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The Hipsters’ Guide to the Galaxy

A newfound temperance, a bouncing baby, Sugar Ray's producer, and a secret romance that shocked the band -- much has changed in the Strokes' universe since their previous album. As they finally come down to earth and survey the rock terrain, is this it for the former kings of gritty New York cool?

I’m down on the ave and I’ve got the stuff. The buzzer is broken, so I have to call up first. “Hey,” says the voice on the other end. “Are you here?” “Yeah. It’s me.”

I’m buzzed in. I run up the three flights, find the number, and ring the bell. The hollow metal door vibrates faintly but nobody answers. I punch the button again and finally hear some shuffling feet. I get that weird feeling like I’m being checked out through the peephole. I fidget.

“It’s me!”

I’d really like my fix. Don’t want to be rude. But it’s early Sunday morning, and I’m getting sick.

“Hey, come in.”

He eyes my delivery as I slap the greasy paper bag on a countertop.

“Oh, yeah, this is exactly what I need,” he says with a greedy smile as he reaches in.

Then Julian Casablancas, leader of the Strokes and the former voice of dissolute, skinny-tied New York City romance for those who lived it and for those in Nebraska or Rio or Moscow who wanted to live it, pulls out a black decaf coffee and an iced bear claw the size of a universal remote. I grab my regular with milk and toasted bagel, and quickly, sloppily, we sort ourselves out.

Casablancas is newly wed, newly smoke-free, newly sober (more or less). His clothes (white wife-beater, faded jeans, tan cord jacket, Vans instead of Converse) and hair (shoulder-length and brown) are clean. This one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan’s East Village, with its sorority-friendly décor — band posters (his own, Guided by Voices), beaded curtain, guitar and electric piano in the tiny sitting room, candles, vacation photos taped to the fridge, stacked DVDs (My Cousin Vinny, a full season of Sex and the City) — is immaculately kept. As his wife, Juliet, sleeps in the bedroom, Casablancas and I huddle over our baked goods in the cute breakfast nook. It’s the kind of baby-step love nest you make after graduating…from something. When I inquire about the Sex and the City DVDs, he answers, “I don’t enjoy it. Juliet likes it. I think that’s what matters. Men tend to be controlling assholes.” This is a revealing statement from a man notorious for his micromanagement, suffering over virtually every band decision, big or small: how to play, when to rehearse, when to tour, what to play on each date of these tours, whom to talk to in the media, how much silence should separate each track on an album. And now, with his initial brush with success (and failure) behind him, he is finally opening up to other possibilities.

To paraphrase the Velvet Underground, the archetype of dissolute voices of New York City romance: These are different times. Drastic lifestyle changes are appropriate, both to Casablancas’ age (which is 27) and the state of his career (kind of unhealthy in recent years). Besides, you can save rock’n’roll only once. After it’s up and about, you have to do a little work on yourself.

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