I guess the twentieth anniversary of The Strokes’ Is This It? is coming up or is happening right now as we speak (?) and so I am going to walk into the ocean to die. But before that it inspired me to dig back through the Hell World archives for The Strokes-related stuff and in the process I also stumbled across an interview I did with Julian Casablancas in 2009 right when his first solo record was coming out which is kind of fun to look back on. Also I took a stab at my Top 25 Non-Is This It? songs from their catalogue down below. So here’s some shit about the first time (2001) and the last time (2020) I saw them play plus that old interview. I wish I could find the text of the first time we talked years earlier that I mention. It was real bad in my memory but my memory is famously shitty so who knows.
Well it doesn’t really end there it goes on forever
I saw an article that the Strokes were close to finishing a new album and it made me a little sad about how happy that news didn’t make me while thinking about how happy that news would have made me at one point in my life.
It also made me flash back to a memory I have from time to time when I think about that band in particular when I saw them play at a tiny art gallery in Somerville, Mass. in April 2001 which was before we even knew what 9/11 or the Strokes were. Their debut album came out right before 9/11 and then they had to rush to take the song New York City Cops off it because it was a bad time to say bad things about cops.
After the show there was a bonfire cookout in the parking lot and the band were mingling around looking for a place to crash and I bumped into Julian Casablancas and I told him I said to him I went your band is really good man and then I said that they should keep it up and things like that that you say to a young band and I don’t think he had much of a reaction either way to that piece of advice. Thanks man he probably said to me while I was standing there holding a hot dog.
A year or two later I’d interview him after they had blown up and it was the single shittiest interview anyone has ever given me in my career until that infamous Tracy Morgan one I did a couple years ago. Later on I realized the worst time to interview a band is right when they’re on the ascent to the pinnacle and the best time to interview them is right when they’ve crested and can see the fall back down in sight as a possibility and sure enough years after that I interviewed him after the band had broken up and he was going solo and he was very talkative and charming.
If you are poor, baby, practical ain't working for you
There’s a lot of people here I thought. It was April of 2001 at an art gallery that hasn’t existed in almost twenty years in Somerville Massachusetts and we had packed in to see a band called The Strokes that people were talking about because that’s what we did at the time people would talk about a band and then you’d go see them and then you’d go home and do whatever it was we did before we knew what phones and 9/11 were. I don’t remember the show it was one of those shows that’s more bodies and movement and heat than sound and music in your mind and then afterwards we all piled out into the parking lot for a bonfire which seems insane to me that you could actually do that in the now too expensive city of Somerville. That version of Somerville hasn’t existed in almost twenty years. I remember Julian Casablancas looking for a cigarette and a place to stay and I gave him one of the two things he asked for and then we all roasted hot dogs over the fire and I thought fuck it I’m going to dedicate my life to being a Band Guy and a shithead hedonist and then I did that and in a way you could say The Strokes ruined my life so fuck you to The Strokes.
And then Bernie Sanders very normally introduced the famous New York City indie rock band The Strokes who opened with a cover of “Burning Down the House” by The Talking Heads and people just about lost their minds and then they kept losing their minds all the way through “Someday” and “Hard to Explain” and “Last Night.” At one point Julian said some weird shit about pirates and business people that I think was supposed to be a metaphor about the corrupt rich people Bernie is fighting against but who is to say what goes on in such a simple and beautiful mind as his. He said this before though which makes a bit more sense:
“We are honored to be associated with such a dedicated, diligent, and trustworthy patriot, and fellow native New Yorker. As the only truly non-corporate candidate, Bernie Sanders represents our only chance to overthrow corporate power and help return America to democracy. This is why we support him.”
Top 25 Non-Is This It? The Strokes songs
One Way Trigger
Heart In a Cage
What Ever Happened?
Under Cover of Darkness
River of Brakelights (JC)
Set to Attack (AH)
Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus
Leave It In My Dreams (Voidz)
The End Has No End
11th Dimension (JC)
You Only Live Once
Taken For a Fool
The Adults Are Talking
Rocky's Late Night (AH)
Welcome to Japan
Ize of the World
Taken For a Fool
Modern Girls & Old Fashioned Men
My buddy Sam recorded a version of the Strokes’ Is This It entirely on piano and it’s really nice and sad and pretty sounding and you should listen to it here.
