Today I also stumbled upon an article on Fader online about the Strokes and New York rock.
If you asked me about that a few years ago, about the subject of the Strokes, I’d say, “horrible.” Now the Strokes fall into that gray spot between “horrible” and “not horrible.” They are “horrible” because they capitalized on a look and a scene in NYC a few years ago and exposed that to the world to become commidified. That’s BAD in indie downtown world. They also really aren’t that interesting musically, a fact I’d still vouche for.
But damn they’re catchy! And their cultural relevance is undeniable. They opened the door for rock to be played on the radio when only post grunge crap was on, which is a good thing for the world as a whole (the world, gasp, outside New York). And they might have even edged Christina Aguilera off the charts. And because of them, angsty 13 year olds in Nebraska started wearing stripe shirts and listening to the Velvet Underground. This is bad because the the New York hipster style is a bonefied Target trend. But fashion is fashion. Overall, it’s a sound that will live on, not an outfit. So, more importantly, it is good that those kids who care about the Strokes and did their homework are listening to VU! The Strokes don’t sound like the Velvet Underground, but almost every mainstream artcicle about them alludes to this band’s influence on them. If some kid far away from New York is going to discover The Velvet Underground and Nico that’s a door opened to not just a new sound, but a new perspective on art and self.
I’ve debated these merits and demerits many times. I’ve also spent a lot of time poeticizing the time when the Strokes first blew up: 2001, my first year in NYC area. The Fader article covers this topic–with rose colored nostalgia, a far cry from my skeptical but still “Hey I was there” nostalgia.
The article starts out with a cliche but very pointed, almost rousing opening paragraph about the time:
Quabbles and footnotes aside, in the pages of history books and The FADER, New York rock in the 21st century began with the Strokes. Of course the Strokes always evoked New York rock of the 20th Century, but that was kind of the point. The band captured the city’s borrowed nostalgia for a time when young men wore tight jackets and let their hair fall into their faces, then wrote thrilling songs about the dejected glamour such lifestyle decisions would lead to. At the time of their arrival, downtown Manhattan was still stuck in the orange plastic/white vinyl hangover of lounge culture, but the Strokes were a band for dark bars where the bathroom door was always broken and you could sink into a booth and hide out from adulthood for a few more years. They were a great band for New York because no one could agree on them: they were either the best or the worst thing that could have happened. People would tell you they hated them and everything they stood for, then a couple of beers later they’d confide that they’d never actually heard them or that they secretly loved them. They were one more part of the city you could endlessly kvetch about, then take pride in because no other city had anything nearly as good.
I hate to say this, but a lot of this is true. 21st century MAINSTREAM rock did sort of start with them. Mainstream, I emphasize. However, isn’t that better than, well, say White Snake? Also, they were totally the band you were afraid to say you liked if you were actually in NYC at the time. I remember admitting I had their cd to my friend and he sheepishly said, “Yeah, I do too, but I hide it in my cd book.”
I suppose for other people, not in NYC, it was different. I know that some people found it a badge to be cool if you liked the Strokes. I also know that the Strokes opened up this kind of East Village bar rat/Lou Reed lovin’/garage-y culture to people who would otherwise not know it. And what is also true is that although we hated them in NYC for exposing our scene, we actually LOVED that people were caring about NYC again in the music world.
The article goes on to list the Liars, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, DFA (a transcontinental production duo that pushed old Detroit house 12-inches on guitar bands like it was audio MDMA”), ARE Weapons, Secret Machines, and other big and not so big bands that came out of this time. What it doesn’t emphasis is that between 2001 and 2003 things fell apart—or blew up. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes, and out-of-towners but from same era, The White Stripes, all became big. Not just big, but huge. Fashion icons. Karen O broke up with Angus of the Liars and now she dates Spike Jones. The Strokes hang out with Sofia Coppela. Jack White is married to a model (and makes movie appearances). It’s crazy! DFA, one half being James Murphy (see an earlier blog here praising LCD Soundsystem), may have faired the best overall both popularity and cred-wise. Murphy is both an Indie Dance hero/innovator and also got shitloads of money to make a mix exclusively for Nike.
However, so many of those bands that were touted never made it big. A band called The Prosaics, who I vaguely remember, are mentioned in this article. But uh, who cares about them now, right? And ARE Weapons? Man they were terrible. The Secret Machines? Ditto. And now, thankfully, no one cares, except for etchers of Nostalgia of that time. A good dvd to rent to look at the good and the bad (and also lament what a ditz brat Karen O was) is KILL YR IDOLS, which shows the scene from the 70s in New York, the No Wave scene, and juxtaposes against this early 00’s scene.
I was a babe in indie rags at the time, but one aware and around NYC enough (drinking at East Village bars like Odessa, who didn’t card) to know what was goin’ on. I’m glad I was there. And I don’t hate the Strokes. There, I’ve said it. Sometimes, in retrospect, things aren’t so horrible as they seem. Hey, if the Cure (the Strokes of an earlier English, Post Punk, synth generation) hadn’t been popular, I’d never have been into any of this crazy stuff in the first place.