Cocaine Was Never Very Cool and Neither Were the F**king Strokes

The-StrokesGetting older can be trippy and awesome when you get to see certain lame ass cultural trends just wear themselves into obsolescence like you vociferously hoped they would back in the day. There’s always a long way to go and it can certainly seem bleak as fuck at times, but there are small victories in life. There really are. I’ll be honest, in my mind the early ‘aughts were about as dark a time in popular music culture as I can remember. It’s not like there wasn’t a bunch of cool underground stuff going down, there always is, but we were right on the heels of the nu metal wave of crap like Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Kid Rock blowing up the charts. The top hard rock bands in the world were shit like Creed and Linkin Park. No really, that happened. Then the supposed art scene became a burgeoning crapfest of twee indie rock, which was hailed as the hot trend for the next decade at least. Please die already.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The term indie has been beaten well past the point of having any significance at these days. It’s now far more meaningless than “alternative” became in the 90’s. There are a lot of supposed “indie rock” bands like Guided By Voices, Built To Spill, Deerhunter, Liars, etc, who I hold in the highest of regards. The word can mean a lot of things. Here’s how I’ve always defined it: Bands that can’t play their instruments very well with vocalists who sort of do that off key warbly thing they do, usually with the emover haircuts. Those were sort of creepy conformist for a while there in the early 2000’s. The thing about this scene is that I hung out with lo-fi indie rock bands when I lived in Columbus, Ohio. That’s sort of what was going on there. One of the odd things I noticed in doing so is that cocaine was considered the hip drug in those circles for some reason, which I didn’t honestly understand. What’s wrong with these people?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had fun doing cocaine and I suppose I feel lucky. Drugs really do affect people differently. I’ve never fully understood why after a night of doing blow I didn’t want it again for six months, whereas other people I knew couldn’t stop for three straight weeks. Shit just doesn’t intrigue me. It’s not like I’d say “never do it!” The feeling of that first rail to your head is worth experiencing at least once in your life. It’s the most egomaniacal high imaginable. Pure narcissism. Which is exactly why it appeals to so many indie rockers I suppose. The people I’ve known who couldn’t get enough of the powder experience were mostly lacking in either self confidence and/or personality by my own estimation. “I’m always so quiet, and on coke I talk all night.” My one ex-girlfriend once told me. See why it went hand in hand with indie rock? That was the whole aesthetic. Drowning your lack of self esteem with booze and endless lines. What’s hilarious and what I’ve had to explain to people who have tried to get me to do any variety of speed with them is this, listen, do you really want to hang out with me when I’m talking even faster and louder than I already do? Seriously, it must be the most annoying shit imaginable.

So after moving to Seattle in 2001, I was sort of shocked to see that the exact same battered introvert wussy rock and blow culture was going on here, just on a scale about a thousand times magnified. Coke was fucking everywhere and it’s not like I didn’t partake. I think my breaking point with cocaine was when I had a hot girl completely ready to go, and you know, it does make you incredibly horny, but before we even got there I went to the bathroom and realized, wait, this…is…not…happening. Yep, totally lifeless down there. I’ve had good sex on cocaine before but the impotence thing only had to happen once before I was like, I officially call bullshit on this drug. Something about paying good money to be sexually humiliated didn’t appeal to me much, big surprise. Especially when I’d once fucked the same girl 7 times in one night on acid. The funny thing about the coke dick night is that she was going on a cruise with her family the next day, and I was supposed to drive her to the airport. I ended up getting her a cab. See the amazing decisions that coke leads to. Unreal.

It was because of experiences such as this that I got pretty fed up with Seattle scenester culture fairly quickly. Every time I went out on Capitol Hill I’d end up at some crappy coke party. All the trendy bars were basically coke dens. You’d have to wait forever for the bathroom while enduring multiple “we’re doing coke in there, get it” jokes. Hilarious. I eventually just started avoiding that scene like the plague. Not that getting super drunk and high at metal shows was the greatest alternative, but I identified more with that crowd, and well, I started singing in a metal band so that’s just what you do. Eventually psych rock started becoming more en vogue and I started to love the Hill anew, but it took a while.

Don’t believe me about the coke explosion thing? Well, here’s what Jennifer Maerz who was one of the primary music writers for The Stranger in Seattle had to say about it in her final piece before moving to the SF Weekly in 2006:

“People here are regularly coming up with ideas on how to catalyze the music landscape into interesting new directions. My one complaint? Cocaine has ruined many great minds in the music community. That drug has turned too many talented folks paranoid and self-centered, tuned into only their own “drama” at the expense of their friendships. Coke is nicknamed “dummy dust” for a good reason.”

