Tuesday, December 27, 2011

World's Coolest Dude 1911-2011, (1971-1980)

We continue with the seventh installment of the World's Coolest Dude list, which covers the years 1961-1970.

In case you missed it, here are the previous installments of the World's Coolest Dude 1911-2011 list:

1971 – Mick Jagger

In a post-Beatles world, in a world with Bob Dylan in self-imposed domestic exile, there was finally room for Mick Jagger to take the throne as the World’s Coolest Dude. Even though he lingered on the brink of winning the award for much of the 1960’s, Jagger could never break through. He was perhaps the leading sex symbol of the 60’s but could never capitalize. However, without the Beatles and Dylan at the height of their powers he was able to do just that. 1971 would have been a banner year for Jagger regardless even if the Beatles and Dylan had been around. In 1971 the Stones released Sticky Fingers, which was their third bona fide classic masterpiece in a row. Jagger was the front man of the leading band in the rock world and was very much starting to drive the band in a dominant creative capacity. The 1969-1972 Jagger is very much responsible for creating the mold of not only the 1970’s rock star, but the mold for rock stardom and, more importantly, rock super-stardom. Some may argue the Beatles had done that in  the 1960’s but the Beatles were more a sublime fairy tale, whereas the Stones spoke to a very blatant realism of life, fault and music. And Jagger was able to translate that into a business and celebrity savvy starting at the turn of the 1970’s. Sticking to the music, was Jagger ever any better than on tracks like “Brown Sugar,” “Bitch,” “Dead Flowers,” or “Wild Horses?” Hell, he even gave perhaps his best vocal performance on the album closing track “Moonlight Mile” — which is also perhaps the best song in the Rolling Stones catalogue. You add the fact that most people thought that it was his waist that was depicted on the Andy Warhol cover and the man was larger than life. He was the World’s Coolest Dude in 1971 and he paved the “larger than life” way for his bandmate the following year.

1972 – Keith Richards

Where Jagger used celebrity savvy to become the World’s Coolest Dude in 1971, Richards went to the opposite end of the scale in 1972—he was the World’s Coolest Dude because he lived a dionysian life that no one else could live; a world inhabited with endless booze, the luxuriant danger of  wealthy drug addiction and the natural joy of effortless guitar riffs and singalongs along the French Riviera. Nelle Cote, Richards’ home in France, became the epicenter of the rock universe in 1971-1972. Musicians stopped through to witness and help the Stones record Exile on Main Street, the most famous being Gram Parsons (a guy more self-destructive than even Richards, which kept him from becoming the World’s Coolest Dude, even though he was a constant nominee in the 1968-1973 era.). While at Nelle Cote, it was rumored that Richards even killed a man by running him over in a dune buggy but was never arrested. Combine the fact that Richards was living an impossible life in France with the release of Exile on Main Street, an album that seems to channel his very spirit and vision for the Rolling Stones, as well as the ensuing 1972 World Tour that cemented the Jagger/Richards “Glimmer Twins” dynamic and is known as perhaps the most defining, iconic and debaucherous rock tour of all time (see Cocksucker Blues), and you have all the credentials for World’s Coolest Dude. In addition, his entire look just seemed to echo the aura of the year 1972. He was perhaps the messiest winner of all time, but you can’t argue against the kind of resume that Keith presented that year.

1973 – Robert Plant

All you need to know about this entry in the World’s Coolest Dude Award is that Led Zeppelin’s 1973 tour of North America has its own Wikipedia page, that’s how big they were and how influential the 1973 tour was for setting the foundation for the future of rock n’ roll stadium and arena touring. In late July 1973, Led Zeppelin sold out Madison Square Garden for three straight nights. That itself is an iconic image: hot New York in July, Zeppelin on the marquee, the city just preparing to hit rock bottom, people selling weed and acid in denim jeans, the Bono fanatics drinking on the steps of Penn Station smoking cigarettes. With all due respect to Jimmy Page, the lasting image of Led Zeppelin will always be golden, mop-haired, Robert Plant strutting around stage, twirling his fingers and letting out his banchee blues wail bare chested. He was so influential in 1973, that I, in 2001, who had thin, brown hair, thought that if I listened to enough Led Zeppelin that I would look like Robert Plant (to be fair, in 2001 I was smoking nearly as much weed as they were smoking in 1973 if you figure in the increased potency of marijuana over time). Plant’s voice also peaked in 1973 as he was never able to reach the same startling highs of early Zeppelin after that year (just listen to Physical Graffiti; he absolutely reaches for it, but he is definitely about an octave lower and they put more effects on his voice as well). Robert Plant in 1973 was an image of what rock n’ roll was for good (very, very good) and for bad (not as terrible as the punks later made it out to be). The “does anyone remember laughter” line from the Madison Square Garden concerts is just the coup de grace of Plant’s victory as World’s Coolest Dude 1973.

