Cool Kids

#1038: Cool

RECORD STORE TALES #1038:  Cool

Recently I’ve been thinking about what it means to be “cool”.  I certainly do not feel “cool”.  I have certainly pretended to be cool.  I had many phases of attempts at being cool.  They were mostly spectacular failures with a few notable successes.  Yet only rarely and sporadically did I ever actually feel “cool”.

As a young misfit kid with only a few close friends, I was a loner at school.  I was more interested in reading books while listening to John Williams soundtracks than hockey.  There’s a line in a Tragically Hip song called “Fireworks” that sort of outlines what it was like to have no interest in hockey.  “You said you didn’t give a fuck about hockey, and I never saw someone say that before.”  The kids at school teased me because I didn’t know who any of the Maple Leafs were and I certainly had no interest in skating.  It was just something I had to do.  My mother made me take hockey lessons and I hated the way those skates made my feet ache.  I just couldn’t wait to get off the ice where my dad would buy me a Mountain Dew.  I could barely skate and still can’t.  My mom told me that “every good Canadian should know how to skate.”  I just wanted to go home and play with my beloved Star Wars guys.  My Luke, Han, Darth, and Stormtrooper figures were always a comfort at home.  I was not cool.

Along came music and I was still not cool.  The other kids had Duran Duran and Mr. Mister while I discovered the back catalogue of a dinosaur rock band called Kiss.  I made a pathetic attempt at growing my hair.  To the other kids at school, I was the nerd who wore the Han Solo shirt a couple years ago, and was now decked out in a Judas Priest shirt that said “Rock Hard Ride Free”.  I was not cool.

I sat in my basement with my VCR, and I watched and rewatched Kiss Animalize Live Uncensored and studied Paul Stanley.  He obviously had no problem being cool.  All he had to do was tell a story about his Love Gun and he had women throwing their underwear at him.  He looked so cool when he danced on stage.  He had these tassels on his pants that twirled when he did these spinning kick moves.  I would get a tennis racket and try doing the same moves in the street in front of my house.  I felt cool.  I imagined the music behind me.  I imagined it was a real guitar in my arms, and tassels on my pants.  I felt cool…but I was not cool.

Highschool came and went, and I had a pretty low profile.  Girls didn’t know my name and I didn’t raise my hand in class.  I wanted to be cool but anonymity was OK too.  I didn’t have the baggage of my nerdy Star Wars past so I established myself as a rocker from day one.  That didn’t really make me cool; the majority of kids were short-hairs who liked music I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.  I got by, but I was not cool.

University came and went with the same anonymity, but the very foundations on which I had built my persona were crumbling.  In 1991 Kurt Cobain made greasy hair and ratty sweaters the new cool, and I was left behind in the dust.  It took two years, but in 1993 I finally cut my hair.  I went with a short hair and bearded look.  I didn’t even feel cool anymore.  I was not cool.

I don’t think I really felt a smidgen cool until I started working at the record store in 1994.  Then I had something I could boast about.  It was a cool job.  I felt a bit like an imposter, that I was not cool enough for that job, but I sure made people know I worked in a record store.  Grunge was popular, nu-metal was on its way, and I was still stuck in the 70s and 80s.  I really struggled with a persona during the record store years.  I had a variety of hair styles and colours.  I bought a pair of Doc Marten boots.  I got a whole bunch of piercings.  At this point, I started to become a little bit more successful in my dating life.  The ladies seemed to like the spiky blonde hair and the piercings.  I may have looked cool, but in hindsight it was just another attempt at being cool.  I was not cool.

I quit the record store, and I got married.  For the first time in my life, I started to feel a little cool.  I had a good job, the most amazing wife, and I had a killer wedding.  Awesome music.  We were told by mulitple guests from all age groups that it was the best, most fun wedding, they’d ever been to.  I felt awesome.  After marriage, Jen and I threw a number of killer house parties.  I did multiple studio appearances on radio.  I felt cool and I think for a little while, for a change, I was cool.

Age started creeping up on me and the years started taking their toll.  I began to take more value in how comfortable things were, rather than how cool they looked.  I had new priorities in life, like maintaining a house and taking care of a sick wife.  The things that used to matter more were trivial now.  I had to appear somewhat professional at work and be prepared to put on steel toe boots and a helmet.  Carefully crafted hair and flashy shoes had no place anymore.  I was not cool.

Yet the definitions of cool have once again changed.  Have they moved in a direction more to my favour this time?  I don’t know, but suddenly Star Wars is popular again and old rock bands pull in crowds of all ages when they embark on the second-last ever farewell tours.  Older guys with grey hair seem to be popular — looking at you Anson Mount (and Tim Durling).  Is it possible…that the time has come that I’m cool again?

I wear Crocs.  In fact now I wear Crocs with freakin’ headlights on them.  People know this.  They are aware of it.  Yet some of the coolest people in the world that I know…tell me I’m cool?

You can imagine why I’m skeptical.

I don’t think I’ll ever really feel cool.  Do you?  Have you felt cool in your life?  What did it feel like, and what did it do for your life?  I think when I feel cool, I feel more confident.  Confidence is important in moderation.  It won’t be long before I used to be with “it”, but then they changed what”it” was.  Then what I’m with isn’t “it” anymore and what’s “it” seems weird and scary. It’ll happen to you!

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Cool Kids (1983)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 2 in his KIX series

KIX – Cool Kids (1983 Atlantic)

Coming off the heels of their unsuccessful debut album, Kix returned to the studio with new producer Peter Solley to shell out what would be their most polarizing and least rocking album. Cool Kids is the most commercial album that Kix every recorded, pressured by Atlantic to deliver a hit after the failure of the debut to find an audience. This was 1983, just before Pyromania broke through the stratosphere to make melodic hard rock/heavy metal a viable commercial direction. Atlantic still had no idea how to market Kix, and also didn’t know what direction to push them in order to find an audience. For this album, they decided to push them towards the new wave aspects of their sound, forcing them to work with outside writers for the first time.

