“Dig” and “cool” were words that I first remember in a context that seemed to have preceded the birth of rock and roll’s popularity, words that shaded mysterious cultish initiates who behaved and spoke as though they’d tapped into the essence of existence: for as in another of their cult-like expressions: they knew “where it’s at” , and the rest of us didn’t, maybe in a way like our similarly insular contemporary cult of techno-science’s sit-com’s supercilious techno-archetype, Sheldon. There were of course imitators and hangers-on like the toggled crowds of Rome who wanted to look “cool” like them, dress like them and most of all swagger and talk like them. In a sense when you talked to anyone using the hipster cool jazz-aficionado lingo you were always wondering if they were as in another hipster expression, I believe, “putting you on”. And there were in them days a lot of people putting each other on as though people wanted to show how smart they were by fooling others, often categorizing each other according to psycho babble afflictions.
But what I think I recall of this kind of pseudo hip conniving pretended interest in one’s fellow man, the tail end of the cool hipster era when “dig” seemed to embody all that hyperbolic keenness about life, music and humanity is the image of the hipster himself.
That image and that quaint notion of “digging” woke me from a kind of etymological slumber in Kerouac’s 1947 novel On The Road and rekindled a world that I realized must have vanished sometime between the end of the era of “cool “ jazz and the beginning of “rock“, a world whose dregs had hung on in places such as the Hound Dog early R&R/R&B radio show’s opening with “Dig man“! “The Hound’s around.” Though I now understand that “digging” as empathetic depth perception had authentically existed for a time – approaching its climax maybe toward the conclusion of WWII and the coming of the Beat Generation’s era of futility. In a way Kerouac’s novel is about the behaviour of characters whose only possession was the will to “dig” places and people – by pilgrimaging to destinations in America where they “dug” street smells, grass, mountains, suns rising and falling, and street strangers like the “banana man”, in a kind of post romantic frenzy that masked the just concluded inhumanities of war.