As mentioned, it was retarded. Now, here’s where I say something I’ve never heard anyone mention. Right after George W. Bush came into office, the exact crappy drugs that were pushed down the throats of the youth during the Reagan administration oh so conveniently came back into fashion. There was even an “indie” 80’s nu wave revival thing going on, which predictably sucked. Hipster bars were having irony hair metal nights ad nauseum. So, right when we have a new Republican trickle down minded regime with ties to the narco trade, an incredibly similar cocaine culture just happens to materialize out of nowhere. Coincidence? I know places like Vice magazine were pushing the stuff pretty hot and heavy back then (not that I don’t love me some Vice). Funny how they’ve changed their tune over the years on that front.

God are people conformist, but you know what’s hilarious? As time wore on, all these hipsters weren’t even doing cocaine anymore as it ended up containing an increasing amount of fucking cattle dewormer. No seriously, these scenester kids were getting high on cattle dewormer. That’s kind of why it went out of style to a large extent, at least around here. Unbelievable. Everyone really should have seen this coming from a billion miles away. I did. It’s not rocket science, cocaine is a shitty drug which funnels money to evil war lords. Didn’t we learn that in the 80’s? Read a book for Christ’s sakes.

Another crappy and to my knowledge completely unexplored aspect of early ‘aughts music culture was that after September 11th, New York bands were suddenly just considered cooler. There was an obvious unspoken marketing push to rebrand the city as the pre-eminent cultural Mecca in America. Same crap that happened to Seattle in the 90’s I suppose, except with terrorism (or staged terrorism if you’re so inclined). Riding this perfect wave of blatant booze and coked out 80’s nostalgia lifestyle worship were NYC “indie” darlings The Strokes. The way I ended up first listening to The Strokes I think gets right at my point here so let’s have at it. These guys were getting an absolute crap ton of hype in the music press. It was unavoidable. After ignoring all the racket for quite a while I remember having to kill time at my brother’s apartment one day when we were just experimenting with file sharing sites (which were totally new back then) and I was like, let’s check out this band The Strokes I keep hearing about. We downloaded a few songs and I was genuinely perplexed. Ummm, this is so bland, what the hell is all the hype about here? I don’t get it at all.

A few months later I read an article somewhere that filled me in on the deets. They were all a bunch of trust fund brats. And not just normal trust fund brats either, the singer was the son of the head of one of the largest modeling agencies in the world. The lead guitar player is the son of an incredibly successful industry songwriter. There’s privilege and then there’s these kids. Now, it’d be easy to forgive them if they were somewhat humble about it. I mean, Daniel Pinchbeck fully admits that if his mom wasn’t fucking Jack Kerouac he wouldn’t have a publishing career. These dudes did the exact opposite. Nope, the fact that we’re from millionaire families and came pre-connected to the entertainment business has nothing to do with our success, we’re just that fucking good man. What a bunch of twats.

And the music press (which is bought and paid for I shouldn’t have to point out) didn’t even bother to call remote bullshit. In fact, they bent over backwards to declare their debut album an instant classic. We were sold on the idea that their total lack of stage presence WAS their stage presence, but you know what pissed me off most about those guys? The media somehow convinced women that their chinless lead singer, Julian Casablancas was some sort of super hunk. The guy is average at best on a good day. I’m not saying they were the worst band ever, but please, it was quite obviously fairly lackluster to anyone with ears. I love how when Pithforked jizzed on them with a 9.1 review they even had to throw in a winking:

“none of this changes the fact that Is This It lacks the creativity and unconventionality inherent in any of the all-time great rock bands they’re so impulsively compared to.”

Exactly. So is anyone surprised that their follow up albums have been getting increasingly beaten down in the press for sucking? You don’t get it man, their music captured a very specific time and vibe in New York City. Yeah, the time when the media sold you the idea that a bunch of super rich marginally talented fucks who made an album about being super rich marginally talented fucks who can’t take a shit without the music press licking their assholes clean related to you somehow…because money. Whatevs. Rolling Stone is now questioning why these dudes are even continuing to make albums because they sound so uninspired. They always did. When Rolling Stone, whose music coverage has been essentially trite industry bullshit forever is telling you to hang it up, crap must be pretty god awful. You see what I mean? Sometimes there is justice in the world. One time political strategy genius Karl Rove just got his ass handed to him in the 2012 election. Baby steps tripsters.

