THINGS I THOUGHT WERE COOL THAT WEREN'T

Is there anything more difficult to decipher than the concept of cool? What makes something cool? How can something be cool one day and then not cool at all the next? Why is being cool so important to so many people when it's so fleeting and tentative? I have never been one to fit in, and for most of my life, I have openly mocked trends and mainstream culture. Even so, I have to admit that the coolness factor has continued to intrigue me, mostly because it has eluded me. Looking back, I see that there were a number of things that I thought were cool in my younger days only to find out that were not cool at all, sometimes swiftly, but usually years down the road. Here are 10 of my missteps, in chronological order.

1. The Captain and Tenille- When I was ten, my friends and I spent an entire summer listening to Captain and Tenille records and putting on lip-synch concerts for friends and family. We even built a fake synthesizer out of plywood. When we weren't performing, we were watching the "Captain and Tenille Variety Hour" religiously. All of us guys wanted to be just like The Captain. With his nautical garb and that double decker keyboard, who DIDN'T want to be The Captain? Well, as it turned out, practically everybody but us. No, The Captain and Tenille were not cool. And that variety show? It was bad. Wretchedly bad. And I don't mean bad in a good, campy kind of way. Just bad.

2. The Fonz- The leather jacket, the motorcycle, the ability to turn on a jukebox with a thump of the fist or attract dozens of gorgeous women with a snap of the finger... Fonzie was designed to be the very essence of cool and we bought it. But as time passed, we learned the sad truth. The Fonz was no more cool than Greg Brady, and there are days when I think Greg Brady might have actually been cooler, particularly in his short-lived stint as Johnny Bravo. Now THAT was cool.

3. No it wasn't

4. Beer Can Collections- Everyone was doing it and I was no exception. These were heady times- consulting the Beer Can Collector's Bible, going on expeditions for rare cans in the nearby forests, making clandestine trades in the boys' bathroom. I was proud of my collection, for in it was a Harp Lager can that my Dad brought back from England. Nobody else had it and they all wanted it. That beer can made me special. I wouldn't trade it or sell it for anything, which is a shame because I could have gotten something for it instead of throwing it in the trash a few years later, along with the rest of my collection.

5. The Barry Manilow Live Album- Growing up, my older brother Greg's record collection was always the arbiter of good musical taste. If it was in the collection, it was safe to listen to. When we veered off the course and made our own choices, the results could get ugly, as was the case with Barry Manilow Live. My younger sister Elise and I listened to this album constantly. From the blue, sequined jump suit that he wore on the cover to the medley of commercial jingles, we thought Barry was it. But the record was conspicuously absent from my brother's record collection. This, along with the derogatory nickname by which my brother referred to him should have been a clue that our love for Barry was uncool. But, of course, we were oblivious.

6. The line dance from "Saturday Night Fever"- My older sister Patty taught me the entire thing and I proceeded to execute it to perfection at a junior high dance. I was thinking I was pretty cool until I noticed some of my classmates pointing at me and laughing. What had gone wrong? Disco was in. These were the authentic steps! How could it not be cool? But sadly, it wasn't.

7. Grease- One of the most highly anticipated movies of my childhood, my friends and I couldn't wait to see "Grease". Everything about it emanated cool, especially Danny Zuko, his tough looking pals and their totally hot car. But, similar to The Fonz, something that is meticulously manufactured to be cool is not cool at all, because it is decidedly unreal. John Travolta and Olivia Newton John as high school students? C'mon. And I wasn't around in the 50s, but I would venture to say that nobody from that era remembers greasers running around singing and dancing. Ridiculous.

8. My 8th Grade Graduation Outfit- It was a powder blue polyester suit, complemented by a hot pink shirt and a clip-on tie. When I started high school, I wore the pink shirt to school one day and was ridiculed by a stoner on the bus. I never wore it again. Then two years later, preppy kids were wearing pink Izod shirts and it was perfectly acceptable. Go figure.

9. Styx- When my sister Elise came home with "Paradise Theater", I asked her how the band came up with the idea for a concept album about an old theater in Chicago that was torn down. Her response was "Cuz Dennis DeYoung is a genius, that's how!" Okay, I wasn't as over-the-top about Styx as she was, but I did think they were a pretty cool band. I knew that I was wrong when I heard "Mr Roboto" a few years later, but if that didn't seal it, that fact that Dennis DeYoung went on to sing Broadway show tunes sure did. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

10. Dressing like a slob- For years, my look was a flannel shirt, half or fully untucked, and basically putting as little effort as possible into personal appearance or hygiene. I figured not caring at all made me cool. It didn't. Girls avoided me. No one emulated me. In the early 90s, I figured it was time to grow up and start dressing normally and taking better care of myself. Then the inevitable happened. The Grunge era hit and everyone was dressing like I used to. Everyone, except me.

Brian Fife

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