Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It’s Time To Define Cool, Baby

With the new James Bond and new James Bond movie, “Casino Royale” premiering this week there has been a lot of discussion about the entire James Bond universe. Add to that the fact that I’ve been playing a lot of Sinatra at work lately and I’ve come to realize what the definition of cool really is (although please read my disclaimer below about cool). It’s somewhere between Sinatra and Bond (maybe that’s Dean Martin since he also played Matt Helm, who was a post Bond 60s spy). When I say Bond, I mean mostly Connery’s Bond. I will admit though that Roger Moore is probably my favorite Bond (please don’t send me hate mail) because he was a little funnier and he is the 007 I grew up watching. Is it a coincidence that my idea of coolness took place during the early ‘60s? Probably not. If you want your 6 degrees of linking thing, well, Nancy Sinatra did do the theme song for Connery’s “You Only Live Twice.”

We’ll start with the Bond half of the coolness gauge. To this very day, if you see a guy in a tux holding a gun, you think James Bond. He was no-nonsense with the driest humor of any of the James Bonds. He wore perfectly tailored suits and had just the right mix of mostly-believable gadgets. It seemed there was nothing this guy couldn’t do. He was also very smooth around the women and unlike Roger Moore, he didn’t have those huge shirt collars and bell-bottoms to slow him down, you know, more drag and air resistance. Connery’s Bond also got to be Bond to some really great music, unlike Moore who had to parade around to what was essentially disco music. We’ll just say Moore was a great Bond at a bad time and leave it at that.

Of course, as hard as it seems because he’s been around over forty years, James Bond isn’t real. It was the presentation of the Bond character with the hippest cars, music, wardrobe, etc. that made it all look so cool. Well, at least it looked cool when they weren’t speeding up the film to make the action look faster. Whether in the face of certain death or the presence of the definition of beauty, Connery was calm, cool and collected and could usually make a sly joke about it. Connery, like Sinatra made the fedora and the cigarette look cool as few others could, and the image still holds up.

What guy wouldn’t want to be James Bond? What guy wouldn’t just once like the chance to disarm any woman he met (although I’d probably clam up and become a stammering idiot), drive a classy sports car (I’d probably ruin the transmission), gamble with high stakes (I’d lose because I have no idea how to play baccarat or craps) or defeat the bad guy with brawn, brains and gadgetry (I’d press the wrong button and end up killing myself). I can’t think of even one. I guess James Bond is the answer to every guy’s midlife crisis. I haven’t even brought up the fact that he was a spy with a license to kill…

When it comes to Sinatra, he defined cool and got to show it off with his pipes (as he’d probably call his voice). When he hung out with his buddies like Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, etc, they called themselves The Summit (not the Rat Pack as we refer to them) as in the pinnacle or the height of cool, which is what they were. When you factor in James Bond, perhaps never before in history has a group of middle-aged men been the poster image of cool. For you parents of youngins out there, no, The Wiggles don’t count!

Sinatra’s phrasing, tempo and the way he talked were so hip at the time that even squares had to be impressed (I have no idea where that sentence just came from, I am so sorry). Who else could call eyes glimmers or make the word cuckoo seem in style? Ladies were dames, guys were cats and leaving quickly was called ‘taking a powder.’ If I were to say take a powder to someone today, I guarantee you it would be followed by them asking me what I just said, or a visit from a narcotics officer.

It’s definitely a time that has long since passed. Maybe more than anything, it’s the imagery of a time long gone that makes it all seem so cool. Maybe it was just a time in our history when it was easier to be cool. Do you want proof of that? Just try to find a guy in his 20s-40s today wearing a fedora and referring to his girlfriend as a dame. I’d be willing to bet you won’t and if you do, he’s probably being laughed at. On the other hand, you probably wouldn’t find Bond or Sinatra in a pair of cargo shorts, either.

**Author’s disclaimer – it needs to be understood that I am the least cool person I know, so me writing about the definition of cool would be like me writing an article about first hand experience with menopause or childbirth**

12 comments:

Aisby said...

Well put. You just don't see men like Sinatra or Bond anymore. I wish men still dressed up a little more, and wore hats and ties to baseball games.

Michael C said...

Aisby: I agree. I've often noticed old photos of men really dressed up for a ballgame. Nowadays guys can't even pull their pants up when they attend a game!

mist1 said...

Post something about cool women. We really define coolness.

Michael C said...

Mist1: Yes women do define coolness... and beauty!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Connery, Sinatra, and before them, Bogart. were the epitome of cool. Absolutely. They were from an era when adults dressed differently from kids, and so they looked older than people of comparable ages do now.

The 60's changed everything. There are also few women with the glamour of Bacall, Monroe, and Ella Fitzgerald around now. Hollywood can slap some red lipstick and a 50's gown on a young movie star, but she'll look like she's in costume.

The ladies of that era exuded glamour from every pore. It was impossible to imagine them in jeans, or not looking perfect. They spoke slower, had huskier voices, and were probably born with perfect hair.

Since my images of sophistication and yes, glamour, were formed by these people, I have never felt that I measured up. Nor have I ever felt old enough to be glamorous.

Lizza said...

What a great post, Michael. The people of that era weren't only cool, they were class acts too. Pity today's generation: growing up with images of the likes of skanky Britney and Paris and some bizarre male celebrities who shall remain unnamed. :-)

Irene said...

I think you're pretty cool... when you aren't trying to be David Letterman! ;p

the Laughorist said...

You, my friend, are a cultural historian of the first order. (I prefer Connery, because I am older.) This is an essay worth circulating around the 'Net. Incidentally, Pete Hamill (who wrote Why Sinatra Matters) remarked something to the effect that when Sinatra died the 20th century ended.

Odat said...

Hey Cool Cat Michael,
I grew up with all this...my mom loved Sinatra and the gang...we listened to it growing up...i saw all the James Connery Bond movies and I still love him! My mom actually met Sinatra. He and his first? wife Nancy used to live near her when they first got married and she used to see them in the park, wheeling Nancy? or Frank Jr. (whoever is the oldest).
Well, I'm taking a powder now,
Peace

Josie said...

Michael, you have the whole cool thing pegged. You are waaay cool.

You know, I once wanted to be a playboy bunny (not a centerfold) so I could be in the heart of coolness. I still love listening to Sinatra, etc. Coolness never goes away, it outlasts everything else.

Ring a ding ding, baby... Hah.

ShadowFalcon said...

The New bond scares me...so I'm about a millions miles away from cool but Sinatra and Connery are uber cool.

SGT DUB said...

Michael, You're right. First, I can name two current figures who wear a fedora on occasion, the first, you've mentioned about Nov 7th, K-Fed(up) and yes, i believe everyone should have laughed at him, the second is Johnny Depp, I think he pulls off the fedora but usually strikes out with whatever he puts with it from the neck down. Funny, I just mentioned buying a CD "Christmas with the Rat Pack". Dean Martin has also been a favorite. As for Sean, what man wouldn't want to be named the Sexiest Man by People Magazine when you're 60. That's hard to top. On the blog scene, you're cool.