(Friend me on Facebook for magick updates and occasional drug war music ranting)

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  • Poopie Neck

    The Strokes are awesome. You should have just made this about your trendy anti-trendy speech and drug thesis instead of include bands that are only a variable in the whole scheme of things..

    • BT Theg

      What a trite and cliche anti-anti-trendy but also anti-trendy comment.

    • mannyfurious

      I like Thad’s writing, but, yeah, this is the predictable hipster backlash on The Strokes. What Mr. McCracken fails to mention is that The Strokes were only popular until everyone realized they came from wealth and privilege. Then everyone started saying exactly, almost word-for-word, what he said in this piece, only they said it 10 years ago.

    • https://sites.google.com/site/themattprather Matt Prather

      “You should have”

      why?

  • Charlie Primero

    I laughed at Nirvana because Bon Scott made them look like pussies. Gene Simmons went giddy while talking to Chubby Checker. Django Reinhardt could probably snort more heroin than anybody in Paris.

    The great wheel turns.

  • tibby trillz

    they are terrible, but the brian jonestown massacre was worse. who needs another version of the monkees?

    • The Well Dressed Man

      Brian Jonestown Massacre was everything bands like The Strokes wanted to be. Their music demonstrates a clear understanding of Rock N Roll as an expression of modernism, carefully referencing elements from the 60s through 90s.

      Plus, they were actually fucking dangerous. Last time I saw them, Anton had hired a guitarist, because his hand was broken from fighting. The show ended in a brawl after about 40 minutes. It’s sad that Newcomb seems to need to sabotage the bands chances at “success” but maybe that’s how they got to put out so many good albums.

      PS Charlie Manson finally snapped because Davy got the lead role in The Monkees that he had been working so hard for. Imagine what could have been…

      • tibby trillz

        damn. i never heard that about manson. its a shame that manson went off the deep end because some of his songs were actually really fucking good

    • Branden William

      As much as I respect much of Thad’s writing, I agree that this doesn’t belong on Disinfo. Also secondly, The Brian Jonestown Massacre are known to evoke strong emotions. You either think Anton Newcombe is a genius, or in your case… compare BJM to the Monkees? What? Obviously you’re just an opinionated prick that watched the documentary dIG, having known nothing about BJM other than what you’ve read or heard about secondhand.

      • tibby trillz

        nah dude i listened to their music and it sounded incredibly derivative. then i saw the documentary years later and felt even better about my decision to dismiss them years earlier. i guess if you want to split hairs though, the dandy warhols were a thousand times worse. they sounded like the soundtrack to a pantene pro v commercial. so i guess the bjm wins in that regard.

        • tibby trillz

          3 ups, 3 downs, polarizing topic. and now that i think on it, i am kind of a prick. people call the dude a genius? bullshit! mingus was a genius. tchaikovsky was a genius. anton was a sorta cute dude who grew up watching the brady bunch and listenning to, and later emulating, his moms records. he brought absolutely zero new ideas to the table and pissed away his opportunities, friends, family, etc.. in the process. i know self destruction and burning bridges is all in a days work for artists, but i really think it should amount to something more than a bunch of records that all could have been stones out takes.

  • Karen Eliot

    Yep.

  • http://iuwus.deviantart.com/ Threedinium

    The whole indie thing seemed to have completely passed me by in whatever incarnations it’s assumed. It was that stuff that always seemed to be on whenever I had no control over the radio, like in other people’s cars or in shops or bus stations and that was about it.

  • lukievan

    Very entertaining read, dude. But – I still think This Is It is a great record. Not great as in “one of the all-time greats”. Just a great piece of taut-slacker pop noise. Who cares what they did or said or where their daddy worked? If they were your best friends band you would have love them.

  • DrDavidKelly

    You can’t argue taste and saying a band are a bunch of douche bags because of the drugs they take, the class they come from or the haircuts they have kinda makes you sound like a douche bag. If you want to discuss bands I’d suggest putting in a line or two about music?

  • Alan Morse Davies

    I hate opera now, I also hate cheese now. These two things are not connected by causality except in your mind.

    I read this post as basically looking back from now and feeling sad because you see nothing that could make you happy in the future.

    Try new things, take some risks.

    Do you want to be nostalgic and bitter as if your life has ended?

    I think I’m probably older than you, I’m 47, I’m on my 3rd life now.

    Don’t be in mourning. You have some talents, use them and fuck rejection. Some of those talents will stick with people that you will like.

    Stop moaning bitch. Do.

