WHAT ON EARTH IS COOL NOWADAYS? | Blogging a dead horse

Blogging a dead horse

Is a barrel of naked monkeys more fun than a barrel of hairy ones?


Lawrence Gray wonders why only he is cool?

I was just listening to
Rick Beato analysing a U2 song, and I thought how I must hunt down my old U2 collection and transfer some of them to my already full to the brim phone. This particular song was out and about in 1987, which, if my finely tuned mathematical skills are anything to go by, was thirty-four years ago.


In fact my phone is full of music that is thirty to fifty odd years old. There are Beatles tracks, Led Zeppelin tracks, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and so on. The music was the backdrop to my teens, twenties and thirties. They all started off on LPs, then migrated to CDs and are now a mad melange of tracks buried in the impenetrable mess that iTunes makes of one’s music collection.


In my actual “Record Collection” lurking somewhere in one of the Allied Pickford removals boxes left unpacked for the past six years, I have some “singles” that are sixty years old. I also keep thinking I must try and get a decent digital recording of those so that I might hear them again. Life, however, is too short to spend working out how to keep one’s records abreast of the dreaded upgrades!


I also have loads of Zip Drives that I will never again open. I have hard drives that I have saved that no longer function. I have boxes of videotapes, both mini-tapes and VHS, and CDs and DVDs, all saved for the day when I figure out how to get them onto the latest memory device, or not, because by the time I do that there will not be such a thing as a disk drive. Somehow all sound will be saved in the air, accessed by one’s thoughts. That is, if one remembers the password! And given that people lose passwords to accounts full of millions of dollars of Bitcoin, I am pretty sure access to Ian Dury’s
Hit Me With My Rhythm Stick will also suffer the same forgetful fate.


As for that app that Apple presumptuously calls Music, I really have not got to grips with it. I just do not know who or what I should pay for! I’ve never heard this Music to know if I like it or not. Anything recommended by abominably rich corporations cannot be cool. I understand Spotify is where the cool kids hang out, but do I really have to delve into the workings of Spotify in order to find a new soundtrack for my life? And is the stuff that different from what I already have?


The fifty-year-old hand-made music of my youth creeps into superhero film soundtracks and I think, wow, that is better than I remember! Mind, if one hits on a Tarrantino film one can lurch back to music that my younger self considered old fashioned. For that matter, when I was sixteen I considered Elvis to be not just old, but ancient, and was amazed to discover he was still alive. So, as these films are aimed at young people, this must be cool despite the musicians being, if not dead, then somebody’s disreputable grandparent. The music of my youth has patterns that make sense whereas the music of other ages does not. Is it possible that this generation has got stuck in a baby boomer rut?

My parents only really liked Frank Sinatra and Glen Miller and other dance and schmooching tunes of the forties. Although it sounded like old people’s stuff to me, at the same time I had to admit I liked that big band sound and then there was all that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers stuff from the black and white films the BBC used to broadcast on Sunday Afternoons. I quite liked that as well, though recognised that it was old and dated. Where were the guitar solos? Where were those great aggressive riffs that just hit you where it counted?


When it comes to the music of my Grandparents’ generation I can think of songs like Daisy Daisy, and the sort of Singalong Songs that one caught on the BBC Light Programme. Those, I assumed, were my Grandparents’ songs and they conjured up images of Penny Farthing bicycles and trench warfare. So it amazes me that Thor thundering away to the beat of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, does not have their youthful audience conjuring up images of flared trousers and unfortunate moustaches.


My Grandparents were as baffled by the musical world I lived in as I am baffled by the current musical world. Hip Hop? House? Rave? Rap? What is this stuff? And I have a deep suspicion that even that is now uncool and has given way to something called Trap Tec Indy Electro something or other. I won’t say that I don’t like any of it because I play around with making some of it. Laying down a beat, working up a groovy bass line and layering on various loops and samples, some of which I make myself, is fun. And frankly recording myself playing three or four notes and looping them is much easier than actually learning how to play a whole tune. But it feels as artistic as painting by numbers or doing a jigsaw puzzle. These are pass times that my grandparents enjoyed doing, along with rug making and scrapbook making. It is activity that feels like old and retired people’s activity! And yet, the yoof of today do it, producing tons of stuff that goes into the cloud to collect digital dust, while still listening to those fifty year old tracks I was brought up on. It is all very odd and decidedly uncool!

There are celebrity musicians out there who I assume are being presented by the media as “cool” though I cannot say any of them are cool in the way people of my generation could be cool. Britney Spears comes to mind, because she was mentioned in the news media not long ago but for the life of me I have no idea what her music sounds like. It probably sounds like Taylor Swift’s, who I don’t think I’ve heard either. And then there is Billy Eilish who apparently, if Vogue magazine has any credibility, has “re-claimed her narrative” and cast off baggy tracksuits and nose pins in exchange for blonde hair and voluptuous corsetry. I get a whiff of Boy George meets Madonna here. Come to think of it, Madonna must be sixty and Boy George must be getting perilously close to it. I don’t think either were even cool when cool was cool.


A lot of popular performers have been just plain camp! Ivor Novello’s great hit musical of 1951 was “Gay’s The Word.” Nobody batted an eyelid despite homosexuality being illegal. He was a hot number on the music scene from the First World War through the 1940’s and 50’s where he had morphed into a purveyor of musical theatre, a sort of Andrew Lloyd Webber of his day. He penned “Keep The Home Fires Burning,” a song my Grandparents would have known, though whether they would have known he was blowing Siegried Sassoon I shall never find out. If only I could meet my grandparents now I’ve reached the age they were! We would have a real conversation and I could ask, just how cool was Ivor? Or did you young kids just think him a bit of a card, while really grooving to some cool black saxophonist making noises that your parents thought ungodly? They were Yorkshiremen so I doubt any of that sort of nonsense ever crossed the Humber.

I am not sure whether I am just now uncool, or watching the death of cool! I don’t think it is just me either: musicians of various kinds seem to be struggling with forms of the art that have outlived their audience. Has the concert disappeared in an explosion of ill-timed pyrotechnics? Has the Rock Festival sunk into the mud? Has The Rave given way to ear pods and silent grooves in WIFI rich open spaces? I wonder how many venues will re-open when the pandemic is over? Given this necrotic environment it would appear that music has faded into nothing more than a thudding backdrop so it doesn't really matter whose it is. For the latest generation have distanced themselves not just from each other but from the previous generation by computer games, an enticing art form that never before existed. I keep thinking I should get myself a games terminal if I really want to be cool, but I have not got the time to sit and play because there is all that TV to watch! I wish I could say I did something more productive, like enact that plan to write more novels that nobody wants to read, but instead I watch TV. I am who they make TV for! Once I am gone, so will TV be gone.


Where I do chime in with the new world is YouTube! Old hack that I am, I can see that for me, that is where the action is! Vloggers can give people all the soap opera and adventure you can ask for, and you do not need to schmooze sleazy producers, or make nice with egoistic actors, or find overtime payments for grumpy cameramen, one just points a hand held camera up one’s nose and yammers away. YouTube is the place where a baby boomer can go to lose their marbles and slowly sink into digital Alzheimer’s, while still thinking they are cool.