Phrazes for the Young Interview
For a musician who took us on a guided tour of turn of the millennium New York City on his band's 2001 genre- and era-defining album “Is This It” – the scuzzy dives, beer soaked basement clubs and tales of fleeting romance amidst the squalor – it seemed apt that The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas would be ambling through the streets while we spoke on the phone. The soundtrack of the city played out behind him in chiming bodega transactions, the thump of traffic and a symphony of polyglot murmuring. Harder then to make him out as he paused, considered his answers carefully, then shrugged each one aside as irrelevant or more than he was willing to share, but all the more authentic in the process. For a generation of music fans The Strokes recast the entire concept of a perpetually amorphous New York City, not to mention set the course for contemporary hipsterdom and all of its attendant solipsistic woes and sartorial miscues with their spiky, new wave punk and oft-imitated image over the course of three albums. In the midst of a hiatus since the release of 2006' uneven but underrated “First Impressions of Earth,” one that has seen a few of his bandmates branch off into side projects themselves, Casablancas has cast his own lot in the frontman gone solo sweepstakes with “Phrazes for the Young.” It's a meandering, imaginative collection of synth- and keys-driven new wave and irresistible hooks. Not a Strokes record perhaps, guitars are less evident, but that's part of the point. New York City has changed, as Casablancas sings on the banjo bouncing urban pastoral of Ludlow St., so too should its soundtrack.
Are these songs you've been accumulating over the years, or something that you sat down to write once you started thinking about doing a solo record?
Oh man, it's a little complicated. It's a mixture I would say. At first I assumed they were gonna be Strokes things, because that was my plan. I never planned on doing anything other than that. But certain circumstances arose in which I felt like I should just do something. I was just waiting. Other people were doing other things and I just needed to keep shaking. Man, I really want to be forthcoming and honest and just tell you everything on my mind.
Please do, it would be great for me.
I know, it would be great for the article, probably bad for my life though.
Did you feel freer, or more unsure of yourself not having the guys to bounce ideas off of?
Well, I mean naturally at first I felt a little unsure, but as I got into the process, toward the end I felt a little more comfortable and it was very freeing. I don't know, it was probably like writing a book, or writing alone.
There was a time where a rock singer making a synth record might have been surprising to people, but those boundaries don't exist anymore do they?
Or offensive? [laughs] I know the record starts out with two or three songs that synths are the main thing, but I've always written on keyboard and guitars. With The Strokes it was obviously all guitars. But this time around if I wrote something on a keyboard it would stay on the keyboard. A lot of songs were not necessarily synths, we used organs or pianos or phasers, with midis you can do whatever. It was fun to mess around with. I'm definitely not like, I've always loved synths and I've just been waiting for this moment to tell the world!
Do you care about that rock purist thing?
To be honest I've never been like “Rock and Roll!” When I was getting into music it was more like arranging complicated things, like being a modern composer, not that I pull that off at all. But the idea was arranging twenty parts to make a little machine of music that works together in a modern way. I'm more about that than just “The Rock! Some guitars! Play that AC/DC beat and let's just rock it!”
Speaking of when you were young, everyone has a story where the see a band at a formative time in their lives. I always talk about how I saw you guys play at this art gallery in Somerville in 2001. Do you have one like that? Or bands that you've brought along on tour that have blown you away?
Oh that was one of our first shows! The bands that I liked were always big by the time I got to them. I didn't really discover any. I wish I had. Arctic Monkeys, I saw them in Sweden in a small club, and I thought they were great. I actually thought they were gonna be huger than they are. That's probably the closest I get. That's my moment I guess. I remember that show. It was really fun back in the day, early tours, Boston and Philly and just kind of going to towns where we'd meet people at the show and stay at their houses.
You can't really do that sort of thing anymore can you?
Well, I probably could, but I don't.
Do you have a hard time having privacy now?
No, not really. I stay pretty much under the radar, which is a good thing. If superstardom ever fell in my lap I wouldn't fight it, but I'm pretty happy where I'm at. You're always motivated to work hard and all that, but I feel like, I don't know. There are higher mountains to climb, but I'm very happy and grateful for what I got.
