If I hadn’t waited so long before writing about Tuesday’s launch of The Strokes: The First Ten Years, I could’ve started this with “Last nite…”
Next month, it’ll have been 16 years since that song, the second single off of Is This It, was released, forever solidifying the winter of 2001 as not just “the wake of 9/11,” but also “that time we put our iPods on Repeat and listened to the Strokes all day, all night.”
Since then, the album has become such a classic that it wasn’t even weird, on Tuesday, to see Cody Smyth’s photos of the Strokes on the walls of Morrison Hotel Gallery alongside iconic shots of Joni and Jimi. (Not to mention the actual Stroke in attendance, Nikolai Fracture.) Given the recent release of Meet Me in the Bathroom, an oral history of the scene that blew up around the Strokes, it seems natural that the band is getting a history of its own.
This one, edited by Gabriel Kuo, gathers Smyth’s candid photos, portraits, and concert shots alongside recollections by Roman Coppola, who directed the Strokes’ videos, and their friend Claude R. Franques.
Smyth is an assistant to legendary photographer Mick Rock, who penned the book’s introduction, but his photos of the Strokes predate his career as a shooter. He met Julian Casablancas, Nick Valensi, and Fabrizio Moretti in high school on the Upper West Side. As he recalls in the book, he was hanging with them in Central Park even before they played their first show, under the name Just Pipe, at The Spiral on Houston Street.
At the time, the New York scene was “so shitty that you felt you had to invent your own music”– or so Casablancas says in an oral history that’s excerpted in the book. As his photos testify, Smyth was there when the band first played CBGB, to “just a few friends,” and then again when they played their packed second show there, in 2000. The sound guy ended their set before Casablancas could debut “Modern Age,” causing him to yell “Fuck CBGB!” (Have New Yorkerier words ever been spoken?) By 2002, they were Spin‘s Band of the Year, and were opening for the Rolling Stones.
Strokes profiles are so formulaic that Gawker once offered an “easy-reference cliche guide” to Jay McInerney’s 2006 effort for New York magazine, which is reprinted in the book along with Marc Spitz’s Spin encomium. But the recollections in The First Ten Years are so personal and intimate that you feel like you’re being let into one of the band’s old basement hangs at 2A.
For those who think the Strokes magically evolved out of smoke rings blown by Lou Reed, the book’s biggest treats aren’t the sweaty, sultry shots of shows at Don Hill’s, Irving Plaza, Bowery Ballroom, and Hammerstein Ballroom; they’re the snaps of the guys during their high school years in the mid-’90s, looking like typical grunge fanboys. A photo of Julian clad in standard-issue flannel was taken in 1996 at the Greek diner on West 86th and Columbus where he, Nick and Fab would get lunch– “mostly because you could smoke cigs and get fries and a Coke for 2 bucks,” per Smyth.
In another photo from 1996, taken at a practice studio in Chelsea, drummer Fabrizio Moratti sports a Pearl Jam shirt.
And check out the Pearl Jam poster hanging above the group in a shot taken in Julian and Albert’s East Village apartment, in 1999. In it, the guys wear baggy clothes that make them look like Kids extras. Little do they know that in 2011 they’ll be invited to play Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary celebration, and will help them cover Neil Young as their encore.
Smyth describes it as a moment he’ll never forget: “Rocking and dancing around on stage to ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ with my childhood friends.”