  • echar

    I like coke because it makes a person feel so good, I hate it for that very reason. The feeling is too good to be true. As for the strokes… Meh. The fact that they were so mainstream scared me off. I checked out the newest album, it’s ok.

  • InfvoCuernos

    ..but what about the Dubstep/crystal meth connection?

    • http://www.facebook.com/winterisoverrated Fabian_Ramos

      I agree. dubstep & excessive meth use… much much worse

  • Smart Janitor

    Good ideas, but so overwritten it’s borderline-unreadable. Edit!

  • theothercomrade

    This article is pretty hack-y man. Does not belong on Disinfo.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carrie-Cooper-Boe/670655587 Carrie Cooper Boe

    You have a couple of ok lines and ideas in this article but you ramble too much without said rambling adding anything of substance to the story. A few ok lines at best. Then you start harshing on The Strokes with no transition. The Strokes are fairly amazing, but Julian Casablancas’ solo is out of this fecking world. He’s a musical GENIUS! It is so wrong on so many levels to take potshots at him as if his success is solely due to his connections. Of all the musicians out there, including the silver spoon musicians, Julian may have more of a right to say it has to do with his talent vs connections than anyone. I’d suggest that you somehow lack the sensibilities to appreciate it. Phrazes For the Young is absolutely incredible! I feel like I’ve been cheated out of the 8 minutes of my life it took me to read this. Blah! You sound like a person with no sense of nuance. What were you on when you wrote this?

  • Zampano Poniatovii

    “I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes…”

    Hard to disagree with anything stated here. “Fakes and frauds on top” was the mimetic paradigm of the early ‘aughts, that’s for sure. It’s one of two paradigms that alternate as the defining face of a society split between worshiping the iconography of either aristocracy or democracy, or maybe the cathedral and the bazaar, or maybe Coke and Pepsi (whatever imagery you prefer)… the most creative alternative they come up with is RC Cola, which tastes suspiciously like Coke and Pepsi mixed together, and shittier than either.

    Of course everyone traded psychedelics for stimulants at the time, like Pinchbeck
    pointed out in Breaking Open the Head; it supports the mass
    desire to embellish (then barricade themselves within) their egos, rather than dispel the
    illusions of excessive egotism. Everyone lives inside their fantasy self, riding the high of its “potential reality” until something snaps and can’t be further repressed.

    Of course the Strokes sucked, because popular music is designed to suck. It has to suck or it can’t reach a mass audience; if it doesn’t suck, it creates dissonance and diversity. It becomes contentious. People can’t agree on it. What sucks sells most efficiently to the largest mass of people, because its lack of uniqueness or complexity facilitates their sense of uniform taste and mass bonding. Popular music isn’t about technical genius, or radical transformation, our challenging anything more than superficial rules and vestigial authority. Even the rebellious want to inherent the mantle of authority one day, so they dare not pull the temple down in the process. The dream of the most ambitious popular musician is to become a record executive; the dream of the most ambitious slave is to become a slave master; the dream of the most ambitious porn star is to become a producer; the dream of the most ambitious prostitute is to become a pimp.

    Anyone who actually tries to blow up the temple is hated by all.

    This isn’t a meritocracy for anyone but the servants. Of course their connections as trust fund shites bought them their “in” — it’s “who you are and who you know” at the highest levels of any industry.

    I agree with most of the observations in this article, but it sounds like its written as if the author is just now emerging from an idealistic naivete… as if there’s some kind of alternative…

    Maybe there is an alternative for pirates, living as hunted outlaws, sailing on unknown seas, hiding in secret coves, but not for the rest of us, still trapped within the Kingdom.

    Good article, cheers.

  • kowalityjesus

    This polarized article reminds me of the dichotomy between my two cousins about the Strokes when we were in high school. They came at me from both sides, one saying the Strokes were an awesome classic band, the other saying they were richie-rich nobodies. I told them exactly what I thought, that they were neither, and I hated ‘Last Night’ but LOVED ’12:51′ definitely a distinct flavor of “cool” to that band that you can only ignore to rag on them.

  • Gabriel D. Roberts

    I have to admit I’ve always had a soft spot for the strokes, but I love Thad McKracken more.

  • steven

    I enjoy that you criticize them since they get a lot of ass kissing. I especially enjoy the line, “Yeah, the time when the media sold you the idea that a bunch of super rich marginally talented fucks who made an album about being super rich marginally talented fucks who can’t take a shit without the music press licking their assholes clean…”. They’re music is very terrible now.

    You’re right. The Strokes were sold through their good looks, money and connections. But certain points you attempt to make lack in conviction.

