It can arguably be said that before the 1950s men were suave and debonair, and women delightful - a tentative balance, whereby everyone knew their place and what society demanded of them. Ah, but then came the revolution, with unfeasibly loud music, gyrating hips, attire that could be called - well positively explicit, and a distain for authority that was verging on the treasonable, unpatriotic, maybe even devil-worshipry.
This was a heady cocktail of defiance that, among its many insubordinations, threw up a notion - the pursuit of being distinguished not by conscious invention, but by the possession of mere presence. James Dean had it, Jane Fonda inherited it, Steve McQueen plain oozed it, crushed velvet became the real deal, long hair for men, skirts to the hips for women, flared jeans (though God only knows how or why), paisley shirts, the hairy chest and the macho man. Wannabes emulated this via Charles Atlas instructional pamphlets, and long hours cutting poses to the mirror, but few achieved it - not realising that just because you walk with an exaggerated swagger, and extend your upper arm two inches from your armpit, this does not mean that pectoral muscle has miraculously grown there and, instead of looking badass, you just look a complete prat.
You see the tragic fact was and still is, if you want to be 'cool', you can't feign, learn, or grow it - you have to be it. Think of Jim Morrison, drunk as a skunk and off his box on as much stuff as his nose cavity could carry ... still cool as a penguin's bum, or Elvis - on his way to the size of a family house, but even his sweat had it. Marilyn Monroe - well I'll say no more, or Kurt Cobain, Princess Diana, the list goes on - it doesn't matter whether tragedy hits their lives or not, they still have it, always have it, even after their sad, and sometimes premature, demise. The present crop, taking up the lofty mantle of cooldom: Milla Jovovich, Jay-Z, Damon Albarn, Halle Berry, even the Dalai Lama and, as it goes without saying, Johnny Depp - in all his manifestations. And what do all these people have in common? Nothing other than being born with a presence that sets them out as the lucky recipients of a state of calm detachment in all circumstances. It's not a matter of mere attractiveness, nor is it anything to do with sex appeal - although, in most cases, this comes as a matter of course - it is the ability to stand out, to fill a room before they even enter it, to command attentions that the normal lowly individual can only envy and covet. Theirs is a gift, a grace if you like, and one I've seen many times but have seen bettered only once.
While I was researching my book 'The Silver Mist', I spent many hours - though not intrusively - observing people of the same human condition as my main character and narrator, Eve Hayes. Eve was born with Down syndrome and, apart from my own personal experience of a family member, I wanted to observe - that I might give credibility, and a respectful truth to her words and deeds. For me these remarkable people started to sprout from every nook, quietly moving in the background, going about their day seemingly unattached to the worldly concerns of others. It was during one such observation I saw a young Down syndrome man, in ill-fitting trousers and shirt, standing close to two other non Down syndrome and distinctly not cool, men arguing over a parking spot. The Down syndrome guy looked on with interest, as though a higher person taking note and drawing in the experience. Then just when the heated row looked like it might get ugly, the Down syndrome man just shrugged, cast his eyes to the clouds, hoisted the belt on his trousers, and toddled off in the direction of an ice-cream seller, in a way that was the coolest thing I'd ever seen - pure detachment, and total indifference - to the point of the two previous focuses of his attentions were unaware of his presence.
Now I don't purport to have an acute eye for cool - nor do I have any lessons on how to achieve it, but I do know when I see it, and that Down syndrome bloke had it by the bucketload ... as he went off down the road, ice-cream cone in hand, and the police sirens screaming louder from the distance.
By the way, October is Down syndrome month.
Author: The Silver Mist