Luck Strokes: Don’t Believe The Hype

History, someone once said, is a long time coming. Back in history, when the world was a different shade of green, a sponge-brained critic named Lester Bangs wrote many grizzly dispatches from the trenches of mid-seventies American rock and roll and often parked his bike in the Bowery, cussing and spitting with all the other down and out NY street geeks who ‘hung’ at Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs. Back then the fashion vogue was for thin ties, grandpa’s shirts, skinny leather jackets, thrift store jeans, and beaten converse high tops, and the music was as far from the pompous rock that dominated at the time as is possible – raw as torn flesh and with a go-fuck-yourself attitude built in as standard. Bands, who, since the late 1960s had been writing for legendary music sheets like Rolling Stone, Creem, and the NME, dragged his unruly self into the centre of this proto-punk thunder storm and as history has it, bore witness to early shows from Television, The Ramones, Blondie, and The Strokes. “Hey, I’m excited as hell,” he wrote of The Strokes, “deep in the marrow of my buckled young bones, watching these high stepping grease punks, callow youths at their most needlin’, assaulting the rabble ’til they’re on their knees and blown clean out the door. And that was the day I embarked on my new career as a pimp.” But the Strokes weren’t around for another 25 years and Lester Bangs died in 1982 of “Acute propoxyphene poisoning, circumstances undetermined.”

Austin, Texas, March 2001. Five greasy punks are lazily shooting pool in a first floor bar, looking bored and disregarding the crowd of music industry misfits milling around the saloon downstairs. As the band playing below squeezes out its last miserable chord Ryan Gentles, head of Wiz Kid Management, former booker at New York’s Mercury Lounge and current manager of The Strokes, rounds up his pool team and ushers them to their instruments. In the window of the venue a makeshift stage has been laid out, its boundaries marked by a Persian carpet. The Strokes drag their amplifiers, fx pedals and a drum kit into this arena and spend twenty minutes setting up shop. Something is in the air, could be a ‘buzz’, or could the stink of music executives tossing off over the-next-big-thing. Anyhow, a British music journalist had dismissed The Strokes earlier in the day saying they sounded like AC/DC, so we are on to a winner. The bar is busy, maybe 200 people, cowgirls at the front, cowboys behind them and batch of random folk packing out the sidelines. The Strokes mill about the stage while staring at their sneakers, wired and nervy, sucking on Miller bottles and itching to kick off. The singer gets the signal from the sound crew and BOOM! This year’s most talked up band get stuck in.

“Uppp ona heill, hierss whear we beginnn, isliddle strora, lawng time agow” bawls Julian Casablancas as his fellow inmates from the New York penitentiary of cool buckle and twist through ‘The Modern Age’. Its June 2001 now, and a sea of clean looking bodies have squeezed into Bristol’s Fleece and Firkin, craning, staining, and stretching to catch a better view of The Strokes as they pound through songs that only they have heard before. So far, only one 3 track EP has been released in the UK, so even the greatest fan will have difficulty mouthing along to the 37 minute set. But in the earthy sweatbox that is the Fleece the crowd is gushing and the five aloof young bucks on stage are a study in detachment and kerbside sophistication. Of a sudden, someone in the audience drunkenly bad mouths support act and Strokes buddies The Moldy Peaches. Casablancas eyeballs the culprit, “Fuck you, man” he retorts, then Fabrizio Moretti leaps up from his kit, points a shredded drumstick and repeats the insult “Yeah, fuck you, man.” The drunk backs down and the singer throws his mike stand to the floor with such force that it bounces off the stage and cracks a girl on the side of her head. Casablancas leans forward, drags her towards him and plants a kiss on the wound while the rest of The Strokes bust open another three-minute US punk explosion. The bug-eyed expectations of the crowd, fuelled by an ugly publicity machine and the crowning of the fashion police, are clearly satisfied by this performance. After eleven songs the band scoot off the stage and run down the bar to hit the bottle.

