Kudos to Lizzy Goodman for this amazing oral history on everyone's favorite rock band from 2001, The Strokes. I'm a sucker for a good oral history, especially when the people being interviewed are feeling nostalgic and/or conflicted about what they talking about. Goodman doesn't waste any time getting to the good stuff in this piece, which is up on Vulture right now:
Ryan Adams (musician): One night I was hanging with the Strokes guys and Ryan [Gentles, the band’s manager]. We were really stoned because we were basically always smoking pot. It was very late. Fab would always play me a song that he had written, some beautiful, romantic song. So one night, jokingly, I’m almost certain, Fabby said, “Dude, what if John Mayer was playing that guitar right now?” And I said, “I can make that happen.” Now, I lived down the block from John Mayer, and he’d been talking to me about his new song for a while. So I texted him, because he was always up late back then. I said, “Come to this apartment. Bring an acoustic guitar. I really want to hear your new song.” I didn’t tell them that I’d done it. So everyone is sitting there and I was like, “Let’s all take bong hits.” I really wanted it to get crazy. We smoked some bong hits; I probably did some blow. The doorbell buzzer rings, and I open the door, and John Mayer walks in with his fucking acoustic guitar, and they were all slack-jawed. John sat down and played the fucking acoustic guitar — three or four songs that probably have gone on to be huge — while those guys just sat there staring at me like, Oh my God, you’re a witch.
Nothing says early 2000's New York indie rock scene better than Ryan Adams, John Mayer, late night bong rips, and a little cocaine. The rest of the piece is a greatest hits of how rock bands have trouble dealing with success due to jealousy, drugs, quibbles over money, more drugs, and impossible expectations.
The piece really had me thinking about how perfect an album Is This It is. At the time I was eating up every great album of the rock rival movement. I listened to The Strokes and The White Stripes like they were the second coming of the Rolling Stones or the The Clash. I was always bummed that The Strokes missed their shot at megastardom, but for a moment they captured the New York music scene unlike any other band in my lifetime. I could play Is This It with my eyes closed and imagine being in some dive-bar in Brooklyn, surrounded by people with shaggy hair and denim jackets, smoking cigarettes and drinking PBR. Which surrounded like a great time to a 16 year old Sophomore living in Illinois farm country.
As I I've gotten older and expanded my musical palette, it's easy to look back on bands like The Strokes with a bit of ironic jadedness. I think we all have Jet to thank for that. However, there's a great quote in this piece by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, another band that I was obsessed with (still obsesed) from that early aughts, about the impact Is This It still has on people who were into indie music from that era:
Is This It was my record of the decade. Whenever people pooh-pooh it, I’m like, “You’re saying that now, but I guarantee you you’re going to have a barbecue in ten years, play that shit, and say, ‘I love this record.’ ”
There are a couple of songs from the early 2000's rock scene that will forever be considered classics. We will all remember "Seven Nation Army," mostly thanks to the second life it took on as a Jock Jam for the Twitter era. If people want to look back and remember what the last bastion of rock and roll cool looked like you can look no further than "Last Night" a song that wears its influences on its sleeve and oozes cool in a way that no band has been able to replicate.