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Hangin' On In Harlem
And how fab he and his bandmates are these
days. In addition to be the musical
guest on Saturday Night Live on January 19th, they are currently
leading the league in “Album of the Year” titles – last week alone they
garnered New York Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and Time Magazine. Have I mentioned the UK yet?
Oh, yeah over there they are the new Beatles – album of the year,
DJ’s re-mixing songs with Christina Aguilera hits to make dance club
sensations, music magazine NME named lead singer Julian Casablancas the
“Sexiest Male Performer.,” and
2 singles made their annual top ten list.
“Hey Bob!” Fab yells. “Can you do me a favor?” Before Bob can answer, Fab continues with the enthusiasm of a teenager -- “Can you sign this for me? We’re gonna put it up in our new office!”
Bob replies. “You guys got
a new office?” “Well… we HAVE
an office now,” he sheepishly replies. He
seems almost to be embarrassed by
their incredible meteoric rise.
Do you have a pen?” says Bob. That’s
Bob as in Bob Pollard, the leader of Guided By Voices – Dayton, Ohio’s GBV.
And the hottest band in the country want Bob’s autograph for their
wall. I guess that makes sense.
GBV is “technically” the headliner of the show --- their name is at
the top of the poster that Fab wants signed.
They play last and longer --about twice as long, to be exact.
But why in the world do 5 twentysomething
(youngest Stroke is 21, the oldest is 23) “buzz band” rock stars want to
hang around with some old guys from Dayton (Bob
is 44 and the rest of the band’s average age is around 35)?
I mean these guys have big celebrities stalking their shows – Courtney
Love has already written a song about the lead singer “But Julian, I’m Older
than You” and Oasis’ Noel Gallagher proclaimed them the saviours of rock.
Because without Guided by Voices “we wouldn’t be doing any of this”
they later tell the crowd.
In the fall of 2000, GBV guitarist and
longtime rock veteran Doug Gillard picked up a tape that 5 young guys threw
onstage during a show in New York. As
they have done many times, the band put the tape in the van during the next road
trip and surprisingly they liked it. So
much so that they put a call in to their manager to get “these kids” to open
for them on the short tour they were doing to promote the release of their most
recent album “Isolation
Drills.” For a little over a week
and a half the young kids and the old men went to New York, Chicago,
Philadelphia, Washington, DC and played together, drank together and hung out
together. The Strokes got to play
one of their first tours with their idols.
And a little over a year since that first meeting, here they are – the
Apollo Theater, opening again for the old guys – Dayton’s Guided by Voices.
Up in GBV’s rock room,
the band and guests are all having a few beers talking about the show
that GBV played the night before in Philly.
A writer from the Washington Post was able to pull a “George Plimpton”
and convinced Bob to let him do 2 songs on stage with the band.
Guitarist Nate Farley (he’s the one with the tattoos) -
was explaining that the “plimpton” originally wanted to use his
guitar, but that Nate wasn’t going for that idea --- so I guess the writer
brought his own guitar. It was
about then that Fab came back into the room.
“Hey Jon, can we go over that song?”
Drummer Jon McCann obliges and follows Fab
out into the hall to rehearse the drum part of GBV’s classic from 1995’s
Alien Lanes album – “My Valuable Hunting Knife.”
It’s the song that’s going to close the show on both nights.
Because of the unique nature of the show, both drum kits will be side by
side on stage. The posted itinerary
says that the Strokes will play after stand-up comedian David Cross goes on for
a 45 minute routine. They will go
for 20 minutes followed by GBV for 30 minutes, then the Strokes for 20 minutes
and GBV continues for about 60-70 minutes before both bands hit the stage for
David pops his head into our room and kids
Bob about his accommodations – “Man, you guys have a great room – I think
that jacuzzi in mine just takes up way too much space!”
he cracks. It’s getting
close to starting time for David and he’s just warming up. We all follow him down to the side of the stage and the
When I said “all” , I truly meant all
as the members of the Strokes join
us in the now crowded section. As
we watch David, I happen to look down at lead singer Julian Casablancas shoes
--- they are a shiny red fabric and look like Chuck Taylors. – He pulls his
pant leg up to reveal that they are indeed “Chucks” and
says the fabric is “pleather, you know -- a mix of plastic and
leather!” His deadpan delivery
with the scratchy Lou Reed voice
revealed much of the charm that a 20 something rock star can get away with –
was he being serious -- “Plastic
AND leather?” Obviously, the son
of Elite Modeling Agency founder John Casablancas
knows a thing or two about fashion (and street “cred”) as he enhanced
his rock star look with a sport jacket that looked to be one that Bob Pollard
wore on an old album cover from the late 80’s.
As David Cross continued his routine of
irreverent “Jesus jokes” as Bob would later whisper to me,
I run into a couple of Strokes --- Nick the tall guitar player -- and
Albert – the Eric Bogosian look-alike guitarist. “Break a leg” I say.
