It doesn’t snow in Washington in October. It hasn’t snowed in the nation’s capital, the heart of the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia) for 32 years. And then, this morning, it did. Suddenly the Capitol building disappeared, camouflaged into the slate white sky, two blinking red lights were the only way you’d know the Washington monument existed and all up and down the city’s historic mall, weary tourists were pouring into museums that they would otherwise, quite patently, preferred to avoid at all costs. The Smithsonian museum of American history took on the character of a second-rate international airport, clogged with fat kids in hoodies and exhausted guides scampering in their wake, old people collapsed in Formica chairs, disinterested in even the pretense of appearing interested in the flag that inspired ‘star spangled banner’, Lincoln’s top-hat, the Jackson Five yippying away on screen. Strangely, one of the sections, housing original Muppets, Snoopy cells and Jane Fonda swimming costumes, was titled ‘american pop culture treasures’. The room was maybe 4×4 meters and begged for additions. Given the ridiculous overstocking of the neighbouring air and space museum, you’d think they had a couple of pieces up their sleeve. A lack of contemporary music artefacts brought on the cogitation behind today’s post.
If there were to be some sort of national museum of popular music in the United States (and assuming there isn’t), which tracks, indeed which artists would score a spot in the display cabinet? What sort of quantitative measures would curators use to gauge the significance of particular songs, how much they might resonate with the sort of variously dozing and fat theoretical patrons walking the hushed, marble corridors of the pantheon of modern tunes? Surely commercial success isn’t enough – do we really want Vanilla Ice, Soulja Boy and Simple Plan as national icons? But global appeal can’t be it either or we might neglect Nashville’s finest. Trudging along constitution avenue, wishing my glasses had windscreen wipers, at least one thing was clear: The Strokes would have to be there.
Since The Modern Age EP broke in 2001, Rough Trade took some interest and the band NME-exploded at a time when such explosion was still feasible, they have occupied (damn word comes with so many unfortunate connotations now) a central place in the modern American zeitgeist, in the way others outside the us think about the country and in the way music from New York to L.A. has developed. That the group is credited with the post-punk revival, with the garage-rock revival and potentially with the introduction of skinny jeans to mainstream America speaks volumes of their influence in the country and beyond. ‘Last Nite’, from that very first EP, strikes me as the obvious selection from the Strokes’ cannon to be included in this historical archive. Boasting constantly shimmying electric guitars that Dylan, pioneer, would be proud of, distorted Casablancas vocals that have come to typify the band’s sound and charting the sort of hyperemotionality, promiscuity, and simultaneous social isolation said to plague our times, it is a song for a time capsule. Bruce Springsteen might have the patriots, and The Eagles the rockers but the strokes would surely have the kids’ vote. 2001, The Strokes, ‘Last Nite’ – millenial-age Americana informed by the rise of paranoia and the internet. Reaction to the happy-go-lucky 90s. See, Martin, R. Spears, B. Look for it on your next trip to D.C., under ‘S’, somewhere between Soulja boy and Vanilla.
The Strokes – ‘Last Nite’