Among those of us who lived through the New Wave era, that is, the minor boom of fun, late-’70s power pop/punk rock bands, not, as VH1 retro programmers, Entertainment Weekly writers, and youthful bloggers might have you believe, early synth-pop bands from 1983-1985, did you take great pains to examine where these bands fell along the fine line of “cool?” I did. Let me explain.
Despite what 98% of my fellow students would have said regarding my tastes in music circa 1979, I knew it was cool that I liked punk and new wave bands. I wasn’t cool—don’t think I was deluded into thinking such a thing—but my tastes were cool. That being said, it took only a few weeks of delving into this new music scene to realize that I, as a young rock nerd, had to uphold certain standards of excellence within this genre. Leaving out the punks, almost all of whom were cool, with possible reservations over the suspiciously phony Stiff Little Fingers, judging the coolness of artists loosely categorized/marketed as “new wave” was open to much interpretation. Elvis Costello, Rockpile, and Graham Parker were way cool. Blondie, despite what really cool cats in the New York punk scene had been whispering, were cool. The Police, when they first appeared on the scene, were pretty cool, even if the writing was on the peroxide bottle that they might have bigger fish to fry than empowering awkward teenage boys with a sense of cool. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Cheap Trick clearly were so cool that we tried to drag him into our New Wave Army, whether they wanted to serve on the front lines for us or not. The Cars would surely pull their lesser new wave cohorts into the mainstream, no?