as they marched past you, heard their English accents and smelled their leather and cologne. Observed bits and pieces of their show through a seam in the wall of amplifiers. Pushed aside by security as the group stumbled to their dressing rooms, where booze, drugs and sex undoubtedly awaited. Tantalizing. Just out of reach. Way out of reach. That backstage pass, just a silly sticker, only reinforced how uncool you really were, like headgear they give to special-needs kids.

Four decades on, you still seek coolness. You called it relevance but the concept was the same. Cool people are in the game. Cool people got laid. They get hired. Mia said coolness was trying to become what you thought others found attractive. It was, she said, a perilous pursuit. Letting others define you. Yes, but the peacock must display to attract a female. Many creatures had to put on a show. Wasn’t it only natural that humans did too? You sucked at it. Fronting might be crass but it worked. When Rex pulled up in his gold Trans Am the girls noticed him and so did the boys. He stirred the herd. He was the stag with the biggest horns.

It always eluded you. Well, almost always. That time with Michelle you were the stag. She’d chosen you, over Rex, over everyone. Once. Much later things started clicking. You were on. Your clothes fit. Women even wanted you. Then came the big jobs. Once, there was even a bidding war for your services. Once.

To be continued…

“Chicago, we have a problem.”

In my last post I wrote about pieces of music that have formed indelible impressions on me. Vivid memories evoked every time I listen to a particular track. Several of those songs are from seventies-era rock bands: Heart, Boston & Yes. High school lives!

Thinking about that period, I was reminded of another rock-related event in my life, which, as fate would have it, also served as precursor to my eventual career in advertising. In the late seventies, before I had any inkling of being a copywriter, I actually participated in an ambitious marketing program for the science fiction movie, Saturn 3 starring Kirk Douglas, Farrah Fawcett Majors and Harvey Keitel. In the very likely event you never heard of it, here is the link.

The movie wasn’t all bad.

The production company (Transatlantic Films) wanted to bolster interest in the film among teenagers. Being one, I volunteered and was chosen to be among several young people asked to don a space suit and hand out propaganda for the film at a rock concert. I’m not positive but I believe the venue was the old Chicago Stadium (since demolished) and the act was Judas Priest (still chugging).

Free tickets to see Priest plus the chance to wear a space suit was basically a fantasy come true for a goofy fifteen year old such as myself. Unlike the music-induced memories I wrote about last time I have virtually no recollection of the concert. I do remember being asked over and over and over again if I had any weed. Kids just equated the space suit with getting high. On top of that back then smoking up at concerts was commonplace. But I digress…

Thankfully, my mother took the above photograph of me wearing the space suit before my gig at the Stadium. I wish I still had the suit; it would make a killer Halloween costume. Alas, like my flowing brown locks, it is only a memory. I never saw the spacesuit again.

Or did I?

My second poster for Altoids.