Dammit. I’m sure I used to be cool.
Maybe not– it’s quite possible I was just a legend in my own gratified lunchbox. But I felt cool, and that’s what’s important. (Once, years ago, I read a letter published in a fluffy real life magazine. The woman who wrote it was eighty years old and had recently had a double mastectomy. And, she said, in her mind’s eye, she still looked just like Rita Hayworth.)
It took me a while to find ‘cool’. Which really only meant I appreciated it more when I got there. It took so long, I think, because I was something an ugly duckling- a gawky awkward tween who couldn’t find herself in the pages of glossy Dolly magazines, not having the skin, height, hair, tan or budget required to sink comfortably into that niche. I grew up on the beach amongst a salt-washed surf culture, but I fried in the sun and was apprehensive of the water, fearing the waves. I was over-confident when humility was required, shy when I needed to loud. My mum was a teacher at the same tiny public school I attended, and I was smart back when it was still cool to be stupid.
Moving away from Paradise the first time, at twelve years old, almost ruined me.
It was also the making of me.
I found something else, placed into a new school with new people, in a place close enough to the city to be influenced by it. I found people who got it, people who embraced the night in the way the people I’d left worshipped the sun…
I found darklings. I found Triple J and Helen Razer (Where do cool people go when the cool wears off? Twitter, obviously. It’s OK… I’m there, too.)
It started with music. It started with two girls I knew singing a funny, cute harmony they’d heard on the radio the night before; and me going home that afternoon and rolling through static and stations until I found the station they were talking about, heard the song they’d butchered.
It started with the Murmurs and Veruca Salt and Tripping Daisy and Frenzal Rhomb and SpiderBait and Tool and The Pixies and Everclear. In a world before the Internet, we watched Rage in the middle of the night and picked up copies of the Drum Media to assess what was in, and what was not. We followed anti–trends and thought we were some kind of revolutionaries.
We thought we were different… we were all exactly the same. Kids, looking for some point of identity, a tribe to assimilate with. It just that this side of things– post–punk, neo–grunge, pre–emo; it seemed to celebrate people’s imperfections, their deviations from the norm, rather than how perfect you could be, all the time. Pop psychology tells us the nineties grunge movement was a direct backlash to the power hungry, shoulder–pad wearing perfection of the nineteen eighties.
I didn’t care about that then, and I don’t care now. For me it was a seething, moving reality; it was passion pumped into the pain (weltsmerchz) I’d been feeling.
I found Pearl Jam and their Vitalogy on the tail end of them being one of the most awesome bands ever, and got to experience the quintessential let down of seeing them perform live- discovering the local cover band’s front man sounded more like Eddie Vedder than Eddie Vedder did was the height of disillusion. I was into Fiona Horne before she wrote sugar candy witch kraft books for tweens. I listened to Dave Grohl go from that geeky guy with big ears on the drums to Marigold to A320, and I know every word to the bridge in MonkeyWrench.
I discovered In Bloom and Molly’s Lips and Where Did You Sleep Last Night and Francis Farmer and even Smells Like Teen Spirit a good two years after Kurt Cobain killed himself… I still drenched myself in the screaming feedback and sad acoustics of Nirvana.
I fell in love with his widow at about the same time, back when Courtney Love was all smeared lipstick and op-shop frocks and Doll Parts. I loved her then… and I love her now. It’s just that I never dreamed, fifteen years ago as I read about her being vilified and blamed for her husband’s death, that once upon a Purple future I’d find myself empathizing with her for more reasons than I’d ever thought I’d want to.
Looking back in the same way the really cool people may look back at Woodstock or watching the Beatles perform or witnessing the coronation of Queen Victoria or the Berlin Wall come down… something; I’m fairly sure I can identify the exact moment where I reached my absolute pinnacle of cool, the hippest and trendiest I’ve ever been.
I’ll whisper this next part so I don’t scare all those in attendance, especially myself… it was 1998. The end of a very long, surprising sober day at a musical festival that used to be far less mainstream and therefore more awesome than it is now called HomeBake. HomeBake was, as opposed to the Big Day Out, Aussie bands only. Two outdoor stages, one dance tent, dozens of little hippy stalls, manned (and woman-ed) by dozens of hippies rebelling in the ignorant bliss of a civil libertarian bliss in a time before random sniffer dog patrols at public events. The queues for the unGodly smelling port-a-loos were as long as those at the bar- or so I’m told, I was a few years underage (and looked it), and drinking’s never been my thing. Bands played from ten in the morning until eleven at night, ranging from hardcore moshpit death punk to hardcore happy rave music to hardcore double bass mixed with light strength anarchy in the form of The Living End. There was even a pre–Icescapades Grinspoon, back when they were cool, too.
And thousands of little freaks. People dressed in black with piercings and tattoos and dreadlocks and bindis, wearing lace up Doc boots and men’s ties with singlet tops and Sketchers and clothes branded with Agent 99 and purchased at Mosh. People who smiled and flashed peace signs and gave random hugs and knew that it wasn’t what you looked like that mattered, anyway… it was about music. And it was about being young and cool just because we were and knowing it but pretending we didn’t.
Thousands of darklings… thousand of people just like me.
As the sun set, with my skirt burnt and buzzing on too many guarana coffees and too much loud music, Tim Freedman playing piano with long fingers that jumped across the keys like massive spiders, hands seeming to span whole octaves at once, straddled across the shoulders of a fiend of mine named Trent who was just as cool as sixteen year old guitar playing metal fan with an angelic floss of blond curly hair can be… I feel some kind of complete, maybe for the first time ever.
And I know that’s cliched and perhaps slightly pensive, melodramatic and pathetic.
But it was real, and it was mine. It was probably the last concert I went to completely sober– maybe the last time for the ten years that followed that it didn’t even occur to me that socializing had to involve drinking or smoking or anything to enhance the pleasure of simply existing. I was in the company of one of the few teenaged males that I’d managed to maintain a fairly simple, uncomplicated platonic friendship with. It was one of the last times in my young adulthood I remember feeling wholesomely gorgeous without really being concerned about my appearance– I left the house that day wearing a coat of mascara and some sparkly glitter stuff on my cheekbones and I’m almost positive it never occurred to me to take either of them with me for the inevitable quick bathroom mirror touch-ups that have peppered my partying existence ever since.
I was sixteen. I had no huge stresses, no big dramas in my life. I was becoming someone awesome, someone real.
I was already someone awesome. I just didn’t know it yet.
I remember being convinced, at one point when I was about that age or a bit younger- a funky fifteen year old who thought she knew everything- that I would always be cool. That times would change, but I would roll with them, stay just ahead of the trends. Or maybe I assumed, in that way we do when we’re teenagers and at the very center of our own universe, that what I thought was cool would always be cool, inherently so– how could it not be?
I was wrong on both counts, of course. I am no longer cool. And what was once cool is now as uncool as that pair of your Dad”s Levi’s that still sneak around in the back of his wardrobe, because hey, one day, they will certainly be in fashion again, and he will be hip enough to fit right back into them and the scene that went with them.
I really don’t want to go out like that.
But it’s seeming inevitable. I find myself thinking thoughts like “These young people today…” and wondering what the hell these kids are talking about with their Beibers and their 1D’s and scream-o and YOLO and whatever else.
I’m sure– I’m positive– once upon a time, I was cool.