Monday, 23 November 2009
12. Trying Your Luck, The Strokes (2001)
I could tell you a lot of stories about Rupert. The best takes us back to Valentines Day, 2001, when the two of us – 22 years young, hungry for drink, single and rampant – met up for a few comforting beers, and ended up in the bar of the Waldorf Hotel, where we shared mint juleps with an American banker and his pearl-wearing wife. Rupert charmed them, schmoozed them, and regaled them with stories about his great-grandfather, a man they loved dearly called Sherlock Holmes. Every time I've passed the hotel on a bus since, a guilty smile has returned to my mouth. They bought every word, the poor buggers; they also bought every drink.
Rupert and I also fell in love with the Strokes at the same time. We used to go to Trash at this point, a Monday night club that got properly fashionable just after I stopped going – yes, I know, making me both ahead of the curve and hopelessly out of touch – and also Track and Field, a cosy monthly affair full of charity shop kids, many of whom lived their lives through a messageboard called Bowlie. Oh God, that was so long ago. And oh God, I loved Bowlie. It introduced me to people in London who liked the same music as me – I hadn't know many in London before I'd started lurking there. It was also how I met Rupert, and many other funny people, and in these days before Facebook and Twitter, it was where dirty indie kids met – many of them hungry for company, or a furtive fumble at a bus stop. I, of course, fitted into both of these camps.
(Incidentally, my codename was Floaty Tabard, and later Pearly Spencer. I still don't know why I picked the first one. Nor I can live it down, or believe I've just told you.)
Then the Strokes came along. I first heard them in the Rough Trade under the skate shop in Covent Garden – this was their first glorious EP, The Modern Age, rattling the record racks – and suddenly music became exciting again, hot-browed and sweaty-palmed. Rupert had had the same feverish experience the very same day, and in the weeks to come, this band were suddenly everywhere. Not only did their songs sneak onto the turntables in both the clubs we attended – quite a feat when New Order and Belle and Sebastian were on permanent rotation – but they also got radio play, and bagged the band cover interviews in glossy magazines. Something strange was happening here, we realised quickly. Indie, our little world, was flying the nest, becoming something else.
We finally saw The Strokes that summer, me and Rupert, long after I'd left my unseemly adventures with him behind, wandered up the stairs in the Betsey and saw Adekola Sound, and started going out with a nice boy called Barry. The gig took place in Heaven, a gay club near the Embankment, and it was teeming with fashionable folk, as well as young scruffs like us. By now, the Strokes were massive. Rupert stood at the back with his friend Laura Barton – someone I would get to know better in the years that followed – but I charged to the front, wearing a red and black acrylic shirt and a black, shiny tie. When the band came on – God, I still remember the euphoria – I stared into their eyeballs; I danced like a lunatic; I screamed my little heart out. So much so, in fact, that halfway through the set, Albert Hammond Jr smiled down at me, and pointed at my top.
My shirt had unbuttoned itself – a lesson, young people, to never trust '70s acrylic – and I was showing the poor New Yorker a rather past-its-best bra, its tawdry black lace not really preserving my modesty. "Don't worry," he laughed, passing me a bottle of water, before putting two thumbs up and moving on with the show.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my first rock star encounter. Pamela Des Barres I was certainly not.
Eight years on, I still manage to get past that memory - while laughing like a drain, of course – and I remember how thrilling The Strokes really were live. I do so as their debut album now sounds rather forced to me, and when the only songs I really love of theirs come from their third, maligned album – there's more of a desperate urgency to those tracks, less of a clamour of cool. I will rescue one of them from the murk before the year winds to a close, but this remains my favourite from their first long-playing flourish – a slightly melancholy rocker with a great middle-eight, a fantastic bassline, and brilliant rhythm guitar. It still gets me yearning for Albert Hammond Junior's direction, only next time, dear Albert, you'd best look elsewhere.