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Gang of Five

Today we are going to learn about the Strokes. We are going to learn who the Strokes are—or at least who they are supposed to be. But this will not be easy: There will be holes. There will be misdirection. And it will be up to you to fill in the gaps.

By: Chuck KlostermanToday we are going to learn about the Strokes. We are going tolearn who the Strokes are—or at least who they are supposedto be. But this will not be easy: There will be holes. There willbe misdirection. And it will be up to you to fill in the gaps.

Today we are going to learn about the Strokes. We are going to learn who the Strokes are—or at least who they are supposed to be. But this will not be easy: There will be holes. There will be misdirection. And it will be up to you to fill in the gaps.

And this is intentional.

“The one thing I’ve never understood about the media is this whole idea of the public’s ‘right to know.’ Just because people want to know something does not mean they have a right to that information.”

Julian Casablancas is sitting in a diner in lower Manhattan, drinking a glass of water and considering how much he needs a cigarette. Ostensibly, he’s telling me his thoughts on journalism; however, he’s actually trying to explain why he won’t directly answer my questions. This is a game, and I think he is winning.”

Reporters will ask me a question and say, “people have the right to know this,'” Casablancas says. “And my response is usually, ‘Actually, they don’t.’ Why does having a tape recorder give you the right to make life less interesting for everyone involved? I could care less if people want to know something. People always want to know things. But just because some guy wants to know what your fucking asshole smells like, are you going to let him smell it?”

This is not exactly the world’s most appealing metaphor for privacy, nor does it seem like a particularly trenchant argument. But this point is critical: Casablancas’ unflinching demand to remain mysterious is how the Strokes remain “the Strokes,” which is to say, how they remain Five Guys Who Always Seem Like One Guy.

Not since Guns N’ Roses in 1987 (and maybe not since the Rolling Stones in ’67) has a major rock band so deftly mastered the concept of the celebrity collective; the Strokes seem like a gang. They’re almost like the Ramones. No one says, “Julian Casablancas was at a party” or “I ran into Fabrizio Moretti at the airport” or “I spotted Albert Hammond Jr. in a discotheque.” All these situations would be described with the same declaration: “I think I saw a Stroke.” The magic of this band is not just their music. Their magic is an indefinable quality of togetherness they never seem to surrender. They are five close friends with five exotic names, and this is the only group that any of them have ever joined. The Strokes sold 2 million copies of Is This It worldwide and were the most talked-about band of 2001—yet two years later, Casablancas and Hammond still share a two-bedroom apartment (and their rent is less than you might think). Their uniqueness is not a product of their influences or their musical motives—it’s an extension of their interlocking personalities. No singular element is dominant. The vocals always sound like they’re being sung through a telephone, the guitar playing never seems masturbatory, and the rhythm section never has to get out and push. It’s akin to Robert Altman film—five people can talk at the same time, but it always feels like one voice. This is a real band.

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