The National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian
and the blog American Alconleigh
invite you to the opening ceremony of the newest exhibit
Wednesday the Twelfth of March at now o’clock
dress is American cool. Blue jeans, nautical attire, Mardi Gras beads and feathers, cheerleader dresses and cowboy boots will all be appropriate.
Did you feel all that coolness wafting your way? It’s not the polar vortex again, (though that is making a return later this week). No, it is the newest exhibit at the Smithsonian, American Cool, a collection of images portraying the people who made cool what it is today. The originals, the rule breakers, the style makers all collected together in a pictorial display exploring the evolution of this uniquely American cachet. Over 100 photos of the men and women who came to be associated with the styles and trends that have a uniquely American identity. The Smithsonian covers the ‘who’ American Alconleigh will add the ‘what’. Both exhibits are free of charge
Not as easy to define as it is to recognize, I would see American cool as a confident individualism and independent style. I don’t think of cool as just rebellion, but many of the people that have come to personify it were rebels. However you define it we must all agree its nursery was the smokey dance clubs and neon lit streets of the jazz world.
Lester Young~He had his own relaxed and laid-back style with his music and he believed each musician should play his own way: “tell their own story”. He brought an individualism and freedom of expression to jazz that undoubtedly helped it to blossom. His talent brought forth not only great music, but a new language. ‘The Prez’ coined the lingo, you dig?
Bessie Smith~The first female jazz singer to become well known and the gritty ballads she belted out were not pretty stories for polite society but woeful tales of abuse, neglect, poverty and lust. When she wasn’t belting out tunes she was belting out adversaries.
The Detective~As a great devotee of Christie/Sayers/Doyle et al I cannot possibly claim that the detective mystery is a facet of American cool. But the tough, gritty, anti-hero imagined by Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler and the like became the archetype for a new genre. Hard boiled, dollface.
Each so cool in their own right, Bogey and Bacall have separate entries in the Smithsonian top 100, but here I am putting them together to even better appreciate the glacial coolness resulting from the combination.
“You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together, ..and blow”
Frank~The crooner, the tough guy, the actor, the high roller. If I may drop a veil with my readers, I can admit that I would have gladly spent an indiscreet weekend in Vegas with Ole Blue Eyes and his cronies. He could even call me Sweetcheeks, to which I would gush and bat my eyelashes. And I would not have an ounce of regret. How any woman could go from this to an ugly whine-y pathetic movie director I cannot comprehend.
“You can be the most artistically perfect performer in the world, but an audience is like a broad-if you’re indifferent, endsville.”
Custom Harley choppers for riding across the country~There are long open roads out there, winding through mesas and dusty towns, through big cities and around majestic mountains. Roads just waiting for you to straddle a hog, don a leather jacket and do-rag and leave everything behind. Ride from coast to coast then back again. Get in a little trouble, make a little noise (though not with the pipes-that’s just obnoxious), flout the law and feel the wind in your hair.
Cowboys~ No matter how sophisticated or urbane you may be, you would do well to spend some time with real cowboys. They will show you what it means to get up early, keep your word, bow your head, care for animals, take a fall, stand up in a fight, be tender and tough, humble and confident, hard working and hard playing. Especially now when our mantra is instant gratification, effort is an imposition and common sense isn’t common, cowboy life will impart upon you a perspective that will be invaluable, whatever your life path. Mothers, you should send your daughters to live for a spell in cowboy country before they go out in the world. I’m not saying they should only marry a cowboy, I’m just saying they should only marry after meeting some.
The Kennedys~ youth and power. They raised the tone of style and lowered the age of power brokers. As individuals, perhaps not the most upstanding of citizens but their wealthy and youthful lifestyle set a standard on the beach or in the White House.
Football~ Combining the best of all other sports, football is the pinnacle of athleticism. If you put together a group rugby players, track stars, dancers, and an orchestra conductor and made them play a full game without stopping for feigned injuries or bad weather, you would have football-a game of both strategy and strength, because you cannot win without both. Meaty linemen, cerebral quarterbacks, agile and swift receivers, every game is a display of physical performance
Baseball~I have to include baseball in the American Alconleigh addendum to American Cool. It is such a part of the national identity that I would be remiss to skip it. Whereas football makes our list for the sport itself, baseball is the players, the fans, the parks, even the food. The very sound of a baseball game makes me think of hot lazy summer afternoons.
Skyscrapers~Not just any skyscrapers, but the beautiful art deco ones that you find in the older cities. They make you want look skyward as you walk, but I would recommend you watch out for cabs.
Did you think I was going to include apple pie? I’m sure it wouldn’t be out of place. But my idea of an American dessert is a big ‘ole ice cream cone. The only thing missing from this one is jimmies.