“Ignorance, Influence and the Canon: A Couple Takes on Is This it at 20″

Y’all got any more of that… music on the computer? Such words were likely to be heard circa 2002 on a college campus (especially one containing one Michael Beal), the pre-streaming, post-Napster predicament of securing music by black market hook or crook. 

With me, I have to admit, I think I downloaded all these songs for free on a platform called Kazaa, which would, of course, then, institute the songs onto your computer as files, hence allowing for offline listening but at the same time disallowing for the instant gratification and immediate access of stuff not on the hard drive. 

Eventually, I got a burned copy of Is This it (for the record I’ve bought a lot of CD’s in my life too but own enough that this would have required Jeff Bezos’ salary to completely abstain from thieving), as I’m sure a lot of people did, but my initial impression of them was hearing songs like “Last Nite”; “Someday”; “Hard to Explain” and “The Modern Age,” in roughly that order, with no regard for album sequencing.

I guess it’s to The Strokes’ credit, then, that they still immediately became one of my favorite bands — actually I almost liked them better within this haphazard mix of random singles, like an exciting best-of collection like The Best of Big Star or Toad the Wet Sprocket’s P.S. Anyway, I absolutely, positively consider Is This it a classic today, and one thing I’d like to point out about it is that both The White Stripes and The Hives, ostensible “placers” and “showers” in the garage rock revival sack race of the early 2000s, produced their best work following the release and propagation of Is This it, as if having siphoned especial, increased inspiration by way of absorption of this music, certainly understandable. 

Just as the early 2000s, with its divisive culture of fear, vituperative politics and cultural immersion within the Internet, are a strange time to talk about, similarly, Is This it is a strange album to discuss. I mean, I wouldn’t really say that, when it came out, we saw it as something NEW. Actually, to me, it was more along the lines of possessing value for the very reason of seeming old, as in something that’s getting by on substance and so doesn’t see the need to totally revamp style or present itself in any “hip” sort of packaging. And I’ve probably said this a thousand times but music on the radio around this time was generally just CLOAKED in gimmick — there was the puerile sex-raps of The Bloodhound Gang, any number of also-rans taking hapless stabs at comedy rock [1] (not gonna name names), and a litany of bands subsuming tracks with DJ scratches, like a constant, awkward and untoward attempt at mixing genres. And not to say that The Strokes disdained hip-hop, by any stretch, but there’s not a non-rock-and-roll sinew within this music. The songs are patient, with elaborate chord progressions and purposeful phrasings, and even the band name perhaps named after that “stroking” rhythm guitar method which is probably pretty discouraging of masquerades like “funk” or “electro.” Take away this technique and you likely have something pretty akin to Toad the Wet Sprocket, which makes sense in that that’s another band that seems to have an incessant identity crisis not in how they transmit their statements but rather in how they are received, or categorized. Still, pretty much everyone seems to like them, and the songs continue to play and to touch us all. 

Further, in regards to the general reception of The Strokes, I, as an American, ye olde “land of the free” and “vanguard arbiter of worldwide culture,” feel lucky to have heard this music at all. As is reported on Wikipedia, the American distributors immediately took exception to the sexual cover, despite the album’s extant pervasion worldwide (actually that shot of the woman’s loins could have thematic authority within the music’s discourse, a thought I doubt crossed the minds of any stiff-necked CEO’s or marketers in our faithful nation). 9/11 delayed the album even more, by two weeks, and even once it was out in slug-bug America, by October 2001, it took another three months and a Saturday Night Live performance for sales to really start churning and for the mid-section of our country to learn who these guys were. In the meantime, our radio station wouldn’t play them, for no particular reason (the lack of gimmick, likely) and any number of hob-knobs across the country could be heard trying to diss them, for the simple reason of their popularity. But, without much help from MTV, radio or human disposition, they sliced through the fortress that is American culture and have landed in our hearts, home stereos and barbecues, and of course the music can’t sound dated today when it was so charmingly retro and guilelessly direct, to begin with.


[1] Ideally, rock and roll music, I think, should be an opportunity for even the clowns to buckle down and get serious, if they really have something to say. 

34 thoughts on ““Ignorance, Influence and the Canon: A Couple Takes on <em>Is This it</em> at 20″

  1. Большое спасибо за информацию. А мне давно хотелось попробовать найти металлоискателем интересные находки. Не хотелось покупать очень дорогой прибор, так как я новичек в этом, заказал вот такой простенький и недорогой http://alii.pub/5xkqnd . В моей коллекции уже несколько монеток и крестик 🙂

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