They both seem like they don’t get the old show biz saying – or they
are just too nervous to respond. Breaking
the uneasy silence, and helping calm their nerves, Bob walks up and says to the
pair – “Yeah, guys --- SPRAIN AN ANKLE!”
This seemed to lighten them up and they finally exhale and laugh out
While David finished his show with a cowboy
hat and a satirical look at Lee Greenwood and all the “patriotic” flag
waving and of course a few more “Jesus jokes,” we walked under the stage to
go out to our seats. As we
proceeded down the aisle, the Strokes had just kicked off the show with “When
It Started” . The crowd was
definitely receptive and the place exploded when Julian lept off the stage
running into the aisle right towards me. He
quickly turned and headed back toward the crowd leading them like a pied piper
back toward the front of the stage. “This
may be a theater, but this a rock show!” he yelled to the crowd and suddenly
the awkward scene of standing in front of your seat was replaced by mobs of
people jamming into the 6 or 7 rows directly in front of the stage creating a
As the show continues, it’s evident that
Julian has studied at Bob
Pollard’s school of rock singing. He’s
got Bob’s on-stage swagger – part cocky, part exaggerated drunken meandering
movements. It is evident that the
nerves have worn off and the beers haven’t yet quite kicked in.
He’s in a chatty mode in between songs and mentions how happy they all
are to play with “our idols, GBV!” About
the 4th song in, they unleash the “hit” – “Last Nite”
and the place goes bonkers. People
are pogoing up and down and dancing in the aisles.
GBV good luck and to “sprain an ankle” , we rushed back to our seats to hear
David Cross introduce the “Mighty Guided By Voices” to the tremendous roar
of the ultra-hip crowd. As we are
hurrying down the aisle, I recognize a guy with a jean jacket and greasy hair.
“Are you Ryan?” I asked. “Yes”
he says very quietly looking away and diverting his eyes.
“Great album. Enjoy the
show!” I say and we all take our seats. “That’s
Ryan Adams,” I whisper to my wife.
“He looks exactly the same as in the Grammy-nominated “New York”
video – even the jacket and his shirt is the same.
As Bob leads the boys through the first
set, complete with several new songs for an upcoming album, I peruse the crowd a
little more. Over to my left
I notice I guy that looks like one of the Ramones – leather jacket, thick
straight jet black hair, old worn blue jeans.
He looks real familiar. I
ask the TVT Records representative sitting next to me who he is – “That’s
David Fricke – the longtime music editor of Rolling Stone,” he yells in my
ear. He’s the guy that was on MTV
for like 20 hours when Kurt Cobain died and every once in a while when major
news breaks. He writes a lot of
reviews and has a great piece on Lennon’s Imagine in this month’s issue.
And he’s digging GBV – big time.
I watch him scribble notes as GBV rips
through a smoking rendition of “Tight Globes” off of the particular
appropriate “Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Dept.” record that is a
collaboration between Bob and guitarist Doug Gillard.
He justs bops along smiling and writing after every song.
He seems to appreciate the ebb and flow of the set list – reacting to
the melancholy “Twilight Campfighter” off Isolation Drills and the big rock
of “The Enemy” (also Isolation Drills) with enthusiasm. He appears to be looking Bob right in the eye and nodding
approval like “hey, man – I get it.”
Just shortly thereafter, we wonder
backstage and catch part of the show on the side of the stage.
The Strokes have gathered around and Bob is bantering about what good
kids they are. “Did you notice
they all wear Converse,” he tells the crowd.
“I taught them that! Now I wear these “old guy shoes” pointing at
his New Balance running shoes. With
that Julian runs out and grabs Bob in a big bear hug.
“This is my mentor!” the young “Sexiest Male Performer” tells the
crowd. “And this is my protégé!”
Bob laughingly says extending the love fest between the 2 bands.
After GBV finishes, we head back out to
watch the 2nd set for the Strokes.
Now they and the crowd are really smoking – highlights include “The
Modern Age” – it was a hit in England , “Barely Legal” and the set
closer “Take it or Leave It.” They
certainly have the Velvet Underground sound, but with the energy of the Ramones
– both great influences to have in New York these days.
As GBV rocks out it’s final set, David
Fricke is still there smiling and writing.
The Strokes gather side stage and the big moment comes.
They all run out on stage as Bob introduces “My Valuable Hunting
Knife”. Watching Fab of the
Strokes and Jon of GBV side by side pounding out the beat was a thrill.
The 2 bands played with such heart and genuine love for what they were
doing that it hardly mattered that Julian didn’t sing all the words – he was
too busy smiling, hugging Bob and his band members and taking in the moment!
NEW YEAR’S EVE
Reaching the top floor we spot HIM again.
