Through Being Cool

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The other morning, Noise heard a commercial on the radio for McDonald's, which is apparently selling espresso now. The spot was called "Confessions of an Ex-Hipster," and some guy was prattling on about how he's traded in his love of "French films, indie-rock and not bathing" for football, khakis and high-fiving. But he still loves his hyper-­caffeinated Italian java, which is obviously just the thing to wash down those McNuggets.

As much as the commercial made him cringe (you don't have to be a hipster, or even French, to know bathing is overrated), Noise found it kind of heartwarming as well. If even McDonald's is making fun of hipsters now, the pretentious shits who live to be in the know about the latest band, boutique or blog — and, more importantly, to make sure everybody else knows they're in the know — are officially just this side of irrelevant.

This time next week, Noise will once again be neck-deep in South by Southwest, which is to hipsters what the annual Detroit Auto Show is to people who like cars. For the better part of a week, Austin will be overrun by people wearing ridiculously oversized sunglasses and circulation-threatening jeans, who haven't seen either the sun or a comb in months (if ever).


cool vs. hip

It's sort of like the Olympics: They'll be competing to see who can amass the most laminates, send the most tweets, smoke the most free Natural American Spirits, quaff the most free flavored vodka and attend the most exclusive afterparties. Some SXSW afterparties, in fact, don't even start until it's already getting light outside — those are called "breakfast." (Too bad hipsters don't eat.)

They might even check out a band or two, but that runs a distant second to being seen at whatever showcase the blog of the day said they should go to. Besides, most likely they'll be too busy texting their friends back home in Brooklyn or doing key bumps in the bathroom to pay any attention to whoever happens to be onstage.

Watching them go about their hipster ways would almost be entertaining if it weren't so sad, and if they weren't such a nuisance. You see, there are still people who actually go to SXSW to get some work done and further their careers — we'll hear from several members of this year's Houston delegation next week — which can be nearly impossible thanks to the sheer volume of hipsters underfoot.

They're the ones hogging all the cabs and spare electrical outlets charging their BlackBerries, to say nothing of the bathroom stalls. Thanks to their laptops jamming all the available Wi-Fi in Travis County, it's impossible to get online anywhere outside your hotel room. They're in front of you in line, behind you on the street and beside you in the elevator. They haunt your dreams the few precious hours you actually get to sleep.

Noise's impending encounter with Hipster Nation reminds him of a paper he wrote long, long ago in college — he thinks it was for a course examining images and texts of the modern American West, but who knows? — outlining the differences between "hip" and "cool." Despite what Google will have you believe, those words are not synonymous. In fact, they're opposites, but all too easy to confuse — ironically, one of the most incisive anti-hipster songs of all time is SXSW '09 marquee artist Devo's "Through Being Cool."

"Hip," as outlined above, means obsessed with what other people think, always chasing the next big thing and a lemming-like inability to deviate from the herd. "Cool," on the other hand, means you're secure in your own identity, have no trouble forming your own opinions and could not care less if what you're into — hairstyles, clothes, music, literature, friends, anything — isn't whatever happens to be hot at the moment.

The longer he lives in Houston, the more Noise is impressed by what a cool town it is, and the main reason is that it's probably the most hipster-free big city in America. Shit, maybe the world. It's not even that people here don't shop at Urban Outfitters and American Apparel or listen to MGMT and Bon Iver, because they do, but from what Noise can gather, they also don't look down their noses at people who don't. Or the people he hangs out with don't, anyway. So-called local hipster joints like Poison Girl and Big Star Bar, for example, are infinitely more laid-back than their Austin analogues like the Mohawk and Beauty Bar.

Just look at the local music scene. Some types of music that remain popular here (ska and blues, to name two) faded from hipsters' radar so long ago they're probably due for a comeback. Others, like metal, punk and hardcore — particularly anything with Beau Beasley's name attached to it — are virulently trend-proof and always will be. The abrasive experimental music of Rusted Shut, Linus Pauling Quartet and Richard Ramirez's various projects may carry a certain cachet among more adventurous audiophiles, but those artists create for themselves first and foremost and are practically allergic to publicity.

The hottest sound in Houston right now, the closest thing that constitutes any kind of "scene," is the exuberant, eclectic music of bands such as Wild Moccasins, Young Mammals and the McKenzies. At the moment, these three bands probably have the most potential to break out of Houston and build regional and even national followings, but they're all mislabeled indie-rock when their music is much closer to power-pop — which hasn't been in vogue on any kind of national scale since the days of "My Sharona" and Cheap Trick's Live at Budokan. Which is not to say it couldn't be again if things break right.

Strangely enough, even though he knows what kind of hipster hell it's going to be, Noise is actually looking forward to SXSW this year. Sure, it's partially due to the schadenfreude of laughing at people in skinny jeans and silly haircuts — even McDonald's has picked up on that — but more than that, it's because he knows we've got a nice little scene back home that shows every indication of continuing to flower and ferment whether or not people in Williamsburg, East Austin or Echo Park ever embrace it.

How cool is that?


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