Ten minutes later Fabrizio, Bud in hand and sweaty hair stuck to his forehead like a treacle, staggers back on stage to pick up his stuff. A few left over stragglers gather round him, shake his hand, take pictures and blag. He seems as excited as they as as he signs shards of paper and palms off his broken sticks. The girl who painted the new logo on the bass drum skin pokes him in the ribs and he tells her how much he loves it and thanks her again and again. The aggression and on stage bravado has dispersed and the drummer’s genuinely pleasant nature is plain, especially when a pugnacious bouncer sidles up and berates him for inciting the crowd.

Meantime, at the far end of the Fleece bar Julian is holding court by the door of the Gents toilet. He is obviously relishing the attention and is ready to party, embracing his band mates and anyone else that looks vaguely familiar. His frazzled tour manager is trying to round up the crew and push them towards their tour vehicle, a no frills minibus which transports The Strokes and their entourage plus The Moldy Peaches around the country. No one wants to leave. After a few more beers Albert Hammond Jr steps outside with a brace of girls and leans against a tar stained wall exchanging guitar techniques. Nickolai Fraiture, the stoical bass player, ignores the fray and climbs aboard the bus. “I’m in room 108, did you all get that?” Fab runs toward the bus and roars at the top of his lungs “Room 108 at the Holiday Inn Express.” No one takes any notice. Albert, slipping further down the wall, starts explaining his love of British ale to his companions, then snorts an industrial strength quantity of Amyl Nitrate. A beat looking Nick Valensi and the Moldy Peaches (still in costume) wander aimlessly about the car park and the whole scene begins to look like a circus. As the bus is about to leave another target catches Fab’s eye and he leans out of the door “ROOM 108” he cries. A thick arm pulls him in and the bus door slams shut.

The Strokes are having a ball. Since arriving in England at the head of this worldwide tour lasting from June until the end of August they have been hailed in some quarters as the saviours of rock and roll. Back in London Albert describes what it feels like to be in the centre of the storm, grabbing all this attention. “It feels very weird, a bit like another person. I know that guy, it looks kinda like me. It’s cool though.” Isn’t it exciting? “I’m just glad people are enjoying the music. We spent a lot of time on it, getting the chemistry. It came naturally and we’re building it all up. When I joined the band I didn’t know anyone, the guys were brand new faces to me in my life.” Albert has known Julian from school in Switzerland but only hooked up with the band in 1998. “Those are my best friends,” he says waving over at the rest of The Strokes who are tucking into Thai food for breakfast. “I don’t have anyone else. I have a friend in LA, but it doesn’t really help living in New York.”

Meanwhile back at the Holiday Inn Express, Bristol, The Moldy Peaches, various record company execs, sound guys and tour staff pile out of the mini bus followed by The Strokes laden down with crates of beer and bottles of wine. It’s about twelve thirty and the hotel bar has closed even though a sign indicates it should still be open for a while. The bar manager, recognising trouble, insists it closed at eleven. Nick gives him a world-weary look then leans over the counter and grabs a corkscrew. Fatigued from the night’s excess he can’t quite get the hang of it and he spends a good ten minutes trying to extract the cork from his cheap bottle of red wine. Everyone else piles into the beers, exchanging pin badges and settles in for the night.

Julian Casablancas is a troubled character. As he leans back on the bar, fag in one hand, Becks in the other, the typical beery philosopher pose, you’d think he’s want to celebrate his band’s success and dwell a while on the moment. But no, he is, like many before him, unhappy that journalists don’t take him as seriously as they should. He feels misrepresented. He has spent eight years learning the ins and outs of writing music, he wants to make the best shit possible, he wants people to appreciate the time he has spent honing his craft and all they write about is the fictional fights he gets into. “That’s bullshit, man.” As time drifts on he reveals more stories about growing up with his step dad and art and his plans for the future but none of them make much sense at this time of night.

Eventually all The Strokes head up to their rooms except for Fab. He cracks open the remaining beers and elaborates on his theory that the little guy’s time is dawning. When the night runs out of steam, and a clown is wrecking the veneer of a hotel lobby table, spilling beer and acting the goat, Fab offers to clean it up and extends an extra polite “Sorry, sir” to the exhausted bar-keeper. Finally he heads off to bed muttering about the indignities of being called Fabrizio and how it fucked up his school years.