Yes, it’s Fab. Yes, he’s in the SAME red 1988 shirt and jeans.
“Wow. You guys look cool. I
just left this old thing on!” he says tugging at his lucky shirt.
The rest of the Strokes have taken to the spirit of the occasion and have
on their coolest and hippest of the hip duds looking resplendent in vintage
jackets and loosely worn ties. Julian
has even broke out the “pink party” tie.
Once inside Bob immediately notices the 6
bottles of champagne on ice. “Man,
I’m gonna hit one of those right now!”
Before Nate can perform one of his many talents – opening the bottle
without the cork flying off, not using a towel to catch it – Albert from the
Strokes pops in. Albert Hammond,
Jr. that is. Albert senior I’m
later informed is a songwriter who rose to fame in the 70’s with several hits
including “It Never Rains in Southern California”.
That makes him a good kid in Bob’s book.
“Remind me to get one of his dad’s albums, I’d bet it’s pretty
A few beers and a couple swigs of
Pollard’s champagne bottle later, guitar sounds can be heard in the Strokes
room. They have rounded up GBV
drummer Jon McCann, looking very “Stroke-like” with a black skinny leather
tie around his neck, and are running through “The Modern Age” song with him. Slapping his legs along with the beat Fab is providing on his
jeans, Jon catches on quick. Hearing
the commotion in the next room, Doug Gillard must have slipped down to the stage
and shows up with his guitar. Strokes
guitarist Nick Valensi is eager to show Doug the lead parts.
“Man, that took me about 6 months to learn and you just picked it up in
about 6 minutes!” Nick says in mock disgust.
Gillard tries to deflect the criticism, but Albert the other guitar
player chimes in, “He has the best ear!”
By now, all 5 of the Strokes are sitting on
whatever they can find -- boxes, chairs, crates to enjoy the “show” when Bob
rumbles in from across the hall. “Julian,
you trying to steal my band?” Bob yells and takes a swig out of the champagne
bottle. “You drinking champagne
already?” Julian replies. Bob is
definitely in a good mood and ready to share his years of wisdom with the young
wonder kids. “So, you guys
“Uh, I gotta girlfriend,” Julian
finally mumbles as the band members look at each other kind of confused and
embarrassed. “You making any
money?” You gotta be making a
little bit of money, right?” Bob continues.
“Yeah, a little bit” says Albert.
Now that he has there attention, the former 4th grade school
teacher commandeers the room.
“Look how young these guys look, Doug.
Being young helps in this business --- that, and having good hair!” he
says, a good-natured jab since the British press have obsessed over their
“Beatles” mop tops gone punk. “They’re so young, I could be there, uh….. uncle!
Yeah, you can call me ‘Uncle Bob!” he yells and the room erupts in
“Hey, Bob, er… Uncle Bob,” Fab says.
‘”What was it like working with Ric Ocasek?
That’s was for “Do the Collapse” wasn’t it?”
It was cool he tells the “class”. He recounts the story of how Ric had left a message on his
machine before they first started working together. “Hi, Bob – this is Ric…and then he kind of laughed
-- O-cass-ik” Bob says sounding out the correct way to say the Cars
founder’s last name. “That’s how I learned we were saying it wrong all these
years. I thought for sure, though
that wasn’t him on the machine. Had
to be one of my buddies screwing around” Bob says.
“Isn’t he married to some hot chick?” inquires one of the Strokes. Some hot chick? How young are these guys? The “hot chick” is former Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover model Paulina Porizakova. How can they not know that? Then again some of these guys were born about the time she was on the cover.
“One of the first times I saw her, I saw
her boob!” Bob jokes. He
continues that she had come into the studio and was breast feeding.
“It wasn’t nearly as exciting as I had hoped.”
“What about the time she wanted you to
dress up like a girl?” I ask knowing the rest of the story.
Paulina had went out with her girlfriends – “each as hot or hotter
than her” Bob says and they had some sort of 50’s theme night.
She comes in after a night of fun complete with hoop skirt and says,
“Bobby, next time we’ll have to dress you up as a girl and you can go out
“And I actually thought about it… for a
minute!” he says cracking up the room again.
Continuing his “lecture” Uncle Bob asks the kids about life on the
road, the different towns they play, the venues, etc.
“What about the Fillmore?” (San
Francisco’s famous venue) Yeah, they all nod.
“7 kinds of mustard!” Bob says about the top of the line backstage
The crowd is even hipper than last night,
the curtains are pulled on-stage, security is even tighter.
Also in the crowd tonight is another Rolling Stone editor – Assistant
Managing Editor, Joe Levy. He’s
even higher up on the chart than David Fricke and is also a staple on MTV and E!
reporting the trends and stories of the year.
