The Cool Factor

Got a flurry of emails from folks who said they heard me on the radio talking about being “cool.” I think it must have been from a re-airing of the monologue I did for this installment of Tent Show Radio featuring Rickie Lee Jones. (All of last year’s shows here, many of them streamable.)

Not sure how closely I stayed to this script (once we’re rolling, I just tend to let’er go) but this is pretty much what I said:

Welcome back to tent show radio, folks, from the backstage dressing room with the one lonely little lightbulb burnin’… y’know, I’m just sittin’ here listening to Rickie Lee Jones and considering the idea of what it is to be cool. What it is, and how to have it. How to get it. Cool is ineffable. Cool is about presence as much as action. You can’t force it, you can’t fake it, you can’t chase after it. Because, well, because that wouldn’t be cool. Maybe you can earn cool, I’m not sure. I know you can own it.

            Willie Nelson is cool. Willie Nelson is cool because he can wear braids and running shoes and play golf and still be cool and that is a powerful cool indeed. I bring up Willie a lot when I get in discussions about cool and the difficulty of remaining cool. For instance, for a moment back in the 1980s, David Lee Roth* was cool. No, seriously – put aside your bald jokes and your perpetual failed reunion tours and the fact that the guy can still put on a good show – but at some point the spandex tights have got to go. Whereas Willie’s deal is still cool because he just makes it seem as if he’s ramblin’ along, and you can ramble when you’re sixty or seventy or more but the scissor-kicks are harder to come by.

            Aretha Franklin is cool. Nina Simone was cool. Julia Child was cool. Joan Jett was and is cool. Sade is cooler than cool. Emergency room nurses are by and large cool. Cool transcends occupation, although tonight I’m leaning heavily on music.

            Ray Charles was cool. There’s a shot that Ray Charles was the coolest of the cool. For all time, really. Ray was cool right into the grave. Although perhaps if you talked to a Raylette or two you’d discover that even the coolest cool is a matter of perspective. Or distance. Cool should not be confused with good citizenship. But it still doesn’t obviate the emanation of cool. There’s a moment in Ray’s version of “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” when he sings the words “melancholy jailer” and his delivery of the word “jail-ah” has enough cool in it to last me three years if only I could pull it off. And that’s the other intangible element of coolness. Part of being cool is knowing when you’re not cool and just letting it ride. You know – it’s OK to sing along with Ray when you’re alone, but shame on you if you think you’re gettin’ anywhere close to Ray. There’s this moment on a Ray album I have where he’s singing “America the Beautiful” and he breaks it down a little, prefaces the chorus by saying, “And you know when I was in school we used to sing it something like this here,” and every time I hear that part, all I can think is, Oh, Ray…you went to a different school than me.

            Cool doesn’t admit confusion. Cool brooks no uncertainty. So, I mean, that’s me out. I’m a bundle of self-doubt and contradiction. That doesn’t mean I’m unhappy, or ungrateful, I’m just not cool

            I do think you can be temporarily cool. I’ve been cool a couple of times. It usually doesn’t last more then ten seconds, usually until I shut my seatbelt in the door, or realize I had my t-shirt on backwards. As a matter of fact, the second I start feeling cool, I check my fly.

            My all-time record for being cool was six minutes. I was at this deal and found myself standing in a quiet place right beside a very famous lady backstage at a very large event and there were about 35,000 people screaming to see her, and I just stood there beside her and just let her have five minutes of nobody tugging at her and never did throw a look or a word her way to ripple the teensy little pond of solitude she was quite obviously enjoying right up until the second she was whisked off to resume being capital V capital F Very Famous.

            Well of course I’m not gonna tell you who it was. Wouldn’t be cool.

            Here’s the best news of all about cool: Cool is transferrable. Even if like me you number yourself among the clunky, putting yourself in the presence of someone cool can make you feel very cool indeed. So let’s be cool. Let’s ease on out back into the seats of the Big Top Chautauqua tent and drop back into the cool, cool, groove of Rickie Lee Jones.

*Mitigating cool factor in his favor: Dave’s work and training as an EMT.

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