Listening to Ludlow St., do you feel a palpable change to the city you lived in ten years ago?
I have to say yes. I mean, it's always been a city that people flock to, there's a lot of diversity and that creates a lot … well, I was talking to my friend last night, we were in LA for a while, and we were enjoying it because of the sunny weather, and the more bang for your buck if you're getting a house or whatever. But when we got back to the east coast we felt like we were in a vortex. What were we thinking? Everything that's great or works anywhere in the world comes to New York at some point. It makes it an amazing town. Definitely though from when I was growing up it's gone crazy. The whole of New York is like 42nd St. There used to be quiet neighborhood, you had nice neighborhoods, busy ones, whatever, but now all of Manhattan is like a big Starbucks, a Gap. It's like Times Square everywhere. It's kind of like what Tokyo is like. That was definitely different when I was younger.
The title of the album comes from an Oscar Wilde piece. You've included some “phrases for the young” of your own in the album. Are those things you try to live by?
Oh I wish. I think it takes a long time. Even if you know how you want to be it's hard to just snap your fingers. There's a lot of DNA working against you. If someone steps on your toe you're angry and you want to fight and it hurts. If there's an idea you like to live by, it takes a while to put it into effect. I'm not saying they're rules to live by. It's not like when you're doing a record you say I have a theme or an idea, it's more about music. But the last few years I've been thinking about lyrics more, and I had the idea for the name phrases for the young, and it kind of came from that, and based on that I felt like I needed to have a certain kind of theme.
You don't seem to want to talk about it, but is there anything else happening with the Strokes?
We'll be doing stuff for sure. They're starting to work any day now. The songs are pretty much done. They'll be recording them, and I'll sing on them at some point. I don't make predictions on it because I did for months and they were all wrong. It will happen, I don't know when though. I don't know if I'm excited yet. We'll see what the process is like. Hopefully things are gonna be different in a good way. We'll see.
The Last Normal Day Part 3
The last time I had hope was right around then too it was at the University of New Hampshire and Michelle and I had driven up there for a Bernie Sanders rally headlined by The Strokes one of our favorite bands in the world. When we got there the line was so long outside and it was so cold the type of cold where you draft off of strangers’ body heat and use them to hide from the wind and don’t think twice about it. Inside the lineup of electrifying speakers like Colonel West and AOC and Bernie himself and Nina Turner explained to a crowd of around 7,000 people in no uncertain terms that a better country was in fact possible and that we were this close to getting there.
Turner asked us all to raise one hand for ourselves so I did and we all did. Then raise another hand for someone else she said and she asked us to fight for someone we don’t know as hard as we would for ourselves and for a couple weeks there when things were still normal I actually thought that enough of us in this country meant it but I was stupid to think that.
Later on in the night The Strokes played “New York City Cops” and everyone crashed the stage and it seemed like the beginning of a new era and it was just not in the way I thought it was going to be and then we walked back to the car along the slick hilly iced-over streets of Durham taking the tiniest possible steps hoping we wouldn’t slip and break something because if we got hurt we might not be able to afford the medical bills and I wondered what it might be like to not have to worry about things like that anymore and I thought something is going to change man and it was about to indeed just not in the way I thought it was.
Ok that was nice but while we’re here here’s some other Hell Worlds about actual strokes.
If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal what humanity is left in the law of this country
Here’s roughly what happens when you die from the heat based on me reading about it for about ten minutes just now and therefor becoming an expert. At first you begin to get tired from heat exhaustion which leads to excessive sweating and rapid breathing and a weak pulse. Your nervous system kicks into high gear and it tries to divert blood from your internal organs to your skin but if it’s too hot the sweat won’t be able to evaporate on your skin which is how we’re supposed to cool ourselves down. Once heat stroke begins your skin becomes hot and then dry to the touch as the blood vessels dilate. You might become dizzy or nauseous at this point leading to headaches and vomiting as your blood pressure continues to drop. Eventually you will become confused or angry almost as if you are drunk. Your skin might begin to turn blue. At some point a protein released from damaged skeletal muscles may lead to kidney failure. In any case if it gets bad enough you’ll progress through seizures then organ failure then a coma then death.