Recently, I was listening to a little cluster of students who huddled around a computer, giggling at what each other didn’t know and at what was too old to care about. One proudly explained that she couldn’t name a single Beatles song, though her friend began to sing the chorus of “Here Comes the Sun.” A third proclaimed loudly that Madonna was overrated and that Beyoncé is so much better. This is the same group who call ’60s and ’70s classic rock “dad rock.”
As a dad in Wayfarers, I’m not sure how to respond to this half-joking diminution. It’d be nice to be the cool old dude, but one must be careful not to veer too far and end up like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty or worse, like Dennis Hopper in River’s Edge. Old-dude cool is dangerous territory, even at this late date in pop culture. While it is acceptable for me, in my 40s, to play Pixies louder than a middle-aged man should, it would not, for example, be okay for me to listen to Lana Del Rey at all. (Who’d want to, when you’ve got Velvet Underground & Nico and Portishead?)
Here’s the catch: the double-standard is real, apparent, and obvious . . . and no young person apologizes for it— even though young people readily plead the case when faced with a double-standard dealt out by an older person. For example, if a teenager has something old, then it’s “vintage,” but if I have something old, then it’s just old. Old-dude cool involves knowing all about that undefined and deeply hypocritical line – the edgy edge of edginess – and it means grasping what Bob Dylan taught generations of us: if you have to ask, then you don’t get it.
Probably the greatest benefit of old-dude cool is being able to invoke my inner Dylan. Sometimes it’s necessary to see a teenager behaving badly, and calmly and knowingly say, “Don’t do that. Don’t be that guy.” I know, because I was that guy a few times, and I wish someone had said it to me.
An old proverb says that Time heals all wounds. It also humbles all young people. I used to be young. It was nice, and I had a lot of fun. But I wouldn’t go back to it. Having that energy again wouldn’t be worth losing the wisdom. The simple truth that young people just don’t – and can’t – get is: that’s what makes old-dude cool the coolest cool of all— being so cool that we don’t even care that you don’t think we are.
I’m sure that this generation thinks that the Beatles aren’t worth worrying about and that Madonna is overrated. To them, Madonna is 50 and wearing a lot of make-up and trying too hard. But to us, she’s that girl who rolled around seductively in a fishnet top, at a time when no one else was doing that. They ask the same question about Madonna’s antics that I asked about The Beatles’ mop-tops or Elvis’ pelvis: what’s the big deal? Compared to any episode of Shameless, which they can stream any time, “Like a Virgin” is pretty tame. Ultimately, I can’t fault the snickering students, so I do what old-dude cool tells me to do: say, “Whatever,” and go on about my business.