Some people just emerge from the womb exuding a pre-determined genetic coolness. They are fab, hip, uber-attitude from moment one. Nurture might refine and buff the raw fantastic-ness of them, but nature hit them with the hip stick hard as they slid into someone’s waiting hands. My oldest sibling, Dave, is one of those lucky few. He rocks an ironic sneer in even his earliest photographs. There is this gleam in his partially squinted little boy eyes that seems to imply, “I tolerate you all with benign disdain, but function on an entirely different plane.” Of course, I worshiped him. Seven and a half years my senior, as a kid, I flew mostly below his radar. I was a fly at the dinner table to be brushed away as I circled around him, hoping for a place to land, a chance to bask in his glow of cool perfection.
As Dave became a man, he assumed his pre-ordained place in the land of cool, reporting on bands like The Replacements, managing bands like Soul Asylum, becoming a vice president at Capital Records. Although I longed to be more Dave-like, pull off demonstrating even 1/100 of his uber-hip-smart-bored veneer, I could never manage it. That recessive gene stayed recessive.
Case in point, when I was student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a town bursting with excellent music venues and shows, I sought out live music and was able to achieve a few magic musical moments of my own. The first show I saw, the first week I was at college, was The Suburbs at Merlins, a firetrap of a bar perched at the top of a steep staircase above some business on State Street. The bar was not that big, the crowd that night not all that huge, giving me a shot of being right in front of the stage for much of the show. I’d spent hours and hours spinning The Suburbs album, singing along, in my bedroom at home. Here I was, at their show, 18, live music! Did I let the music fill me? Melt into the pulsing crowd? Slam dance? Lose myself entirely? Party with the band after the show? Be Dave-like? Nah. I couldn’t shake my self-consciousness. I was acutely aware of my lack of genetic cool. Surely people could tell I wasn’t Dave. I didn’t really belong. My cool quotient wasn’t high enough to earn a spot up front, to become one with the music and merge musical souls with the screaming singer. I quickly slipped to the back of the bar, leaned into the black wall, took it all in, and wished for the millionth time I’d gotten at least some of Dave’s cool.
I’m aware because I talk incessantly about cool instantly pegs me as ultra-uncool. The truly cool need never utter the word. It is so obviously theirs. They totally own that shit; no need to discuss it. I’m doomed to live out my life as a groupie of cool. A wannabe only. I’ve made it a life-long hobby to be a devotee of the truly cool. Always watching from the sidelines, dipping in the occasional toe, but unable to really plunge in.
When I was a junior in college, my brother called to tell me he’d be coming to Madison to review a Replacements show on Thursday night. Could he crash at my apartment? Did I want to go to the show with him? OMG! My brother was calling me! Asking me for a favor! Asking to spend time with me! Of course he could! Of course I would! Oh, but I have an 8 a.m. French exam the next morning, so I better stay in and study. Get some rest. I told him I’d leave a key for him under the mat in the hall. Blankets and a pillow on the couch. See him in the morning. Reminded him to keep it quiet as my roommates, Lori and LeeAnn, would also be home and asleep when he arrived. How terminally uncool is that? I picked studying for a French exam over going to see the Replacements with the brother I worshiped. Je suis un idiot! Je suis en phase terminale cool.
The next morning I got up early, cracked open my French book to do a quick review, and tiptoed into the living room to check on my fabulous, big brother. Make sure he found the key, the couch. And there he was, splayed out in all his coolness. Deeply asleep on his back, one leg hooked up over the back of the couch. Dreaming the dreams of the hipsters and fabulously elite. No blankets. No clothes. Apparently, cool needs no cover.