One Night with The Strokes
By now every major journalist and music critic has had their fair shot at The Strokes.  They've been portrayed as privileged, hard-working, revolutionary, fun-loving, and the list continues.  Each description has its own biases and each journalist sees what he wants to see.  And, from a fan's perspective, their descriptions rarely capture for me what the band is, what it is about this band, beyond all other bands, that makes me want to eat, sleep, and breathe their music.

Through a contest posted on The Strokes' official website I had the good fortune of being partially responsible for the design of two of their 2004 Megadonis Tour t-shirts.  It would be too easy to say that I was honored by the idea of having contributed to the band's normal line-up at the merch booth. My excitement was indescribable.  Not only would Strokes fans all over the country be wearing something I had helped to create, but I was also going to meet The Strokes when they played Seattle on April 12th.  After the initial shock and surprise wore off the questions started to pop up: Would they be all I expected them to be? Would they be what the journalists portrayed? and, perhaps, most importantly, Would I be disappointed? Just what does happen when you meet your musical heroes? What followed my apprehension was one of the most incredible evenings of my life.
The Strokes - April 13, 2004 - photo credit: Katie O'Brien
* * *

The Strokes come onstage almost an hour after the opening band, The Raveonettes, have left it.  They blast through a set clocking in at just under an hour that is amazing in every imaginable definition of the word.  They are right on at every note and they include all of my personal favorites, of particular beauty is tonight's version of "New York City Cops."

The band leaves the stage to the disappointment of a still-hyped crowd, and my nervous energy peaks as I head down to stand in line at the stage door.  After a little while we are taken as a group backstage and as I wait I can hardly contain my excitement.  Across the room from me sit two members of The Vines, so I know I am getting closer.  I wait for what seems an eternity before Matt Romano, the band's right hand man and friend, arrives and leads me and two others to a room that I know will, once I step inside, connect me to the members of my favorite band, people featured in posters adorning my dorm room walls and in pictures saved to my computer hard drive.  The moment is monumental and I know it.  I take in every word spoken, every face I pass, every voice I hear.
The Strokes - April 13, 2004 - photo credit: Katie O'Brien
When I enter the room the party is in full swing and the atmosphere is just what one might expect from The Strokes, relaxed.  Their good time is apparent.  As I enter I first see Fab, drummer Fabrizio Moretti, who immediately jumps off of the cooler he has been sitting on to say hello.  Tonight his sculpted face hides behind a couple days of stubble and a few dark black curls that hang from his healthy head of hair, but his eyes are intense and absolutely captivating.  He introduces himself with energy and puts enthusiasm into every word.  He is jittery, on a high from the show, and as we talk he does not stop moving.  He is focused on me and the conversation at hand, his mind and body constantly active.  He is reluctant to accept the fact that I have never, at twenty, consumed alcohol, but eventually does, uttering "Yeah, you know, that's cool" in his raspy but somehow boyish voice.

When I wander to the other side of the room I see Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi lounging on a couch.  This would be a strange sight for any diehard Strokes fan and it struck me as such.  I have seen this very scene played out in pictures on the band's website and cannot believe it is now right before my eyes.  But as much as I am in awe of the spectacle, it is not exactly what I expected of the band that SPIN magazine calls "the coolest band on earth."
But The Strokes are not the typical rock stars.  And that is what is so captivating, and ultimately winning, about them.  They rock, they drink, they laugh, and they party, but when it comes down to it they are essentially, and perhaps surprisingly, normal.

As Hammond and Valensi recline on the couch they discuss Hammond's not being able to hear lead singer Julian Casablancas' vocals while on stage.  Hammond is animated.  He talks with his hands, his eyes dart from one face to the next, and his voice almost always seems to be on the verge of laughter.  He is a born storyteller.  Valensi is more reserved.  He remains quiet when spoken to and is tactful in what he does say.  He has an air of near-elegance in everything he does, from his manner of speaking, to his voice, to his hand gestures.  He is relaxed, but aware.

When bassist Nikolai Fraiture approaches me from behind and is introduced to me by Romano he does not say a word.  When I hold out my hand and offer a hello he returns the gesture, smiles beautifully, blushes, and is gone before I have a chance to say more.  Fraiture is still everything I had wanted, and expected, him to be.  He is widely known to the press and the fans as "the quiet Stroke" and he has proven his title.  And even in his silence there is still a quality to him that is extremely winning.  His "hi" is fragile but his smile is warm and he exudes a character that is appreciated in the midst of all the merriment that is going on backstage.

After Fraiture's departure, it becomes apparent that, after nearly thirty minutes, Casablancas is still nowhere to be seen.
by Ashley Graham
Hailed by music critics as the savior of a new rock genre, Casablancas is often dismissed in articles as an incoherent drunk when in fact he is a perfect combination of the two, and even, it seems, ever-so much more.  Most importantly, he is likely aware of the personas he has been assigned, and so when he enters the room he commands it.  His genius on this particular evening lies not in how many hit songs he has written, and will write, or in how many drinks he has had, but in the magnitude and charm of his character.  Casablancas is irresistible and even the most standoffish of individuals can't help but be drawn to him.

Upon his arrival he quickly snatches a beer from a cooler on the floor.  When he jokingly goes to open the bottle with his teeth there are immediately three bottle openers offered to him.  He makes jokes, he sings, he even dances, and all eyes are on him.  When he leaves after only a short time in the room, the party slowly dies.

Later in the evening, right before the bands are set to clear out for the night it is time to introduce myself to the elusive Casablancas.  He is confused for a moment as to who I am but is patient.  When he does figure it out he is nothing but appreciative.  He admires the copies of the shirt that I have with me and even recalls seeing my original design on Asst. Manager Juliet Joslin's computer screen.  Julian is a charmer; he writes a long note of adoration on my vinyl copy of the band's second album "Room on Fire," when posing for a picture he lowers his large frame to my height and wraps himself around me, when he says goodbye it involves a giant hug and consecutive kisses on each cheek.  Casablancas has met and greeted thousands of fans, but he is in the moment and seems determined to give each one attention.
The Strokes - April 13, 2004 - photo credit: Katie O'Brien
And the same goes for all of The Strokes.

When I run into Fab on the street in Portland a few days later he is courteous and even remembers me from the Seattle show.

When it comes down to it, The Strokes are talented but real people who have been given the opportunity to do something they love.  They seem appreciative of that chance and are taking full advantage.  They are five twentysomethings living a life enviable to many.  They are having fun but they are focused.  Being a part of that, if only for a few hours, is an amazing experience.

When Julian mumbles something in the hallway of my needing a "real prize" for my design, I wonder how he cannot know that simply being in this moment with him, and Nick, and Albert, and Fab, and Nikolai, is prize enough for me.
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