“You Only Live Once” / The Strokes
On principle I should resent these guys – New York City prep-school boys with all sorts of built-in show biz/media connections who rocketed nearly instantly to fame in 2000. Whatever happened to the idea that a band should spend a few years slogging around in dingy clubs and hammering on record producers’ doors?
And yet I can’t hate the Strokes – their music actually is good, tight, hook-laden indie rock, remarkably uncluttered with post-modern posturing. The first time I ever heard a song by the Strokes, in fact, I thought they must be 80s New Wavers I’d somehow missed; their music has that same stripped-down clarity and energy I loved about Blondie and the early Talking Heads. The disaffected drawl of lead singer Julian Casablancas is just ironic enough to appeal to me (think Morrissey or Lou Reed), especially given the slightly off-kilter lyrics. I rarely notice drummers, yet I marvel at the one-man sonic propulsion machine that is Fabrizio Moretti.
The Strokes song I keep repeating is “You Only Live Once,” the upbeat first track from their 2006 album First Impressions of Earth. (Replacing my previous favorite Strokes song, "Under Control" from their second album, Room On Fire.) As I recall, this is what it feels like in your twenties when everybody you meet claims to have things all figured out: “Twenty-nine different attributes / Only seven that you like / Twenty ways to see the world (oh-ho) / Twenty ways to start a fight (oh-ho).” What’s a boy to do? In later verses, he mentions “a thousand ways to please your man” and “countless odd religions,” contrasting these to “One stubborn way to turn your back (oh-ho) / This I’ve tried and now refuse (oh-ho).”
By the time the chorus rolls around, I imagine his girlfriend getting weary of his theorizing babble and threatening to leave – and that pulls him right back down to earth: “Oh don’t don’t don’t get up / I can’t see the sunshine / I’ll be waiting for you baby / Cause I‘m through / Sit me down / Shut me up / I'll calm down / And I'll get along with you.” When all’s said and done, why waste time trying to solve life when you just ought to be living it?
With that oh-so-danceable drumbeat, that bouncy offbeat guitar riff, you can’t help but love this dope. This song’s not about the lyrics anyway; it’s about those cheerful little “oh-ho’s” that punctuate the verses, and the blithe insistence of that repeated guitar note. Even when he’s pleading “shut me up” over and over, I see him doing it with a grin. So what if he has no deep ideas to offer? It has a beat and you can dance to it – and in this world, that’s often all you need.