Gazing blankly through a raindrop-smeared windshield, cleared every
few seconds by the squeaking blades, I drive down the dark,
tree-enclosed, two-lane road that has taken me from my suburban
hometown of Gladstone, Ore., to the "big city" of Portland hundreds
of times over the years. I am confused by the fact I'm still here,
traveling down this same goddamn road, again.
"To me/ My life/ It just don't make any sense," The Strokes lead
singer and songwriter Julian Casablancas sings on "Barely Legal." I
forget they're his words; they feel more like mine. His heartache and
confusion set against simple yet severely emotional music
comes across so painstakingly clear that my own life begins to
The night I cried because I had no life, I listened to The Strokes.
The day I cried because I missed my old self, I listened to The
Strokes. The morning I packed my suitcase and left my boyfriend, I
cried and I listened to The Strokes. The day I moved back to my
parents' house (at 24 years of age) I of course cried
and, yes, listened to The Strokes.
People keep writing off their new album Is This It as
unoriginal adolescent angst. Am I immature because it touches me? Am
I naïve because I love it? My friend Jim dislikes their new
album. "I already went through that whole thing I'm over it,"
he told me. He's in his late 20s, I think.
Will I reach a point where I'm over it? When I'm older? Confusion,
love, loss and pain aren't these timeless feelings, to be felt
over the span of a lifetime, albeit arriving in different forms? And
when those feelings are conveyed in songs with perfectly on-point
lyrics backed by music just as ablaze, it's difficult to understand
how any human being could go untouched.
Lately, I've come to the conclusion that most of those who think,
"Ugh, not them again" when The Strokes are mentioned have
agreed to dislike Is This It not because they've spent much
time with the album, but because they've let the hype get to them.
The infamous "buzz" has negatively influenced these folks' opinions
of the New York City five-piece all before their first
full-length was even released. Once they finally get around to
hearing the album, they're carrying so much baggage of preconceived
notions, heavily influenced convictions and whatnot that right off,
they think the album is no good. The Strokes are no good. "The singer
rips off Lou Reed. They rip off Iggy Pop."
What might they have thought had they pulled this album out of some
clearance bin at the record store, having read nothing of it before?
Might they have felt differently?
Now don't get me wrong. The Strokes certainly borrow from the Velvet
Underground and Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and others who've defined '60s and
'70s NY punk. But c'mon, who hasn't been influenced by these guys?
What matters, what it all boils down to, is The Strokes write
incredibly powerful songs, and those who allow the media or
better yet their reaction to the media, what I call the anti
media to influence their opinions are missing out.
Now I'm not exempt from this sort of media influence, but I was lucky
enough to hear The Strokes' music before reading any of the dozens of
identically raving reviews. And all I could think was, man, what a
diamond in the rough. Finding such impassioned, hard-hitting music is
no small feat. I felt lucky.
It didn't take long before Is This It grew into sounding, in a
sense, like the soundtrack to my life. And that, too, is no small
feat only two other albums have touched me so deeply, moving
me to tears ever.
Just as I cruise past a house some old friends of mine live in,
Casablancas admits in a regretful yet acquiescent tone, "Things they
have changed in such a permanent way," on "Alone, Together," and I
understand the sad-but-true sentiment. "Life seems so unreal," he
adds we all know that, we've all felt that, but his anguish
comes across so strongly I, again, mistake it for my own as my throat
grows tighter and tears begin to gush, spilling over my lower lids.
"In many ways/ They'll miss the good old days," he sings on "Someday"
I laugh over memories and then I cry for the past that is
gone, for the person I used to be but no longer know.
I drive on as reflections, regrets, worries, and hopes flush my mind.
So overwhelmed, swallowing becomes difficult. But the words and the
music, in all their gritty power and soul, continue to touch me,
forcing me to feel. When Casablancas sings "I should've worked much
harder/ I should've just not bothered," on "Barely Legal," I wonder
what I'm doing and what I've done with my life. When he sings
"Leaving just in time/ Staying for awhile," on "The Modern Age," I
feel lost. My grounding, my security, my home are absent his
ceaseless contradictions throughout Is This It clarify my own,
forcing me to feel and think. "Tomorrow will be different/ So I'll
pretend I'm leaving," he goes on denial can be so reassuring.
And when he croons in a deep, throaty tone "I like it right here/ But
I cannot stay" on "Hard to Explain," it hurts to accept. But then, on
"Someday," he wails with shaky assertiveness "I ain't wasting no
moooore tiiiiime" and I look forward with weary optimism
to what lies ahead. Through all of the 11 tracks, most of
which seem to escape from the car speakers too quickly, I sing along.
And it is, of course, that forced type of loud singing, the kind used
to force the lump back down your throat, to assure yourself your
world hasn't collapsed.
His words none of which would be as potent without the equally
inspiring music are neither deeply complicated nor poetically
obscure. But truth lies in simplicity. And honesty is a tough thing,
especially when you try to convey it to others. But when you've got
it, when you really can communicate your own truths, people
understand they are touched.
They say crying is a form of healing, an emotional release. So, I
thank The Strokes for helping.
PS: And furthermore, to quote Public Enemy: Don't believe the hype.