Cool & Uncool

Do you have a steady boyfriend
Cause honey I've been watching you
I hear you're mad about Brubeck
I like your eyes, I like him too
He's an artist, a pioneer
We've got to have some music on the new frontier
—Donald Fagen, "New Frontier"

I've finished prepping dinner after bringing laundry upstairs for my wife to hang. On the speakers I'm playing the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Jazz Impressions Of Eurasia playing and there is nothing at all cool about any of this.

Back when I taught high school (all of four months ago), kids asked why I didn't wear a Gucci belt, Jordans, or whatever else they thought was cool. One kid said, "I don't know how you freaking stand being so uncool, man." (He didn't say "freaking" or "man," but the two words he used, while cool to those kids, are things I'm purging from my life).

I smiled. This was a pretty smart kid, the kind I liked and most of why I was still teaching. He smiled a little too, knowing I was about to try and teach him something. I said, "here's the best thing about getting old: you stop worrying about being cool." He nodded, then schooled me: "Yeah, you're old, but you were never cool, were you?" Touché.

I'm fifty-one and really like the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet: Desmond, Wright, Morello, and Brubeck improvising over whatever time signature no one else used. It's called cool jazz but not because the people still listening to it are cool. The cool folks are digging the newly unearthed Coltrane, the weirdly wondrous Ornette Coleman, neglected Jessica Williams, and every Miles Davis album except maybe Kind Of Blue. Look at my record collection and the largest section has Brubeck down each spine. So uncool.

That kid kind of understood. Most didn't, but he was cool in the ways that really matter. The ways I still want to be cool. He was a little bit open to things. He could be taught. He could learn. He could come to understand. He sure as hell wasn't going to listen to Brubeck and I bet wherever he is now, he's wearing a Gucci belt that isn't doing a damn thing to hold up his pants. He's cool that way too.

Me, I'm not even close. But I'm cool with that.