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May 5, 2014

The Cool and the Uncool, Part II

by Brendan

My last post was on Mary Gaitskill’s essay on “the easiest thing to forget,” which turns out to be about the easiest thing to do, focus on other people’s flaws.  Her essay came to me on Slate and is also published in the updated version of Carl Wilson’s book, Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste.

The issue of cool versus uncool reminded me of one my favorite movie scenes, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous.  The scene pretty much went viral after Hoffman’s death last month — I found it easily by searching “Philip Seymour Hoffman, Almost Famous” on YouTube, and here it is:

Philip Seymour Hoffman, in Almost Famous

Philip Seymour Hoffman, in Almost Famous

As you saw (or if you didn’t yet), Hoffman’s character, real-life person Lester Bangs, is advising the movie’s protagonist, William Miller, about writing, and, well, about living.  William has talked his way into a gig covering the (fictional) band Stillwater for Rolling Stone despite being a high school kid (Rolling Stone thinks he’s much older, having only talked to him on the phone).  Bangs’ advice has always been to be absolutely honest in writing, and especially to never, ever, ever make friends with the musicians William is writing about.

At the beginning of the phone call in the scene, Bangs realizes what’s going on: “You made friends with them.”  He adds, “That’s the booze they feed you, make you feel cool.”  And then he tells William, “I’ve met you.  You are not cool.”

This leads to a discussion of uncoolness in art, in which Bangs says that all art is based on being uncool, noting that “women will always be a problem for guys like us.”  His theory is that great art is based on “longing, love disguised as sex, sex disguised as love.”  William gets it, realizes that he’s always known he’s not cool — even when he momentarily thought he was, having drunk the Kool-Aid.

The money quote ends the scene: Bangs tells William, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”

Words to live by.  I promise.

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