The Birth and Death of the Cool

Story By: Sammy "Pro" LoProto, Rampage Reporter

Every generation of young Americans has had their musical heroes, their idols so to speak. Take today’s teenagers for instance. They worship artists like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber.  They epitomize the term of cool, and hip for their audience, much to the dismay of parents everywhere.

Have you ever wondered where the word originated? Or who was the first cool cat? Author Ted Gioia explores the history of cool, and also tells us why ‘cool’ is not a timeless concept. The word has begun to lose its meaning, while fading into history. Go ahead and Google the word cool; you will get more than a million hits. What started in the Jazz Age, has now become fodder for advertisers, Hollywood and corporate America to stretch and manipulate the term and push it to its breaking point.

Gioia takes us all the way back to the beginnings of cool, when his own parents were the squares in his mind. They never used words and phrases like ‘Hey Daddy-O’, or ‘slip me some skin jack’. In retrospect they were actually the really cool ones, doing what it took in life to succeed and raise a healthy family.

Gioia gives us the early lowdown on the real cool cats, the originators of what it was to be cool. It may be no secret to some readers of who the top three or four who made the list; was it Miles Davis winning hands down? Or was it the first cat who showed Louis Armstrong in the 20s how to wail on the trumpet in New Orleans, a character known as Bix Biederbecke . Or, do you remember James Dean in the movie East of Eden, or Rebel Without a Cause.

But for jazz lovers the real ‘Prez’, was none other than Lester Young, the real cool cat that gave us Kansas city R&B, a laid back soft and sultry tenor sax sound, that is hard to duplicate. His tones were so savvy as he floated over the bar keys with such style, he was the coolest, man. Even Billie Holiday asked for him to back her up in Carnegie Hall, for her historical concert there.

Author Gioia covers most of the generations, but reserves some special recognition for the 1950s. Literary fans may remember Poet Alan Ginsberg, or author Jack Kerouac  inventing the beatnik movement in San Francisco. Actually it was columnist Herb Caen (S.F. Chronicle) who added the ‘nik’ moniker to the term they were using to describe the ’Beat’ generation of the times, and labeled them ‘beatniks’, a term your grandparents might explain to you.

Whatever or whoever your conception of cool may be the book has it covered. Whether it was Cab Calloway and his hepsters dictionary back in 1938, or Bugs Bunny in 1940 smacking on a carrot, wisecracking ”Whats up Doc.?  You can relive the birth of the cool; and mourn the death of it.