Within days the drummer has fallen out of the mini bus (sober) and broken his wrist. Gigs have to be cancelled and replacement drummer and old friend Matt Romano is flown in to take Fab’s place. By the time The Strokes tour limps into London touts are selling tickets for £180 and everyone wants a piece of the five New York buccaneers. After the show Ryan Gentles and The Strokes pack up their trunks and head out to the beer halls and dive bars of Scandinavia, Europe and Australia to play their eleven songs and party hard with the locals.

September, 2001, Irving Plaza, New York. A greasy looking music journalist slithers into the venue and checks out the clientele. They all look kind of callow and punky and the guy nods his approval as he makes his way to the bar for a stiff bourbon to add to the cocktail of prescription drugs and booze sloshing around in his ripe belly. “Why doncha teek it, orr leeve it, jus teek, orr leeve itt.” Julian Casablancas is bent double, spitting out the words to The Strokes final song of the night. As the last bit of feedback echoes through the hall, the fat guy heads past the stage and barges into the dressing room. Jules recognises the journalist from somewhere and embraces him “How’s it going babe?”. Lester Bangs takes in the moment, turns to leave and slurs “What is this shit.”

The Strokes give the skinny on NYC

Nick, Nikolai, Albert, Fabrizio and later Julian share some wisdom on the best places to buy, see and do stuff…

Clothes

Fab: “I got this jacket between 13 and 12 on 1st Ave, I don’t know the name of the store.”

Nick: “I like Filth Mart, 13th Street and Bobby 2000 on 7th Street and also Rags A Go Go.”

Fab: “You know what, these stores are so expensive.”

Nick: “If you want to get real cool clothes for cheap you need to go to any other state and find a thrift store.”

Fab: “Go to the Salvation Army and you can find some really cool things.”

Nikolai: “I got this parka in the Salvation Army for a dollar.”

Nick: “Is that a new pin?”

Fab: “Kelly gave it to me.”

Nick: “Its awesome dude.”

Coffee

Nick: “I usually don’t drink that much coffee to tell you the truth. A good breakfast place I go to is a French Café. I sit outside. It’s called Orlean Café on 8th Street.”

Al: “Great eggs. For $4.95 you get a bunch of eggs and shit and a cappuccino.”

Drugs

Fab: “We wouldn’t know that.”

Nick: “It’s really who you know.”

Al: “What kind of interview is this?”

Fab: “You shouldn’t go buy drugs at a store. Trust in your friends and your connections.”

Under Age Bars

Fab: “Anywhere if you’ve got a good fake ID.”

Nikolai: “Go to a Deli, but you didn’t hear that from me though.”

Fab: “We’re gonna get busted man.”

Nick: “If you really want to drink when you’re fourteen you can, like we did.”

Fab: “Steal it from your parents.”

Bands

All: “The Mercury Lounge.”

Al: “A good place to go if you don’t want to pay any money is the Luna Lounge.”

Air/Space

Fab: “The roof of the place that you live in. Actually I’ve just moved into this place and the reason I deemed it so highly was because of the roof. But I’ve just been locked out from it.”

Nick: “Barbecues, beer, we spent the 4th of July on Albert’s roof.”

Al: “There’s a place in Central Park you can go to where it doesn’t feel like you’re in the city anymore. You can’t even see any buildings.”

Fab: “Yeah that’s where you go to get away from it all.”

Nick: “All parks are great.”

Hot Dogs

Fab: “Street corners man are the best fuckin’ hotdogs.”

Piss in the streets

Nikolai: “You have to be very creative.”

Al: “Usually I get Nikolai to be look out.”

Fab: “Go into phone booths.”

Nikolai: “Yeah you have to be creative.”

Hair cuts

Nikolai: “Cut it yourself.”

Al: “There’s this Japanese girl that Nick and I go to and you get a massage afterwards.”

Nick: “The Cutting Room on Green Street.”

(Jules arrives looking like he entertained several groupies last night)

Jules: “I don’t wanna disturb.”

Rent cheap apartments

Jules: “You can’t rent a cheap apartment.”

