Rebirth of the Cool

In 1957, Miles Davis released an album entitled Birth of the Cool. I’ve always been a fan of jazz and Miles Davis. It wasn’t always just the music, as good and soulful as it is. But when you were around jazz it was like you felt this sort of sophistication, a touch of class. You’d always see Miles in those pictures with his sweatshirt or blazer, big cheeks blowing the heck out of that trumpet. You’d think it was cool.

But is that all there is to being cool?

As I thought about it, I realized I could not quite wrap my head around it. This concept called “cool.” What does it mean? What’s the formula? Who determines this thing? Shrug. The only thing I knew was that being cool had some significance and meaning to society. As Donald Miller wrote in Blue Like Jazz, if you knew how to make something cool you’d be able sell it to anybody and make it big.

I used to think cool was somewhat like that Rebel Without a Cause bad boy who rides his motorcycle in his leather jacket, hair tossed back and eyes hidden behind aviators as he cruises against the wind. He runs into trouble with the law, smokes Marlboros till his lungs burn out, and knows all the ladies by touch. Is that what cool is? A call to remake ourselves into a new sort of James Dean?

For a long time I thought it was. But as I’m getting older, I’m starting to see the futility in that sort of thinking. What clothes I wear, what car I drive, what music I listen to, what house I live in–nobody will care about any of that 50 years from now. But how will they remember me?

It seems as life progresses, it gradually becomes more classical music and less like jazz. Don’t get me wrong. It still has its moments, with its funky improvisations and what have you. But with age comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes bills, debt, mortgages, husbands, wives, kids and calendars. All that requires good orchestration, balanced measures and rhythms. It becomes less cruising down PCH and more “I need to trade in my bike for the big red minivan.”

That idea used to scare me. Until I saw the beauty in this sort of cool, which involves sacrifice, commitment and love for others. Cool started to look like that man who is working 50 hour week shifts, slaving to ensure hot meals for his family of four and a solid roof over their heads. Cool is the single mother with low income who spends her free time–whatever left of it–helping her son with his science fair project. Cool is the young single who devotes his Saturday nights to serving at the homeless shelter when all his other buddies are out having a drink.

Isn’t that the stuff good stories are made of?

The great thing about jazz is that it is all about freedom, going where the music is taking you in that moment. It plays whatever is on the heart, however raw and unwarranted.

You might lose some of that in classical. Maybe sometimes you feel restrained. Strings are going off when you want brass. The cello isn’t getting its solo. And there’s never enough cowbell…

But I dare you to look beyond. Seek the beauty in harmony, orchestration, direction. Wait for the crescendos.

Jazz will always have its solos, but you are gaining a symphony.

New Project: Blank Slate Era

As some of you may know, a couple friends and I just launched a new project this past weekend. It’s called Blank Slate Era, a website devoted to all things creative and artistic–film, design, music, writing, photography. The hope is to foster a community that would be able to inspire and help each other create wonderful works of art to share with the world around us. Please check it out and “like” us on Facebook!

As the main guy in charge of the “words” section, I have written my first post about the importance of language (repackaged below). Thanks again for your readership and support!

-MY

*****

Sticks & Stones

We know the idiom. We know how the line is finished. It’s something we grew up with as children, a way to deflect all the insults hurled at us for which we had no clever comeback. Our bones, our body, can feel the pain from objects. Words, however–what are they?

It all seemed so silly, these letters on a page. It didn’t take long, however, to realize that these letters were in fact a mighty weapon. That the organic combination of words arranged by letters in purposeful sequences could be enough to raise up Rome or raze her. Mix them in a bowl and you have soup. But string them together, piece by piece, with passion and direction, and you have the Magna Carta, Hamlet, The Great Gatsby.

When did you first discover the power of words? Was it when you felt the impact of “I love you” leveling you at the knees, or when you heard “I wish you were never born” ripping you apart? Whatever the case, it was in that moment that you were stripped of your plastic armor. Words exposed us, and we were naked–revealed for who we are in ways no other weapon could unmask. If it was pain, there was no morphine strong enough; but if it was joy, love, hope–there was no planet that was out of reach.

This is the power of words. This is the world we invite you to enter. A place in which you can create and discover and master the pen you’ve been given to enable beauty in all places and bring peace where there is pain.

Let it go and see where it takes you.