The production of Cool Kids is much more slick and pop-orientated than the rough and ready production of the debut. It’s obvious that the band was pressured into this direction, as a lot of the time they don’t sound comfortable in their own skin. Signer Steve Whiteman’s voice lacks its usual power and grit on this recording, likely being asked to hold back for the songs by producer Peter Solley. Another notable change to the band’s sound is the presence of new guitar player Brad Divens, temporarily replacing Ronnie “10/10” Younkins. This is the only Kix album to feature Divens, as Younkins rejoined them by their next album Midnight DynamiteCool Kids lacks the fiery and spontaneous edge of Younkins’ playing, and contributes even more to the album feeling sterile.

Despite these flaws, this is still a Kix album. There are still enjoyable moments throughout the record, quite a few actually. They are however, overwhelmed by the material that doesn’t work on this album. Opener “Burning Love” doesn’t introduce the set of tunes with a lot of power. Kix always has energy, but it seems to be counteracted with the sterile production and addition of keyboards. That being said, it’s a perfectly serviceable melodic rock tune, but there’s nothing genuinely exceptional about it. With it’s bouncy keyboards and lazy riff, it doesn’t sound much like Kix. This is one of the tunes that wasn’t written by the band. The title track follows it in a similarly sleek fashion, but is ultimately more enjoyable because it is more guitar-driven, and the band’s natural energy pushes through much more. It was also written by outside writers, but it is a very catchy tune. I’d say it’s a great melodic rock song for the early ‘80s. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound much like Kix either.

After two tracks that fail to encompass the Kix sound, the first band-written track is up with “Love Pollution”. One of the only straight-up rockers on the disc, it’s also one of the best songs on the album. Written by Whiteman and Forsythe, the song burns along with a killer guitar riff and a lot of attitude, and accompanied by piano in the chorus that actually helps the song. A truly killer tune, one that I think represents the direction that this whole album should have gone in. It has a sound similar to that of the genre defying debut, but in a harder rocking vein. You can tell already that Kix wanted to toughen up their sound, though the shiny production doesn’t help that point across.

Next up is the outside penned “Body Talk” which used talk box three years before Bon Jovi, and also has one of the absolute worst music videos of all time. What the hell was the director thinking? Kix playing at what looks like a high school gym with only girls working out doing weird-ass synchronized exercise dances? Yeah, they really dropped the ball with this one. I find it strange that with this promotion Atlantic was confused about why the band weren’t doing well commercially. Luckily for them, Kix were still obscure enough that hardly anyone has ever seen that video. As for the song, it’s an uncharacteristic new wave workout, and a co-lead vocal between Steve Whiteman and drummer Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfont. It’s a catchy pop tune, but it couldn’t be further from the Kix sound. Atlantic definitely missed the mark by making them record this one.

And if you didn’t think they could fall further into Flock of Seagulls territory, we get “Loco-Emotion”, penned by bass player Donnie Purnell. Steve Whiteman gets to play saxophone on this song, and for the verses it’s easily the weirdest Kix song ever. While the chorus contains a get up and go kick in the pants, the verses are just off-putting. Their first album used Devo primarily for what little new wave influence they had, but now they were courting the sound of several shittier new wave bands. Fortunately, from here on out everything was penned by the band, and there is nothing as jarring as this song.

However, a lot of these songs penned by Purnell are strange, and not up to his usual standards. “Mighty Mouth” is a powerful rock tune that gets bogged down by a very awkward and annoying chorus with Whiteman screaming the title. It seems a bit too cheeky for its own good, but is nothing compared to the campy “Nice on Ice” and the absolutely awful “Get Your Monkeys Out”. These songs lean hard on the bubblegum pop equation that was blended so successfully on albums before and after this with hard rock. Here, thanks to the shiny production, they sound cheesy and downright embarrassing. Thankfully, the album is redeemed with the two closing tunes.

Kix break the general rock standard of having the penultimate song be the worst on the album, by having the penultimate song be the best on the album. “For Shame” is an acoustic ballad years before “When the Children Cry”, or “Patience”, or “More than Words”. Beginning to see a trailblazing pattern? Yes, this is a heartfelt ballad that relies more on a nostalgic feeling than a sappy one. It uses the emotion of regret as the basis of the tune, which is an effective emotional connector. Whereas other love ballads seem derivative, this one seems genuine. The lyrics are very simple, but powerful. They detail summertime love that is lost with the passing of the seasons, with the two lovers unable to find each other afterwards Grease style. Thankfully, this song is stripped of the excess production that plagues most of the rest of the album, which keeps it sounding real, unlike other synthetic love tunes of the era. “For Shame” is a fantastic ballad, one that Kix would only surpass with a #11 hit on the Billboard charts (more on that when we get there).

They round the album out with the spiritual brother of “Love Pollution”. The other hard rocking song on the album, it features a writing credit from everyone in the band. It’s a speedy number the glides by ending the album on a high note. “Restless Blood” is an energetic kick in the pants to conclude the record with grace. Cool Kids is arguably the least essential Kixrecord, as it’s sound is the result of the label pressure. For the most part, it doesn’t represent the Kix sound, and a lot of the songs that do represent that sound, don’t get the equation as balanced as on the debut or any of their later albums. Thankfully, Kix would not let us down again. Atlantic finally realized that they had their hands on a hard rock band after this record tanked as bad as the first one. Our heroes would resurface again stronger than ever in 1985 with possibly the greatest album of their career. If this was the stepping stone that made Midnight Dynamite possible, so be it.

2.5/5 stars