The Strokes: Elegantly Wasted

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The next night, I meet Casablancas at an East Side dive, the 19th Hole, for a sit-down interview. You already know what he is wearing. He's tired from having spent the day battling RCA over the artwork for Room On Fire and doing interviews with the international press. He announces with evident pride that he has finally invented a stock answer to "the Nigel Godrich question." Originally, the band hired Radiohead producer Godrich to work on the CD. But their working habits didn't jibe: Godrich wanted to constantly press forward, but the Strokes liked to labor on every sound. So the band returned to the womb of Gordon Raphael, who produced the Strokes' debut, Is This It, and recorded the new CD in just over two months. It is similar to the first album, but more refined, a tighter, more studio-proficient version of the Strokes, finally adding to the small repertoire of songs that most fans have burned out on by now.

I ask Casablancas what his great sound bite about Godrich is, and he says he will tell me when we start the interview. So this seems like as good a time as any to press RECORD on the tape deck. And so begins the worst interview ever. The thing about Casablancas is that he speaks and sways like he's out of it, but if you stick around him long enough, you begin to realize that he is ultra-aware of everything going on around him. I tell him this.

"That's your opinion," he says, almost defensively. "I see myself out of my own eyes, which means I have no idea what's going on the other way around. I just think I try to be a good person –and I fail."

With that, Casablancas reaches over to the tape recorder and turns it off. I look at him. He looks at me. Then I turn it back on and try to start again with something easier.

Me: OK, so what's your stoct answer to the Nigel Godrich question?

Casablancas: Fuck you. I'm not answering that question.

Me: What the hell?

Casablancas: Next question.

Me: Honestly, this has to be the worst...

Casablancas:... the worst interview ever?

Once again, he reaches across the table and places his dirty fingernail over the STOP button. And then he just stays in his seat, swaying and staring. I suggest stopping the interview and just having a normal conversation, but with the tape deck on. He declines.

"I just don't have anything deep to say," he says.

I explain that nothing deep is expected of him.

"I've got nothing to hide," he says. "But what I meant a few minutes ago, if I can even recall what I was saying, is just that there's so much shit to do, and so little time. And everything I have to say is not going to be in this one Rolling Stone interview."

The issue, he explains, is that he believes in a higher power, some call it God. And right now, that higher power is telling him that it is not the right time for him to say anything. And it won't be time until the Strokes prove themselves to the world, until they do something that he terms "undeniable."

"I'd like to just get to a point where maybe we can say something that will be matterful. That's definitely not a word, by the way. And I look forward to the future, blah, blah, blah, blah."

The Strokes Return to 'Classic Sound' for New Album

A few minutes later, Casablancas picks up his beer, downs three quarters of the bottle in one gulp, slams it to the table, stands up and walks to the video game, Golden Tee. He turns around and addresses the bar. "Anyone want to play Golden Tee?" he slurs.

No one responds. Four minutes later, he returns to the table. "Never play Golden Tee when you're drunk," he advises.

Then he sits in my lap, kisses me seven times on the neck, and makes three lunges for my lips, connecting once. Before I can wipe dry, he is out the door, rolling himself home in a discarded wheelchair he finds abandoned outside.

The next night, I meet Casablancas at the Gramercy Diner. He has promised to behave himself this time. His eyes are glazed over from lack of sleep. "I very often have night terrors," Casablancas says. "Just think of the worst possible situation, and it's a regular thing for me. I've died in my sleep twenty-three different ways."

He apologizes for his behavior yesterday. He was drunk.

Me: So does anyone ever worry about your drinking or try to get you to stop?

Casablancas: No. I mean, I think they know that if it gets too out of hand, I usually stop myself.

Me: And how do you know when it's out of hand?

Casablancas: When we were doing the record, I stopped for about five months.

Me: How did you do that?

Casablancas: I realized it was getting to the point where it was about to have serious effects on my music if I wasn't going to stop. I would be too hung over to sit down and play music. Drinking destroys your mental capability unless you're drinking. Whenever I was hung over, everything just seemed so negative. So I would be like, "Fuck this, I need a drink." And then you have a drink and everything is fine.

Me: What did other people think?

Casablancas: Your girlfriend can leave you and your mother will yell at you, but when you start feeling like it's hurting the music, then it's a bad mistake.

Me: When was the first time you got fucked up?

Casablancas: The first time was probably when I was ten and there was a dinner party. There were drinks on the table, and I think I just downed all the drinks, and I was like, "Whoa. What the hell is this? This is great." My body immediately enjoyed it. It was like, "Life is actually fucking amazing in every single way."

After a cigarette break, Casablancas orders abeer and a grilled Jack-and-cheddar-cheese with bacon, and we talk for nearly three hours. We discuss his school days, in which time he received one trophy, for his role in Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle, before dropping out junior year; and Nirvana and Pearl Jam, who first inspired him to make music. "I can't even explain it," he says of the first time he heard "Yellow Ledbetter," by Pearl Jam. "It was like the first time I drank."

He says that if he weren't a musician, he'd be "a bartender trying to be a writer."

Casablancas is a different person from who he was the night before and is willing to talk about anything. The only taboo subject is his father. John Casablancas was the founder of Elite Models. He divorced Julian's mother when Julian was nine, and, though Julian still sees his father, he tends to blame many of his bad habits, particularly in regard to women, on his dad. Julian remembers a joke his father once told him about a group of bulls: One bull said that he could have sex ten times a day, another said he could do it twenty times, and a third bragged that he could do it fifty times. Then a fourth bull came along and said, "Yeah, but not with the same cow."

"It's not funny, really," Casablancas says, "but it has a message."

Two More Strokes Members Roll Out Side Projects

"I told him the other day," Casablancas says of his father, "'I love you with your flaws and your qualities.'"

My cell phone rings. It is Hammond. He's calling for Casablancas. This is how one gets in touch with a singer who doesn't have a cell phone. The two are planning to watch the movie Fletch tonight.

Once upon a time, most of the Strokes lived together. But, one by one, they have moved apart or disappeared into girlfriend land. Casablancas is the only single member left. Outside it is pouring rain. Casablancas leaves and walks into the downpour without an umbrella. Within two steps, he is soaked. After he disappears, I survey the detritus of the night on the table. There is a half-eaten sandwich, several empty beer glasses, an empty cigarette pack and a crumpled piece of paper. I unroll it: It is a receipt from a Walgreen's drugstore for $2.99. The date is today. Only one item has been bought: a can of Pringles.

This story is from the November 13th, 2003 issue of Rolling Stone. 

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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