Independence Day 7-4-2008
Forty eight years ago today, I entered the world in mid-afternoon, completely ruining my mother’s obstratrician’s holiday party somewhere in New Jersey. I picture my slippery, sloppy infant self shooting out into a catcher’s mitt held by Yogi Berra who kept my mother, the doctor and nurses amused with his constant jawing about whatever entered the great ballplayer/philosopher’s mind. With a puff of dirt as I hit the mitt, I, in my tiny way, had declared my own independence.
Today, the 232nd anniversary of our founding fathers declaring the independence of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia, I sit in what was then a territory still owned by the Spanish who never tried to settle the place but, rather, exploit its natural resources,, torment and kill as many of its indigenous people as possible and, from time to time, head off on a mission to find the fountain of youth which would certainly be located in a place where the heat and humidity and bugs and dangerous animals ruled and people acted as bit players. Sometime after actually gaining independence from England, the nation would purchase this god forsaken sandbar from Spain and send Andrew Jackson and his gang of genocidal maniacs into the territory to kill as many of the native people as possible because they were known to harbor escaped African slaves, a group to whom the independence from King George did not apply.
Women, white, black, native or European also got excluded by the independence movement and even incredible autodidacts like Abigail Adams and Dolly Madison who could counsel their husbands, presidents of the nation on complex affairs but not vote to select their successors.
Thus, Independence Day, for me, meant that I could survive as a being apart from my mother but it would take nearly 90 years to free the slaves and over a century after signing the document that suggested that all were created equal to permit women to vote. The genocide of the native people continued into the twentieth century and some would contest that the poverty on the reservations and the ethnic cleansing they represent remains as a continued reminder if not an actual form of genocide. Sure, the Seminole nation owns the Hard Rock casino chain but how does that compare to owning all of Florida, including all of that pricey waterfront real estate?
Someone I heard speak or read something by (probably Studds Terkel I think) made the assertion that, given the history of government from the ancients to today, the absolute rarity of a ruling body doing anything actually good for the population it dominates or any external people for that matter makes such events truly exceptional. Thus, while the American style of representative republic has done many tragic things it has also taken a number of good actions which, for the most part, set it in its own category as, it has actually taken numerous actions in the name of a greater good than most, if any, governments in history. Of this, we white Americans of European ancestry can be proud of our immigrant forefathers who elected governments that invented public education and, after a while, universal suffrage and even some degree of civil rights protections. Some nations have done more but most have done far less so, even with the black eyes on our national integrity, we can claim a lot of good in our history.
For me, I am now 48 years old. It's been 30 years since high school graduation and twenty-five years since the death of the cool – the end of the hardcore punk years and the start of my long journey into blindness, software development, access technology and all of the fun I’ve had doing all of that.
I will never be cool again. Then again, how many people can really claim any part of the cool much after their twenties have ended? Surely, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis and others of the “mega cool” can carry it for the rest of their lives and beyond; we mere mortals need to pass the baton to the next generation, move gradually into middle age, grey hair, pot bellies and memories of when we made the scene and, now and then, if we retain any morsel of the cool, listen to new music and perhaps actually go out to a club or larger performance space to hear a band that is not on a reunion tour or hasn’t simply continued into their geriatric years becoming less relevant with each boring new album and greatest hits tour.
Recently, I heard an interview with Winton suggesting that the whole world should have a funeral acknowledging the death of the cool as defined by Miles and the “Birth of the Cool” album released in the early fifties. That album and attitude embodied by Miles, Monk, Trane and so many others of the era who acted with the nonchalance of an ice cube and, in attitude if nothing else, passed the behavior along into the hip of the sixties, the punk of the seventies, the grunge, alternative, hip-hop, rap, indie, you name it that has come since. Winton suggested a funeral for the cool, a return to the chalance and permission to publicly show emotion, admiration and even joy and sadness in a public forum once again.
Thus, those of us who barely turned our heads when Lou Reed walked into a club where punks hung out, maybe tipped our beer in his direction might actually say that we admired his work, the Velvets and his influence on the New York scene that today can still be heard in the poetry of the Williamsburg hip-hop kids. We can actually admit that Dylan, Springsteen and Motorhead made our blood rush with excitement rather than hanging in the back, leaning against the bar and saying, “they’re alright.” While inside feeling the rush of a great performance. Those guys, the heavily influential acts, Iggy Pop, MC5, The Fugs, The Kinks, Rolling Stones, George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars deserved wild audiences but, alas, the cool got between us and our emotions.
I suppose Lou Reed may have noticed that the early punks at least all did our best to dress like him – we had the biker jacket, the Ray ban Wayfarer sunglasses, the white t-shirt, the jeans with a hole in the knees and the Chuck Taylor high tops. We were too cool to approach Lou to tell him we loved a particular performance but we turned into kinetic sculptures of the man, phenomena of which he must have been aware. Notably, The Ramones, the first true break away punk band also donned this look. Digging a little deeper, this was more or less what Springsteen wore. Yes, we were highly informed by the previous generation but we punks wouldn’t admit it even if tortured.
So, I find myself agreeing with Winton. It's time to bury the cool and move into some sort of twentieth first century non-nonchalance. Will this be the post-post modernism the academics have been searching for? Will we end up with a hyper generation of hero and ancestor worshipers digging through stacks of MP3 on their favorite download sites just so they can admire Blue Oyster Cult and Scorpions like we did? Conversely, is trying to find an appropriate philosophical metaphor for pop culture a waste of useful brain power and that we should let it progress without social criticism or theory? If I only had the answers to these weird questions about the peculiar things about which I think.