1974 – Jack Nicholson

By 1974, Jack Nicholson had perfected his on screen persona as a smooth talking, charasmatic, trouble-seeking and grinning everyman. He brought a certain earthiness to his characters and his real life even though he was one of the most glamorous stars of the 1970’s (and of all-time). He was already known as a playboy and was one of Hollywood’s most famous actors. He had made two genuine classic movies in Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces and had proven his understanding of the cultural youth by being a part of pyschedellic movies such as The Trip and Head. But in 1974, he made Chinatown, which is possibly his best movie and constantly goes head to head with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as the movie where he reached the peak of his Jackness. Chinatown overall was a much cooler movie than One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Even though Cuckoo’s Nest was adapted from a book and works on a variety of levels, Chinatown keeps the viewer coming back for more and plus Jack always looks so slick and bad ass as Jake Gittes when he’s taking cheap shots on goons and sleeping with Faye Dunaway and tailing John Huston around 1930’s Los Angeles. There was a certain air about Chinatown Jack, and thus 1974 Jack, that makes him stand out against the other years of prime Jack. And its very hard to beat prime Jack in being the World’s Coolest Dude.

1975 – Muhammad Ali

We all love Muhammad Ali. We all understand why he is not only a boxing legend but also a legend in the realm of civil rights and just standing by what you believe in. In 1974, Ali had regained the World Heavyweight Title in 1974 by beating George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle,” but in 1975 he fought perhaps his toughest match ever—the “Thrilla in Manila” against Joe Frazier. The fight, also called Ali-Frazier III, pit champion Ali against what many presumed to be a washed up Joe Frazier, Ali’s main rival. The match took place in temperatures reaching 100 degrees and went 14 rounds with each main trading the lead for large chunks of the match. Ali prevailed in the end and defeated Frazier to retain the title and win their overall series against each other. It was perhaps the pinnacle of Ali’s career. He had beaten his rival, staged an improbable victory against an unseemingly unbeatable opponent (young George Foreman) and had overcome racism and the skepticism of the American public. While my stubborn Italian uncle still prefers Rocky Marciano to Muhammad Ali, there was perhaps no more important or visible sports/cultural figure in 1975 than Muhammad Ali. He was very much the World’s Coolest Dude 1975.

1976 – Julius Irving

One of the biggest cliches (and thus truths) in the lexicon and world of basketball is that before Dr. J, the game was played below the rim, but that once Dr. J took center stage, the game was forever played above the rim. There had never been a player like Dr. J in the world of basketball who could effortlessly glide in the air and around the court. He basically defined the small forward position as it is currently known. Before the 1976-1977 season, due to the crazy rules of the NBA, as well as some precarious financial situations of various organizations, Dr. J was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers once the NBA and ABA merged. There is something about Dr. J joing the 76ers in the 1976-1977 that just seems so symbolic.  Also, in the 1975-1976 ABA season Dr. J introduced the “foul line dunk” to the world at the ABA All-Star weekend (which the NBA later adopted) and immediately became an icon. He had his own Converse shoe made for him and became a symbol for where basketball was going. It would take the powers of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to help fully realize that vision, but back in 1976, during the peak of the basketball dark ages, Dr. J stood out as a beacon of light, a possible celebrity for the game to build a future on. Even white people weren’t afraid to root for Dr. J in 1976.

