Icon: The Strokes
Once upon a time, someone could say the word “rock star,” and you would immediately get a mental picture of what that looked like. Dark shades. A leather jacket. Impossibly tight pants. All hung on a skinny, heroin-addict-y, borderline-malnourished frame.
Yeah, it was pretty great.
But at some point in the ’90s, rock stars… well, stopped being rock stars. They either looked like off-duty grad students (Radiohead, Weezer) or guys who spent too much time in the weight room (Limp Bizkit and so on). Bono cut his hair, the Rolling Stones became an oldies show, and grunge passed its expiration date.
But somewhere, in a dark NYC basement, the Strokes got together and changed everything…
In his worth-reading piece on the Strokes’ career arc for Grantland, Steven Hyden quotes one of my favorite lines on rock star dress: “Since I was 15, I’ve had a motto that you should always look like you’re onstage.” The line is from the band’s guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., and hints at why the band is an icon. For too long, rock stars dressed like they were offstage—a sort of everyman approach that was in tune with the alt-rock ethos. But that missed the point—rock stars are entertainers, and have an obligation to dress differently from the crowd.
The Strokes kicked off a decade where rockers (and rappers, and musicians of all stripe) dressed like entertainers again—from the White Stripes’ strictly enforced color code to Kanye’s leather man-skirts. But no one did it as well as they did.
Their arsenal included all the rock star staples: leather jackets, denim jackets, ridiculously tiny T-shirts, Chuck Taylors, bigass belt buckles, leather boots… And Hammond added a bit of flair by adopting jackets and ties—no wonder he spent the latter part of the decade working on his own suit line. For the first time in a long time, there was a rock band that felt both accessible (you could drink a few Amstels with these guys) and aspirational (we should all look so good photographed on a Brooklyn rooftop against the Manhattan skyline).
They dated models, actresses and model-actresses. They recorded a predictably difficult-but-underrated follow-up. They fought in the press and recorded a few more albums (including their most recent, and possibly their last, Comedown Machine). They inspired legions of (better-selling) followers from the Killers to Phoenix to 99% of the 18- to 34-year-old residents of Williamsburg. They set the tone for a renaissance in NYC rock. And most importantly, for a brief moment, they restored the term “rock star” to its truest, most glorious definition. And for that, we are happy to welcome all five of them into the pantheon.
- — Paul L. Underwood