Saturday, January 24, 2009

When We Was Young, Oh Man Did We Have Fun...

By Fidel Martinez * Other Fidel Martinez Posts

I like The Strokes. Is that even a cool thing to say anymore? Or was it ever even cool to say? I feel like The Strokes brought in the 'cool' millenial era in music (eg, see The White Stripes, Interpol,etc) , and yet before you could say 'hipster sock hop party' , BAM their coolness just disappeared. It evaporated like good times spent at a dive-looking bar that's not really that much of a dive, save for the fact that they sell dollar tall boys of Pabst Blue Ribbon and have pretty much everything you own on iTunes (and then some) on their digitized jukebox. Their initial hipster appeal disappeared with their overexposure, and they were discarded for something newer and more obscure.

But no, this isn't about the hipsters and their tastes, because really, are they really worth talking or musing about? Isch don't think so. Nor is this an exploration on the inherent nature of cool, because simply talking about cool makes it…well, uncool. No, this is about something else. This is about finding that one album that kind of changes your perspective of things, and it does so during a particularly impressionable era in your life. Hands down, The Strokes' debut album, 'Is This It', is the musical definition and representation of that coming of age period for this generation--for anyone who was in high school or in college (or just recently out of college) between 2001 and now. Sure there were albums released during that period that are held in higher regard (Radiohead's 'OK Computer, Wilco's 'Summerteeth' or 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot'), but none of these are debut albums, nor are they really characteristic of the Gen-Y generation.

What makes 'Is This It' culturally relevant is partially due to its place in time-- its place in time being post-9/11. Inevitably, when the planes crashed into those towers, a new chapter in our history was started; confusion, insecurity, and a loss of a sense of self was the tone this tragedy set. Personally, when I saw the news, my first initial thought was 'what will become of us, what's going to happen?' These sentiments became part of the cultural consciousness and it permeated every aspect of daily life.

This confusion is manifested sonically in this album. The song lyrics are somewhat nonsensical, striving to find some level of meaning, and they sometimes come off as trying too hard, but there's a certain kernel of truth behind it. As Julian Casablancas sings in 'Alone Together',"Things, they have changed/In such a permanent way/Life seems unreal." Additionally, the actual sound reflects this disorientation. Both the vocals and guitars are distorted and dissonant, making you feel somewhat out of place, out of sorts.

Despite its somber place in history, the most significant part of the album is not an existential crisis, but instead the overall theme of good times, drunken stupors, and avoiding—while being fully aware—of the inevitable hangover that will follow. The songs (and some of the music videos for that matter) allude to this often with lyrics like 'When we was young/oh man did we have fun" (Off of 'Someday"), 'Well I am too young and they are too old" ('Hard to Explain'), and " Oh you drink too much/Makes me drink just the same" ("Alone Together"). This is particularly fitting; being young is about drinking in excess , staying up later than you should ,and doing things that you'll definitely regret. 'Is This It' is the musical landscape to our sense of arrested development and somewhat narcissistic tendencies. It's why for me, despite being a couple of years older, this album is still relevant.Adult responsibilities naturally set in, but they're not all I am. I'm still too young. At the end of the day, I know that I have to think of what I will do next. Will I go to grad school, what career path will I take? These are important questions, yes. But ultimately, what's important to me most right now is ' will I find enough buddies to go to a bar with me on Tuesday?'.

Someday-The strokes

Oh yeah, and the music itself is kind of kick ass. That's important too.

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