REMEMBER LAST SPRING when Entertainment Weekly, that shlocky gloss-ridden rag that you read at the dentist's office, barreled into May with the proclamation that garage rock was back with a vengeance, and the White Stripes were among the soon-to-be-heroes leading the campaign? Then out of nowhere Time magazine got hip and it, too, was espousing the end of one era and the beginning of a red-and-white-striped other? Those little examples of big-money pop culture infiltrating little-or-no-money pop music should have signaled the end of rock culture if not the apocalypse. But the apocalypse hasn't arrived, and rock culture is holding its own. In fact, the White Stripes and the legion of Detroit-based bands already on that bandwagon seem happily, if somewhat perplexedly, spurred on by the attention. Where hype can often hurt, with this duo, it has helped. If anyone was put off at all, it was the fans, those who had been shaking their cans to bluesy rock and roll for years and resented the captive flag of discovery that media dimwits were waving around.
The Strokes' Julian Casablancas: hyping the handwritten lyrics.
Then there were the Strokes. All the prep-school, rich-kid musings made it much easier to disregard the hype surrounding this New York City band, as well as the fact that live, the boys don't bring discernable energy or real emotion to the table. While the White Stripes' third album drew very little in the way of anti-attention, all the hullabaloo about Julian Casablancas and company brought on as many detractors as genuine fans. To be sure, whenever someone with an actual guitar and some handwritten lyrics is touted as the Next Big Thing, there's cause for concern. We simply don't live in a world that values real rock and as someone once astutely rapped, "Record company people are shady/So . . . " So, a little discernment is always called for, and the Strokes have been judged.
When Jack White of the Stripes was recently named to the A & R staff of Virgin Records, most white belt-wearing hipsters felt a little vindicated. There is now someone on that side on our side and if Jack can do for real rock what Fred Durst has done for jock rock, well, maybe the world will sit up and take notice. To date, Casablancas, the modeling mogul's son, hasn't been offered any cushy industry jobs, but we aren't going to rule out the possibility. What with nepotism running so hot and all. . . . Regardless, the hype machine will rumble forever forward. She is a beast who knows no bounds. She gobbles up would-be celebrities, the talented and not-so alike, and spits them out as yesterday's has-beens. And whether or not any of these promising hopefuls pull out the next decade's Nevermind, all we can do is step over the waste and dance along.