“Point/counterpoint!” Bob would joke to Nate later on when informed
of Levy’s presence. He is
referring to a rather infamous storyline in the Dayton Daily News that had 2
reporters give reviews of a hometown show – one that loved it and one that
hated it. “Rolling Stone is gonna
do a ‘Point/Counterpoint’ on us!” he laughs.
After David finishes his satirical song, he
introduces the Strokes and the curtain is pulled.
Tonight the crowd doesn’t need Julian’s prodding and they race to the
front of the stage forming their “pit” again.
The highlight of this set was the hit “Last Nite”.
New York’s powerful radio station KROQ is broadcasting that song live
and Julian manages to fall down and say the “f-word” a couple times.
“It’s good to f*** up on the radio, that’s what I do!” he says
closing out the song.
GBV’s set was a classic.
The energy level was high as Bob treated the crowd to many leg kicks and
jumps – even for a 44 year old
he’s still got some “hops!” As
soon as the set ended, David Cross and the Strokes quickly assembled onstage for
the countdown. David had about 4
minutes to kill and proceeded to razz the crowd – “OK, show of hands.
How many of you said last year at this time – ‘No matter what
happens, next year I’m spending New Year’s in Harlem!!”
The constant stream of balloons and
confetti and streamers and top hats and noise makers brought in the new year and
everybody hugged and kissed. Men
kissed women, GBV hugged Strokes, Julian kissed Bob and then Tim Tobias kicked
in the opening bass line of “A Salty Salute”.
The crowd went nuts with everyone yelling out the words to this longtime
GBV song. As it ended Nick from the
Strokes fired up “The Modern Age”. Jon
and Fab banged the drums and Doug and Nick ripped out the smoking lead that took
those precious 6 minutes to learn.
As wild as that was, things continued in
that direction during the Strokes 2nd set.
Fueled by the anarchy of the midnight celebration
(and a few $7 beers) the crowd began coming on the stage and hugging
Julian and the band. At first
reluctant, he was now helping people on stage – about 50-100.
You couldn’t even see the band for a moment before security cleared
them off. The Apollo staff was not
real happy from that point on and security got even tighter.
As GBV had begun their final set, we
slipped backstage had a drink in the rock room.
As I heard the strain’s of “Run Wild” from Isolation Drills, I
mentioned aloud that this song “rocks.”
And I continued, “McCauley Caulkin rocks!” and with that the Home
Alone star stuck his head in our room and gave the universal index finger and
pinky rock and roll sign and quickly headed down the stairs.
He had been in the Strokes room and I caught him out of the corner of my
Moments later Albert comes into our room,
“Come party with us. You wanna
meet Wes Anderson?” Of the Royal
Tennebaums and Rushmore and all that I ask.
“Yeah, he’s cool.” And
the hottest director/writer going today, I think to myself.
Alas, when we go in Fab mentions that we just missed Wes and that the
star of many of his films -- Luke
Wilson -- was in the crowd
“We only have 3 minutes left!” Bob
tells the crowd. “But we’re
gonna do a 5 minute song!” he defiantly announces to the crowd introducing
what has become a trademark closer – a cover version of the Who’s “Baba
O’Reilly”. With one more burst of energy, the crowd matches the band’s
enthusiasm. That’s the thing
about GBV – the band has fun when they play.
Sheer joy in the faces, they begin the instrumental finish – Tim and
Nate are matching each other windmill for windmill a la Pete Townshend – Bob is leaping and kicking and the
crowd jeers wildly as they build to a tremendous peak and a lightning quick drum
roll brings down the house. But
it’s not over yet…
It’s time once again for “My Valuable
Hunting Knife” and the Strokes run out on stage.
Julian even brings out his mom. “Hey
everybody, this is my mom!” he tells us.
“Julian’s mom is younger than I am!” Bob yells to the crowd and Fab and Jon start the drum beat. Tonight goes even smoother, but with plenty of laughter and
Julian singing “Days they will turn into nights” as the song fades out and
the crowd gives one more long cheer. It’s
past show curfew and the security is clearing the stage, but Julian keeps
yelling “Let’s do 1 more!” Everyone
except security would have loved it, but it was not to be.
It’s now well past 3:00 am, we’re
rapping up and Nikolai the shy bass player comes in to say goodbye.
The aftershow party that we were supposed to go to has ended already.
We “didn’t miss much” he tells us, and we all head down the stairs.
As we reach near the bottom, there is the Sexiest Male Perfomer - Julian.
He’s trying to drink out of the wrong side of a cup – he’s got the
hiccups!! How perfect is that? How
many 22 year old kids are trying to get rid of hiccups after New Year’s Eve?
Finally we get all the gear packed in the van, Nick comes banging on the front windshield. “Come to this bar with us!” he pleads. He doesn’t want the experience to end .– neither do I, but what better way to do it ---“leave ‘em asking for more!” says Bob as we drive out of Harlem and back to reality.