Albert: “Look in the village voice.”

Jules: “Try the lower east side.”

Sleep on the streets

Nick: “If its cold outside sleep downstairs in the subway probably.”

Nikolai: “In the summertime a park bench.”

Fab: “Near a very posh apartment building in a pretty nice neighbourhood and you won’t get mugged or anything.”

Spit at cops

Al: “I got a ticket outside the studio in Hell’s Kitchen. I drove past and spat into the cops car. Two loogies right in the front seat.”

Fab: “That’s a great place to get into a fight.”

Second hand records

Al: “For second records in mint condition you should go to Final Vinyl on 6th Street.”

Nikolai: “Mercer Bookstore, they’re really cool.”

Great sandwiches

Jules: “We have a genius in the Deli bar right by my house. A quiet Brazilian guy who has learned the art of the sandwich. Or there’s a bunch of Cuban places on the Lower East Side.”

Vintage guitars

Jules: “Richie’s guitar shop. He’s this guy who has a shop in his own house. It’s 50% less than anywhere else.”

Al: “All the guitars that we play are from his shop.”

Jules: “It’s so cool because he’s an ex-police officer. Before we left I said to him, ‘You know our song New York City Cops, does that offend you when you hear it?’ He said, ‘Nah, I can’t understand any of you words.’ I was like, ‘Good'”

Al: “He’s got a tiny studio apartment and all he’s got in it are guitars and a little bed in the corner.”

Jules: “He takes real good care of you.”

Al: “He fixes all our stuff. You can hang out there and play guitar while he fixes it right in front of you.”

Jules: “Real cheap.”

Fab: “I wouldn’t know because I’m the DRUMMER.”

Drums

Fab: “Drummers World. My world.”

Fanzines

Al: “You know Kings Video has a lot of fanzines.”

Get known

Nikolai: “In New York it’s all about self advertisement you have to really go out there and hand out flyers and put up posters.

Al: “Make sure you go to highly populated areas and if every Wednesday there’s a party, show up every Wednesday and hand out flyers even if they don’t bother coming. If you get a little press then they will remember the name. Then you go back and make them feel like there’s a connection.”

Movies

Fab: “The Angelica has some really good movies.”

Jules: “There is place right near my house where you can see movies for free. Just walk in the back entrance.”

Al: “If you wanna see like 3 or 4 movies the same day, The Noon Square theatre is real easy, no one stops you. The seats there are so comfortable.”

Nick: “The Angelica and The Film Forum show cool independent films.”

Strip Shows

Nick: “No idea.”
Nikolai: “Go to 42nd St and go into any shop.”

Sunday brunch

Fab: “I like Oddessa diner. I’ve been there a lot I just moved in near it. Yeah it’s my diner.”

Al: “There is a café on 8th street. Orlean I like that a lot.”

People watching

Nick: “There is a store between 2nd St and 3rd St called Gracefully and there is a bench in front of it. I could sit there for hours.”

Jules: “It’s great.”

Fab: “It’s a good place.”

Art Museums

Fab: “There’s several. Like it depends whether you are a student. If you are a student you can get free into a bunch of places where usually you have to spend $10 or something. But I like to go to the MOMA and the ICP. Even the Metropolitan is a good museum. It’s like revisiting your old buddies.”

Nick: “Other than that I go to the Met and you just pay a quarter. It’s the national history museum.”

Jules: “Big dinosaurs.”

Hang out with derelicts

Jules: “Mars Bar.”

Fab: “On 1st and 2ns.”

Jules: “There’s nice people in Mars Bar.”

Fab: “Cool bartenders. There is a cool guy there that gives me free drinks.”

Nick: “For some reason there is always people having sex in the bathroom.”

Al: “It reminds me of what CBGB’s should be like even though it’s just a bar.”

Nikolai: “It’s just a jukebox and if you don’t put money in the juke box there’s no music.”

Al: “It’s a big cave.”

To find The Strokes

Jules: “2A.”

Nick: “On 2nd and Avenue A.”

Jules: “That’s half a block away from where we were finishing recording the album and we are there every single night.”