The Tyranny of the Cool

bptm-morocco

Last week I opened up my blog by boasting about a Tinder date that I went on. I truly meant this only to be an attention grabber before I launched into an exploration of the decline of melody in music. Yet it appears that people were much more intrigued by my date than my musical musings. The overwhelming response to my blog post about the disappearance of melody in music was this: “how was the Tinder date though?” Well much like Fauzio, I aim to please, and so I’m going to indulge your thirst for a vicarious experience of NYC Tinder life and tell you about my date.

I had an incredibly pleasant time with a beautiful young Irish woman who was charming, upbeat, humorous, and delightfully outspoken. Our plan was to meet up at The MoMA, view some art, chat over coffee, and then part ways. Yet after the MoMA we had dinner together, and after dinner we went to a bar, and after the bar we went for a walk, and after the walk we met up with a friend of mine and chatted at a cafe, and after the cafe, we took the subway to my house and watched some Game of Thrones. And no, this was not a “Netflix and chill” kind of situation— get your mind out of the gutter people. It was just wonderful evening filled with really good conversation, laughter, and flirtation.

The truth is I’m not actually telling you all of that because I want to grant you your wish of peaking into my romantic life— (as usual) I have a larger point to make. Believe it or not, me going on that Tinder date, has everything to do with me fighting for the presence of melody in music. That’s right fools! I’m not abandoning my discussion of the decline of melody in music. Stay with me now…

What is melody? The technical definition of melody (per dictionary.com) is “The succession of single tones in musical compositions, as distinguished from harmony and rhythm.” But more generally what is melody? It is an active statement; it is the part you can sing; it is the part you remember. If you think of a musical composition as a story, as many composers throughout history have, melody is the dialogue and action that propels the plot. Harmony and Rhythm would be more like the setting and pace of the story. And yet if it is such an important part of the musical story, why then are more and more composers in jazz, film, and popular music abandoning clear melodies?

The simplest answer is that it is easier to not write a melody than to write a melody. While the simplest answer is often the correct one, I believe that there is also something more poisonous at play: on some level most everyone wants to be cool, and at some point melody became uncool. I can express this easier with a musical example. Listen to any or all of both of these pieces of instrumental music: Serenade no. 13 in G Major by Mozart and Lizard Point by Brian Eno. One has a very distinct memorable melody throughout, and the other doesn’t really have a melody. Which do you think is cooler (not better, just cooler)? Because it is much more mysterious and abstract I am going to guess that most people think that the Eno tune is cooler. A melody is a clear statement, and a clear statement is rarely going to be perceived as cooler than something more oblique.

We could think of it like this: a melody is like looking up and saying “I love how the sun beams through the trees in Central Park.” As nice and true as that statement may be, it is simply not as cool as just staring off at the trees, silent and expressionless as you smoke a cigarette. Certainly the latter is cooler, but is it better? No way. First of all, smoking is bad for your health. Secondly, you are not communicating anything to anyone else by staring off into space. You’re just living in your own cool, insular, lonely world. And yet we are all victims under the oppressive tyranny of the cool— nobody wants to be considered uncool, and yet nobody knows exactly what it is to be cool, thus many people simply avoid making statements (verbally or musically) for fear of being uncool.

So what the hell does going on a Tinder date have to do with writing a melody or being cool? Well, on Tinder I’m a perfectly cultivated cool guy. I have pictures of me holding a guitar, laying on a raft with sunglasses on, effortlessly posing with a real live butterfly on my shoulder, and an equally cool “about me” write-up to boot. Given the extra time to think up responses I’m also far more clever and witty in Tinder text message conversation than I am in real life. Thus, I could have contented myself to stay at home and just be a cool idea of a person, but I chose (as did she) to actually go meet up with someone and expose myself as a real, flawed human. In person, you hear my goofy laugh, you witness me fumble with words sometimes, and you sense my subtle nervousness and excitement about being on a date. I’m not as cool in person, but I am much more real— I’m someone you can actually connect to. It doesn’t matter how cool someone is on paper, the only thing that matters in romance is how well you connect with someone face to face, and the only way to do that is to get out of the house, go on a date, and put yourself at risk of being uncool. Thus, the acts of writing a melody and going on a Tinder date are both mini rebellions against the tyranny of the cool.

And even the coolest people can rebel against the tyranny of the cool. My friend Epiphany Morrow (musical artist, rapper, public speaker, philanthropist, and entrepreneur) is by all measures a very cool dude. This week Epiphany released his long awaited Legacy Project. Billed as the world’s first “living album,” The Legacy Project is a smartphone app offering an interactive music and video experience which draws users into a unique world of Piph’s creation. You most certainly should download it (just search “big piph” or “the legacy project” in your app store). Despite the fact that many would undoubtedly consider Epiphany a cool dude, the best part about him is that in The Legacy Project and in so many of his other endeavors he too routinely and unapologetically puts himself at risk of being uncool. For it is not because I think that he is cool that I respect and admire Piph (in fact I know him well enough to know that he is actually a closet-nerd)— no, I respect and admire him because he is incredibly genuine, disciplined, and creates art that has true perspective and substance behind it.

You may not see it, but I do: the acts of going on a date, releasing an app, and writing a melody are all important rebellions against the tyranny of the cool. Certainly nobody wants to be uncool, and yet the only actions or statements that have any meaning or weight behind them are those that do put us at risk of being uncool. And here’s the liberating truth: there is really no such thing as cool. When Miles Davis gave birth to the cool back in 1957— he gave birth to a phantom. Cool is simply a figment of our collective imagination. Love is real, beauty is real, laughter is real, and cool is not real. The sooner we all realize that, the sooner we’ll being to really live.

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