#tbt An Interview with The Strokes


Found in the Margins is a defunct web magazine that Chris DePaul founded in 2006. Chris and his co-writers would interview musicians, writers and activists on one question: What books inspire the work you do? The Brothers DePaul will be reposting these archived interviews every Thursday. #tbt

This week's interview: The Strokes

Storytellers, philosophers and lyricists use their words to creatively express, dictate, and question the attitudes and behaviours of their times. Changes in technology, political powers and media influence are consistent themes in today’s works. HoweverNikolai Fraiture, bass player for The Strokes, says his favourite books date as far back as 1922, and these same themes reverberate throughout. Are their messages still relevant in the modern age? Fraiture certainly believes they are.

Nikolai Fraiture on Books
I first stumbled upon Walter Lippmann's “Public Opinion” during my freshman year at Hunter College. Introduced to me by my Media Studies professor Stuart Ewen (one of those professors who doesn't just punch in his card but lives what he lectures), the book and course shifted my perception of the way I was used to seeing and thinking about things.

Reading “Public Opinion” was one of those catalytic moments in my adolescent life when I was forced to question everything I had been taught and the way it was taught to me. I had had a few vague notions of how I was affected by my environment, but this book really crystallized them into my day-to-day. In an overly simplified manner, the question Lippmann asks is, “Where does the information you hold to be true come from?” Call it a Cartesian process of unlearning or “cleansing the doors of perception to see things as they truly are”. However you look at it, “Public Opinion” is a reminder of our duty as individuals to question the complacent norm (for which many have been assassinated or exiled). Lippmann states: “For the most part we do not first see and then define; we define first and then see.” Consequently, using WWI as a backdrop, it is all the more relevant in our current political climate. The term “manufacturing consent” has as much meaning today as it did in 1922.

Ray Bradbury, in “The Martian Chronicles”, uses a much less pragmatic approach. In a similar vein, he writes at the beginning of his novel: “‘It is good to renew one's wonder,’ said the philosopher. ‘Space travel has again made children of us all.’” In a lyrical, poetic fashion and with a melancholy optimism, he uses science fiction as prediction to elucidate our human condition. The essence of this book is captured in one of my favorite passages:

“’I'm burning a way of life, just like that way of life is being burned clean of Earth right now. Forgive me if I talk like a politician. I am, after all, a former state governor, and I was honest and they hated me for it. Life on Earth never settled down to doing anything very good. Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets: emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines. Wars got bigger and bigger and finally killed Earth. That's what the silent radio means. That's what we ran away from.’”

“The World As I See It” by Albert Einstein, “Autobiography of Malcolm X” and Emerson's “The American Scholar” all touch on the same idea of the importance of individuality over individualism. It is the heretic who must suffer the criticism and violence akin to breaching the standards. The critics are forgotten but the books remain. The sheer power of the written word can influence the ideas and emotions of an entire nation, more so a young boy alone in his room. In Rimbaud's words, these are the real poets, the seers. Henry Miller, in his study of the latter says: “We are beginning at last to realize how very un-modern is this boasted ‘modern’ age. The truly modern spirits we have done our best to kill off [...] they spoke the language of the soul. We are now talking a dead language, each a different one.” He goes on to say: “Men no longer communicate, that is the tragedy of modern times. Society has long ceased to be a community; it has broken up into aggregations of helpless atoms.” This is all too real even nowadays with our supposed technological and communications super-advancement. Each of us, alone at our computers, the hundreds of us on the street in our own cell phone worlds all “communicating” but no one looking each other in the eyes. In the spirit of “The Martian Chronicles”, it is not about the technology at our disposal but rather how we use it that makes the difference. “Public Opinion” forces us to ask, how is this technology being used to form the pictures in our heads of the world we live in?

As a listener, music has had the same effect on my life to this day. I've heard albums and seen shows that have completely changed the way I view life and listen to music. When I was thirteen, my older brother brought me to see Sonic Youth at Central Park Summer Stage. I remember beautiful melodies floating over dissonant noise, feet flying in the air, bodies knocking into each other, raw power, pure energy and the lyric “Drunken Butterfly”.

In a similar sense, creating music (or anything, really) is something you do because you have to, not by sitting down and deciding you want to. It is an extension of yourself and a mark of who you are. Music is an alchemy of your experience and influences into something new and truly modern. Or, as Robert Bresson would urge: “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.”

Nikolai Fraiture went to Hunter College in New York City and is now the bass player for The Strokes. The Strokes released their debut album, Is This It, to massive critical acclaim in 2001. They followed that with Room on Fire in 2003 and their third and most recent album, First Impressions of Earth, was released in January 2006.

Written by Chris DePaul