Let’s face it- everyone wants to be cool. Not everyone may want to be popular, but there is a difference between “popular” and “cool”. To give examples from film: Popular is George Lucas. Cool is Jean-Luc Godard. While many may enjoy “Star Wars: Episode IV” more than “Masculin-Féminin”, no one really wants to be George Lucas. But how does one become cool, short of making 60s avant-garde art films? The easiest way is to listen to the right music. Books, though postmodernism is very cool, are not a social activity; though alienation is definitely cool, one has to possess a modicum of coolness before reading to be cool. Movies are just as easy as music, but music takes less time to do. It takes 12 hours to watch Jacques Rivette’s magnum opus “Out 1”- and when it concludes you are very cool- but it takes less than forty minutes to listen to the 1979 compilation album “No New York”, featuring some of the most aggressively painful music ever recorded. Once the four bands on that album- James Chance and the Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, and DNA- finish scraping their detuned guitars, shattered saxophones, and atonal keyboards all over your brain, you are cool enough to write for the Village Voice, and it took you less than an hour. But what makes a cool band? It’s extremely difficult to judge this, as one has to take in all kinds of different factors; if the band was featured on the soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino film, it instantly becomes cool, and even more so if featured on the soundtrack to a David Lynch film. But it can be hard to sort through all of these different factors, especially when one is buying sunglasses to wear when one is cool. So, without further ado, I give you the Sparknotes for cool- a playlist of the coolest, hippest tracks one can listen to- all somewhat old of course, as retro is always cool.
1) “Go Bang! #5 (Francois K Mix)”- Dinosaur L: The first reason downtown musician Arthur Russell’s improvisational disco project is cool is because of the name. If anyone asks you what you are listening to, they will instantly assume you mean the late 80s rock band Dinosaur Jr. And when they attempt to correct you, you can say “Actually, I do mean Dinosaur L. You don’t know them? They came first”. Snarky corrections, especially dealing with obscure New York music, are good for instant coolness. But what about the actual song? It’s a dance track, which is cool as long as you don’t dance to it. Also contains references to gay hedonism. Coolness ensured.
2) “We Are The One”- The Avengers: The style of this song- speedy, immediately pre-hardcore punk rock from San Francisco- is cool first and foremost because of the trebly guitar that despite playing a fairly catchy punk riff, manages to still be headache-inducing, and any band that induces a headache without playing at maximum volume is pretty cool. Most of the coolness in this track, however, comes from its lyrics- singer Penelope Houston proclaims that the band are not Jesus, fascists, communists, or capitalists- they are simply “the one”. Vagueness can never be uncool.
3) “Secrets”- Mission of Burma: Any song by this band can give anyone instant coolness by sheer dint of the band name- it has just enough political vagueness and memorability to make it the coolest band name ever- but this song is perhaps the coolest. Starting out with a minute and a half of one guitar chord being hammered into the ground, drums and bass backing it up solidly, the song enters maximum coolness during this first sequence; at about one minute in, the drums and bass cut out and band member Martin Swope plays the drums backwards, while guitarist Roger Miller keeps up his assault. Instrumentally speaking, one can’t be quite as badass as that.
4) “Melody”- Serge Gainsbourg: Concept albums are definitely not cool, as they often revolve around clumsily allegorized aliens, idiotic Cold War metaphors, and those goshdarn pinball wizards. However, when Serge Gainsbourg, French pervert second only to the Marquis de Sade, decides to make a song suite about having sex with a minor, the concept album becomes cool. The epic subversion is prevalent on the opening track, detailing Serge’s exploits on the road, leading to him hitting Melody Nelson’s bike with his car. It unfolds like a soap opera combined with phone sex- not cool by itself, but when tied into a concept album, cool as Clint Eastwood
5) “God From Anal”- Boredoms: The coolness in this track doesn’t arise from the noisy, sometime a capella, vocalizing of lead vocalist Yamatsuka Eye (though it certain helps), but rather the ability to say the title with a straight face. If you can do the same while listening to the track, you are cooler than Miles Davis.