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By Bernard Chapin
What if I could offer you instant happiness? This happiness could be obtained without having to take any pills, invest large sums of money, vote socialist in the next election or meet any new and interesting friends in the county lock-up. My guess is that most of you would be interested in my offer. Now, that you're interested, all you have to do is find your way to the nearest mall or dot com so you can obtain the 2001 release, "Is This It", by the band The Strokes. It is not merely a collection of tunes; it is an ecstatic dose of acoustic Wellbutrin.
I'm still trying to figure out what happened with this record even though I bought it over 18 months ago. One minute I was slogging along with my reactionary, anti-pop culture friends and deriding this age of musical nihilism and the next I'm in my living room singing "He won't decide but he won't debate."
I purchased the CD after hearing the addictive radio single, "Last Night." I usually don't buy a lot of new releases, as I'm often severely disappointed. It is rare when I find the popular stuff worthwhile. Yet, the first time I heard the record I knew it was special before the sixth or seventh song even began to play. Their sound is effervescent and stimulates regardless of the volume at which they are heard. Many may dismiss their compositions as being merely "catchy" but I think this is incorrect. There is a quiet complexity to their sound and, as my friend Grange put it, "They're so smooth it's actually deceptive– because there's actually a whole lot going on."
I will acknowledge that their physical appearance is not confidence inspiring. They appear on television in ultra-trendy dress and their liner note photos make them look as if they each individually drank three barrels apiece from the fountain of youth. Yet inexperience and glamour do not contaminate the end product which vibrates from your speakers.
The truest proof I can offer of their excellence is that "Is This It" did not leave my CD player for three months time after purchase. I'd give it a quick play on a daily basis. Only now have I reached the point where the record infrequently breaks into the rotation but I still appreciate it whenever it does.
The Strokes have become my default option whenever the need to buy a gift arises. For my mother's birthday last year, I decided to Amazon her the album (along with a bunch of other stuff). My mom loved it and when I visited for Christmas I found the record on her passenger seat, which suggested heavy use.
One of my friends was going through a nasty bout of melancholia so I decided to give it to him as a present. He reported to me that the vitality of the melodies actually made him feel better.
My friend Vic is the only person I know who didn't immediately value The Strokes. He bought the CD one Saturday and the following week I asked him what he thought of it. He answered with a lethargic, "It's okay, I guess."
I was incredulous. "You don't like it?"
"Well, you know it's really eighties and you're kind of susceptible to that sort of thing."
"No, I'm not." I said. "Besides, I don't think it sounds eightyish."
"Yes it does…Absolutely. That's your era. You're in so deep you can't even recognize it. That's your sound. That's why you like it."
Now it's important for me to state here that I'm 33 and Vic is 30 so there's no generation gap between us regardless of what he may say. Yet, I was surprised to find, about a month later, that when I brought up The Strokes again he had a different answer. I told him that I couldn't believe he didn't like their music.
"What?" He answered. "Don't like The Strokes? I love that record. I listened to it all the way to Colorado. That's the best thing I've bought in years."
"News to me." I said. "Last time I mentioned it you weren't enthused."
"Did I? Well I changed my mind."
Since that conversation, after five or six pints, the two of us can sometimes be found out late on Friday nights spontaneously belting out the fifth track from "Is This It:"
"In many ways I'll miss the good old days/ Someday / Someday
I should warn the reader though that many sophistos have expressed revulsion towards this band. I praised them to one of the biggest audiophiles I know and he reacted like I was telling him to eat a plate of zebra muscles. "No, no, no." He whined. "The Strokes are a concocted band. You can't like them." He adopted the tone that one uses with a toddler and made a lot of hand motions. "You see that guy's dad [Julian Casablancas, the lead singer] is John Casablancas, who's a big celebrity. Without daddy, there'd be no band. They're spoiled rich kids."
"Who cares about their socioeconomic backgrounds?" I countered. "The music is sensational. I even love the singer's voice."
My acquaintance shook his head. "Man, his voice is nothing. Can't you tell he's trying to sound like somebody else? You're being played."
"Whatever." I said. "If you know anybody else who sounds like that then I'll buy their records too."
He tried to reason with me. "Look, The Strokes are processed cheese. Wake up. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't write one lyric or one bar of their own music. They're totally derivative and, no, they're not from the eighties. You're friend's nuts. They're a cheap copy of Television from the seventies." I didn't catch his reference. "You don't know Television? Well let me give you some suggestions." He then proceeded to recommend a bevy of "superior" albums to me but I've forgotten most of them by now.
I did acquire one of his picks, however. It was Televsion's "Marquis Moon." When I next saw the uber-critic, he was excited that I followed his advice. "Well, what do you think?" He asked.
"I really enjoyed it…but they're not The Strokes." And that was the last time he ever gave me any musical suggestions.
Yet, I believe his analysis is superfluous. It doesn't matter who put them together or for what purpose. Sometimes a band of mercenaries can be melded into a unit and the end result is a Stanley Cup champion or a Super Bowl victory. Regardless of influence or history, The Strokes sound grand and that's enough for me. If you're in the need of $14.99 euphoria, get ready because this is it.
Bernard Chapin is a school psychologist and adjunct faculty member in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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