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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014

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In Living Commentary

The original hipsters were cool 40 years before you were even born.

The origin of the hipster


Perhaps it's a bit trite to fall back on the argument of "you weren't the first to…" when it comes to hipsters, but — like every mind-shattering fact on the Internet — a Wikipedia page has given us the true origin of the hipster.

And, guess what, they were cool 40 years before you were even born.

So remove your Animal Collective vinyl and take off your wayfarers, because you're about to get a history lesson about the O.G. 1940s hipster.

They spoke jive. In 1939, the word hepster was used by Cab Calloway in the title of his Hepster's Dictionary, which defines hep cat as "a guy who knows all the answers, understands jive."

They were into scat -- not kind of that scat. Hipsters -- or hepcats -- were originally pot-smokin', sexually-liberated jazz lovers who dressed to impressed and chilled harder than your grandpa's bottle of Pabst in the icebox.

They smoked weed, cracked jokes, and slummed hard. "The hipster adopted the lifestyle of the jazz musician, including some or all of the following: dress, slang, use of cannabis and other drugs, relaxed attitude, sarcastic humor, self-imposed poverty and relaxed sexual codes."

They knew what was lame. By the end of the 1940s, swing was out and hipsters didn't want anything to do with it. They wanted bebop and "hot jazz" instead of the uncool dance their parents liked.

They hated convention. Marty Jezer wrote: "Their language, limited as it was, was sufficiently obscure to defy translation into everyday speech. Their rejection of the commonplace was so complete that they could barely acknowledge reality.

They practiced irreverence before you even cared enough to not care. Frank Tirro describes the 1940s hipster as someone who is "10 steps ahead of the game because of his awareness, an example of which might be meeting a girl and rejecting her, because he knows they will date, hold hands, kiss, neck, pet, fornicate, perhaps marry, divorce -- so why start the whole thing?"

They were tolerant before it was cool to not hate everybody. Norman Mailer described '40s hipsters as people with "a middle-class background (who) attempt to put down their whiteness and adopt what they believe is the carefree, spontaneous cool lifestyle of Negro hipsters."

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