1977 – Mark Hamill

Star Wars was the biggest movie in movie  history (shout out to Home Movies) in 1977 and of course Luke Skywalker, the ostensible protagonist, was the most popular character, even though Han Solo was probably the best character of the story. You can’t deny the appeal of a character with the last name Skywalker, I mean, come on, it just sounds great. You add the fact that he got to brandish a lightsaber (an absolutely mindblowing weapon at the time) and Mark Hammill was worshipped everywhere. There is not  much to say that hasn’t been said. The influence of Star Wars is still felt today when another “blockbuster” reaching for the heights of that franchise fails at the box office. In fact, any movie franchise will inevitably be compared to the success of Star Wars and Mark Hammill as Luke Skywalker was at the center of that mania. It’s just too bad he got into that motorcyle accident and ruined his chin.

1978 – Lindsay Buckingham

For much of my youth I hated Fleetwood Mac. This was mainly due to the fact that FM radio played “The Chain,” “You Can Go Your Own Way,” and Stevie Nicks songs way too much. Now, while it is true that solo Stevie Nicks is awful, it is also true that Lindsay Buckingham era Fleetwood Mac is amazing. So amazing, that this period of Fleetwood Mac has proven itself as a late-comer in the category of most influential music on my life. And much of that does have to do with Lindsay Buckingham himself. By 1978, Buckingham had been slowly building a musical identity that swirled together equal elements of Brian Wilson, Buddy Holly, John Lennon and even Gram Parsons (just listen to “Blue Letter” on Fleetwood Mac, “Never Goin’ Back” on Rumors or “Save Me a Place” on Tusk). Though Tusk, Buckingham’s musical masterpiece, was not released until 1979, much of the material and recording began in 1978 or earlier. At this moment in time Buckingham was not only the lead guitarist and one of the lead vocalists of perhaps the most popular band in the world (could have also been Led Zeppelin), but he was also their driving creative force. What has made Fleetwood Mac find a resurgence among the indie community is the vision of Buckingham and his ability to synthesize cocaine paranoia and passion, with the heart and integrity of folk music and the inventiveness of the highest forms of 60’s pop music. Now, is there a California sheen to some of this music? Of course, I mean, Stevie Nicks was in the band. But when Buckingham was able to let loose and allow himself to become the mad scientist  he always secretly was, the world was given Tusk, perhaps the best album about adult men and women there is.

1979 – Bjorn Borg

Bjorn Borg is often considered the coolest figure in tennis history. To confirm this opinion you only have to look to his nicknames of “Ice Man” or “Ice Borg” to confirm. Bjorg is seen as a somewhat mythical figure due to the fact that he walked away from the game of tennis at age 26 when he was still in the prime of his career. It is also due to the fact that he had flowing, Swedish locks of hair and seemed to be descended from a different race of human beings. In addition, one of the characteristics of his game was his grace under pressure. In 1979, Bjorg won the French Open, Wimbledon and the Masters Tournament (which no longer exists). The Wimbledon victory was his fourth straight and the French Open victory was his fourth overall. He managed to stand out above the game of tennis during a year when John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were on top of their games. He is often described as the perfect tennis player and 1979 was perhaps his greatest year as a pro. Just look at that name for God’s sake. It looks cool, it sounds cool, this guy was the World’s Coolest Dude in 1979.

1980 – John Lennon* (3)

John Lennon’s third entry in the World’s Coolest Dude list (his win as part of the Beatles in 1967 counts) is the second year that the winner was awarded the prize posthumously or, rather, due to the impact of their death. As someone young, it is hard to fathom what it was like to have been alive in your late 20’s, mid-30’s or 40’s when John Lennon died. He was a larger than life figure that had pervaded your entire life as a living entity. John Lennon pervades millions of lives today but as a spectral figure. In 1980, he was still a living, breathing human being who was still capable of faults but who seemed to be one step removed from normal humans—he was an icon walking on the earth. He was looked to as a figure of peace, goodwill and intellect without much of the holier-than-thou attitude that, say, a Bono has today. And despite all that, he was shot dead right outside his home. It was inconceivable that something violent or bad could happen to any member of the Beatles, let alone John Lennon and the whole world mourned his death. Howard Cossell’s announcement of John Lennon’s death during Monday Night Football is one of the most famous moments or vocal snippets in not only sports history, but broadcast history. John Lennon meant so much to the world then just as he does now, and his murder in 1980 only cemented that fact to us all. He was the World’s Coolest Dude in 1980, albeit under tragic circumstances.

*Asterisk means that death played into the ultimate decision  to give the award to the winner of a specific year.

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