    Firstly, ‘Is This It’ was a semi-revolutionary album. If you look at the way they dress and the way their sound was, nothing before them in the past 5 years was mirrored in that fashion. Then once the Strokes came out, you saw a myriad of bands and clothing that followed their scene quickly. Their sound and look was replicated quickly after because it was, after all, appealing and aesthetically pleasing. They sounded cool.

    Secondly, you mention that NYC music scene got cooler after September 11? Have you ever heard of Bob Dylan? Velvet Underground? Ramones? Talking Heads? Sonic Youth? The Walkmen? If anything, the scene got less cool. NYC has always had a reputable scene and you are flagrantly wrong on that point.

    Lastly, you’re right: how can anybody stand you blabbering while on cocaine? I can hardly stand reading your writing.

  • The Well Dressed Man

    Is this Disinfo or Pitchfork? I can’t believe I’m reading an article on The Strokes and blow on this site, critical or not.

    Complaining about a phenomenon that was a flash in the pan ten years ago is what we’ve come to, it seems.

    Yeah that early zeroes indie scene kinda sucked. But, compared to the present, things were actually awesome. There were some fragments of remaining countercultural energy still lingering from back when music meant something.

    Yes I’m a grumpy old dude, and maybe the kids are making something actually worth listening to that I’m just not hip to. Surprise me. Tell me something I don’t know.

  • geminihigh

    This pretty much sums up the music scene that dominated my high school experience. The Strokes, the Vines hailed my entry to high school as we looked back in disgust at the Fred Durst/Linkin Park/Nickelback years of middle school, probably the most depressing time in my life, if not in the recent history of “music.” My mom said the 70’s sucked in terms of fashion and culture, but some of the music stood the test of time. The early 2000’s pretty much regurgitated a lot of the of the 70’s and 80’s, without any of the decent music. It was a time of uncertainty and a desperate yearning for nostalgia. I think that the desire for nostalgia was the result of an unspoken realization that America was past her prime and slowly on the decline after 9/11. Can’t recall coke being all that big, it was there, we experimented, most of us realized it was such a waste of money and health. Some of it was good, really good in fact, but it usually ended up ruining an otherwise fun evening. I discovered the nasal spray trick and could make a half gram last 2 weeks, so at least I never really fiended for it. It tapped into my weed money, if anything. Today kids blow lines of molly, coke is around, but kids in general would rather roll and feel good for a few hours than say for a half hour before their bag of yay is tapped and they want to die. Th

  • Shawn Smith

    This is a pretty badly written article and I feel all it does is stroke your ego, I don’t want to hear about who you had sex with and on what drugs, Its really unimpressive. This is just excessive narcissistic masterbation and (mindless) self-indulgence. Its really just an attack on a certain group of people/bands without any true valid criticism. Some twee pop bands, like belle and sebastian are awesome. I feel like you resemble the people you’re harking on the most.
    People love to throw around labels like “hipsters”, etc, but its not a really valid label, just a stereotype. ETC ETC. This article doesn’t really go anywhere, sorry,

  • godozo

    Your theory that The Strokes being trust fund rockers was what gave them success actually fits into the change of mythologies that developed over the aughts.

    Remember how we used to listen to success stories that talked about how all the people who had gotten very successful always had to fight through failure, disbelief and “yesterday’s thinking?” Well, the stories started changing. The struggles started becoming part of the background and more and more you kept hearing how this person actually came from privilege – enough so that their struggles began to be shaded with that stuff.

    The Founder of Fed Ex got a “C-” on his term paper that became the starting point for Fed Ex? Not sure the paper exists, but we now know about his father’s Greyhound Past (back when the company was profitable) and grandpa’s riverboat successes.

    Bill Gates drops out of school to program? Yeah…drops out of Harvard, where dropping out give you more connections than PhDing at Gonzaga; plus Mommy and Daddy make sure his school has one of the first computers used by students – EVER.

    And so the stories now go. Seems we went from “you to can be successful, as long as you’re willing to fight for your goal” to “you to can be successful, if there’s success in your past.”

    Sickening, if you ask me. And very much part of the landscape nowadays.

  • Peter Hanley

    Yawn. Cocaine, like any other party drug, rock n’ roll and/or alternative lifestyle design are alike in the way they are entirely vulnerable to privilege-checking, especially when you’re talking about Euromericans.

    Frankly, if someone is written about in any magazine that has glossy paper my first assumption at this point is that they’re the offspring of someone who was successful before them. The 20th Century New-vos already pulled up the ladders.

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