Book Of The Week – In Search Of Captain Beefheart – Pt.7 – This is Hip & Cool & Occasionally hairy

This is Hip & Cool & Occasionally hairy

Some time in your life you have to make a decision whether to be hip and cool or straight.

First it helps if you know what being cool is. It is a commitment. Cool is an indefinable quality that some people have. Jack Kerouac had it, Miles Davis, all the black blues guys, the jazz singers and swingers, black culture was hip, white culture was crap. The Stones, Kinks and Prettythings were hip for a while. The Tremolos, Dave Clark Five and Hollies were never cool.

In the present time anything connected with Simon Cowell is shit. All musicals, tribute bands and chart singers are by definition shit. All things connected with the Voice and Britain/America’s got talent is shit. Abba are not cool. The North Mississippi All-stars, Tinariwen and Nick Harper are cool.

Back in the 60s the Beatles and Stones were cool. For a time during his electric period Dylan was the coolest dude on the planet with his polka dot shirt, shades and frizzed out hair complete with snarling lyrics and attitude.

In the late 60s Hendrix, Cream, Floyd and the West Coast bands were the coolest. The Monkees were not cool.

 Magic Band still cool in 2005

Being in the singles chart was not cool unless you were a Soul singer like Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin. They could get away with it.

An ingredient of being Hip is to be outside the normal boring limits of society and be individual, to have style, a philosophy and a way of life that sets you apart. It’s not about being a dork with a million tattoos, piercing and elaborate beard and hair or wearing outrageous costumes that make you stand out like a turd sticking to a white wall. If you have to try it’s wrong. That’s pretentious.

Being cool has to come from what you genuinely feel inside.

It pisses me off to see the 60s being represented on newsreels by the Carnaby Street plastic weekend Hippies.

The 60s was about a counter culture, an alternative that you either bought into a hundred percent or didn’t. You couldn’t dress up at weekends. You had to live it. It was about the rejection of the grey brigade, the 1950s straight-lace, stiff upper lip culture and replacing it with fun, colour and frolics.

Being hip was liberation from boring society without regard to the future. For a while being cool was associated with Rock culture. That is because Rock culture was so creative and out there.

Of course it was still pretentious, idealistic and doomed to fail but it was also creative, fun and produced a great deal of really great stuff. It spawned equality, women’s liberation, Green awareness and greater freedom.

In 1963 we set about, in our own Thames Delta fashion, being hip.

We started growing our hair, sideburns, beards and getting the tightest jeans we could get our legs in. We wore hipsters and Cuban heeled boots or desert boots. I had jean jackets and leather jackets.

The girls skirts got shorter and shorter, their tops tighter and their hair layered.

It caused chaos at school. I was constantly sent home for having trousers too tight, hair over my collar or sideburns below my ears. At one time I was told to go home and shave my beard of. I shaved an inch down the middle of my chin. 

‘I thought I told you not to come back until you’d shaved your beard off?’

‘I have!’ I protested. ‘These are sideburns and this is a moustache!’

On another occasion I was told not to come back until I had shaved and I stayed off. After three weeks the twagman came round to see where I was and I explained – I had been told not to come back until I had shaved and I hadn’t shaved yet!

The girls had to kneel down in assembly and had their skirts measured to see if they were too short. We all applied for that arduous job.

But fashion is not cool. Some cats have an’ some cats ain’t. But we bought in to the black culture. That was cool. They might be exploited but they knew how to let it all hang out, dress up and have fun. Everyone started to adopt this rather phoney American Black slang, man.

By the latter part of the 60s my hair was down my back, my jeans had frayed out tassels, bell-bottoms and I wore an assortment of stuff that was bright and colourful. I felt good. My parents weren’t too keen. They thought it affected my employability. I didn’t give a shit. I was reading Kerouac, Ginsberg, Rubin and Cleaver. It was the revolution, man.

Rock was cool. West Coast and Underground was hip. Careers and straight society was square.

We looked to our hip Rock bands to show us the way. It doesn’t feel as if there’s much hipness left in Rock culture these days. There’s too much money; too much phoniness. The big labels took it over and sanitised it; they overproduced the crap out of it, marketed it and came up with a product designed to make money.

There doesn’t feel to be any hipness left in the world anymore. It’s all fashion, pretension and froth.

All is phoney.

Life was there for the cool and hip to live, discover and enjoy. Life was there for straight culture to endure.

The 1960s rebellion was a revolt against the grey, class-ridden, over-bearing, claustrophobic culture of the 1950s. We wanted fun, exploration, colour, meaning, and a reason why! ‘Because we say so’ was not enough.

Death to the joyless machine! Long live the right to experience! Opher circa 1967

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