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Philip Seymour Hoffman and the Importance of Being Uncool

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Are you uncool? Have you always been that way?

When he died in what some would consider an uncool way, the master actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's great moments in cinema were all over the web. The Almost Famous clip on being "uncool" seemed to be everywhere, resonating with the cool and uncool alike. That speech, in the character of rock critic Lester Bangs, goes like this:

"Oh, man, you made friends with 'em. See, friendship is the booze they feed ya 'cause they want ya to get drunk on feeling like you belong.... Because they make you feel cool, and hey, I met you. You are not cool.... Because we are uncool. You know, while women will always be a problem for guys like us. Most of the great art in the world is about that very problem. Good-looking people--they got no spine, their art never lasts. And they get the girls, but we're smarter....'cause great art is about guilt and longing, and, you know, love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love, and hey, let's face it, you've got a big head start... I'm always home, I'm uncool....You're doin' great. The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool. My advice to you, I know you think these guys are your friends, if you wanna be a true friend to 'em, be honest and unmerciful."

For me, seeing the speech brought back one of the defining experiences of my life, when I learned the meaning of being uncool.

Until I took a job as a ski instructor at Smuggler's Notch in Vermont, I had pretty much always been one of the cool kids. In school and even afterwards, being cool in my circle meant being good in sports -- a jock. If you could play and play well, in my world the rest was details. And I could play well enough.

Being cool continued for me after I went to a cool school for college. I had cool jobs and my friends were definitely on the cool side of things. Being cool meant being popular. It meant people wanted to be with you as if coolness was a disease they wanted to catch. You were on the right side of things.

That ended for me in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Through a series of events both fortunate and unfortunate, I joined the ski school in hopes of learning how to ski better. The truth is I flat-out stunk. I was the worst skier among the ski instructors by a country mile. No one was even close. I was so bad I gave "bad" a bad name.

Remember what I said about being a jock? On the mountain everyone was better than me. But it wasn't just my crappy skiing -- it was everything: my boots, my equipment, my base layer were all uncool. I was older than most of the teachers there, and that was uncool, too. Very uncool.

I had literally nothing going for me. And I knew it.

The acknowledgment of your own uncoolness is the only thing cool about it. If you can look at yourself and say "uncool" then you have learned something very important about the human condition, about the haves and have-nots -- and especially the unfairness of life.

So when I heard Philip Seymour Hoffman doing Lester Bangs, I knew what it meant to be uncool as only a formerly cool person can know. I have made a few cool comebacks since then but the basic condition of being on the outside never left. If you've been uncool, you'll never really be cool ever again.

But we already knew that... because we're uncool.