You know who you are. You’re not square. You’re not like those people over there, those regular people, the ones with 9-5 jobs in skyscrapers and homes in suburban wastelands. You’re hip and cool. You have tight pants and a fedora. We’re in awe.
Not really. It’s one thing to listen to Arcade Fire because the band is good, and to have remixed your own versions of various Radiohead tracks. Yes, it’s cool to be the only guy in your Starbucks who knows MC Conrad. It’s ultra-cool to go The Metro or CBGB twice each week to know the scene. But we have to face it. Being cool and being alternative are two different things. Here’s the truth: it’s cool to be alternative, but it’s not alternative to be cool.
Virtually anybody can be cool. You just need to be finished with high school, live in a city and take a photography class or major in graphic design. You see? Instant cool.
If, however, you want to be alternative, it takes more than tight pants and a gold phone. It isn’t necessarily better to be alternative, of course. But it does require doing things that few people do.
1.) Listen to contemporary classical music
Here are some names: Claire Chase and ICE, Eighth Blackbird, CUBE. If you search through all the members of ICE, for example, you’ll find a network of music that’s unlike anything you or your friends have heard.
Here’s another name: Arvo Pärt. He’s not a hipster. If his music does not kick your ass, there’s no hope for you. You’re going to hell.
2.) Read literary fiction
Sure, Charles Dickens was really boring in high school. That’s because you read him when you were a child. But you’re older now, and you’re worried about being too similar to all those people over there. One way to be different from them is to develop empathy. Literary fiction offers you this lesson.
Don’t look for a list of names from me. The list of Great Books is out there, and they are all available for free in local libraries. Investigate some of the stories you think you know. They’re different from the movie version, believe me.
If you want to really be alternative, subscribe to a literary magazine. You can follow virtually all of them on Facebook and Twitter.
(Note, reading literary fiction is different from simply getting an MFA or flaunting your copy of Gravity’s Rainbow in a Cleveland Starbucks. You can read literary fiction without doing either of the aforementioned.)
3.) Learn a foreign language
Yes, Spanish counts. But so does Icelandic. What are you going to do with Icelandic? Funny…you never asked that question when you bought the turquoise drapes or when you signed up for graphic design. You can do the same things with graphic design as you can with Icelandic: fuck all, or whatever you want.
4.) Cook your own food
No, it’s not alternative to go to the latest BYOB in Williamsburg. Everybody’s doing that. The alternative people in the urban west cook for themselves (and others). They do it instead of playing Xbox or posting pictures of their appetizers on Facebook. They bring their own lunch to work or school.
5.) Read multiple newspapers
In any format. And if not every day, then at least regularly. And don’t worry too much about the Dining or Entertainment sections. Your friends will tell you about that. Worry instead about the Business, Science and World sections. If you read those, your friends won’t know what the hell you’re talking about.
But you will know, finally, that you’re completely different not merely from those people over there but also from most of your friends. Ironically, once you gather the narrative they’re missing, it will become very difficult to look down on them or anyone else. I’d explain why, but I’d need you to read the news first.