I'm not the brightest bulb on the porch, but over the last 63.5 years I have been able to draw one conclusion I’m confident is true: You’re either cool or you’re not. Trying to transition from non-cool to cool is impossible and an exercise in futility. Put another way, you’ve either got it or you don’t.
Unfortunately, I learned that lesson the hard way … at a young age. In retrospect, it was probably a good thing that cold slap of reality happened. At least I didn’t continue to make a fool out of myself (That statement is probably open to much debate, but at least I’m comfortable with it.).
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment “coolness” became a permanent part of the American culture. The term can be traced back to ancient times in one form or another and was especially popular with jazz musicians in the 1940s – as in “That was cool Daddy-O.”
But the timeline of cool is not the point of this column. I first became aware of it when I saw Elvis Presley and James Dean for the first time. While I might not have been aware of what cool really was prior to that time, I certainly was after watching Elvis perform and James act.
No question they were cool. How can I be so sure? Because I felt profoundly “uncool” after witnessing their persona. And although they have both been hurled into the great beyond, they remain as cool today as they ever were.
Along the way, there have been many others who fit the cool criteria in my mind. The legendary actor Paul Newman dripped of cool and so did his partner the Sundance Kid (aka Robert Redford). I thought Marilyn Monroe was cool as hell (still do), and the great baseball player Roberto Clemente ranks right up there on my coolness list.
The Fonz certainly deserves a tip of the cool hat, and there’s no question Sidney Poitier and Frank Sinatra are among the coolest dudes ever. The list, however, is endless: Judy Garland, Harry Belafonte, Jimmy Stewart, Willie Mays, Pete Maravich, Louis Armstrong, Muhammad Ali, John Wayne, Bill Murray, Justin Timberlake, Shaq, J-Lo, Pavarotti, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles, Meryl Streep, Lee Marvin, and so on and so forth. Please remember this is my list. I’m sure each of yours would be totally different, but coolness is subjective not objective, so no catalog is right or wrong.
The day when I decided to transform myself from a quasi-nerdy, ultra-skinny teenager occurred 50 years ago. Here’s the story, pathetic as it may be.
Set the “Way-Back Machine” to the night of Feb. 9, 1964, Sherman. It was the popular Ed Sullivan Show on TV (back when you only got three channels), and nearly 74 million people were watching when an immensely popular four-man musical group called The Beatles from Liverpool, England, made their first appearance in America.
The build-up or “hype” for their performance on “The Really Big Shoo” was incredible, and just about every U.S. citizen was glued to their television screen when it came time for them to perform. Sure, the audience was primarily young people, but more adults were interested then they’d care to admit.
Adorned in their neat and tidy black suits, and sporting radical, longhaired mop tops (or so it was considered back then) they charmed this nation like few have before or since. When they broke into their No. 1 hit “All My Loving,” you could hear a collective scream erupt throughout America. And when they ended the first set with “She Loves You,” young women were fainting in the aisles.
Before the show was over, they also sang “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” and “I Saw Her Standing There” and the nation was hooked. The rest, as they say, is history.
They oozed cool because they were. Drummer Ringo Starr sealed the deal when he charmingly responded to the question, “How do you find America?” with “Turn left at Greenland.” I mean how much cooler can you get?
I became a Beatles fan immediately. I remain a devotee to this day. The four musicians were so cool I wanted to be like them – at least in some way. In a desperate attempt to make that happen, I begged my parents to buy me a pair of “Beatle boots” – jet-back, ankle-high things that featured a severely pointed toe. They had become the fashion statement of the day, and I wanted in on the action.
After weeks of cajoling and promising to do more chores around the house, they finally relented. Oh joy, oh rapture. I was convinced these boots would make me cool. And then …
I wore them at home every chance I got and then I summoned the courage to wear them to school. An epic fail ensued. I was all smiles when I walked into my first class, but by the time the final bell rang, I was a broken man.
It seemed every student, even the girls, pointed at my feet and laughed hysterically. “Hey Ringo, where’s your next gig, at the circus?” is a comment that I’ve never forgotten.
Embarrassed beyond measure, I trudged home, went to my room and gazed in the mirror. I looked like a comic book character. The boots only accentuated my Olive Oil-type physique. Why hadn’t I seen it before?
Disconsolate, I took off the prized boots and never put them on again. In an effort to spare my parents the thought they had wasted their money on something they told me wasn’t a good idea, I’d put on the boots when I left for school, but quickly changed into a pair of normal shoes in the garage.
They never did find out, ultimately thinking I had just grown tired of the outrageous footwear. So to them, I humbly apologize.
As for me, the lesson was clear: If you’re not cool, you’re not cool, and Beatle boots won’t change that.