One Track Mind is a new series on EMCEE where our contributors reflect on a single song’s personal significance, contextual relevance, or anything else that makes special. For the first post of the series, Broccoli takes a deeper look at “Fear of Sleep” by The Strokes, off of their 2006 album First Impressions of Earth.
My obsession with The Strokes is no secret to most people that know my music taste. When I heard their song “Reptilia” on the radio at least 15+ years ago (before Shazam was a thing, or at least before I knew that Shazam was a thing), I was tormented by the fact that I couldn’t figure out the name of the song, so I would vigilantly listen for it to come up on the rotation and desperately try to remember as many of the words as possible. Unfortunately the most memorable part of the song was the chorus which features Julian Casablancas’ signature raspy yell-singing, making it very difficult for my pre-teen brain to decipher unless I had the song name and could look it up on AZLyrics or something (what a world we used to live in).
My first real dive into their discography came about 10 years later, when a good friend of mine recommended that I listen to Room on Fire all the way through. That was a mistake on his part, because I’m sure he got tired of hearing me belt the lyrics randomly whenever I felt particularly drunk and/or moved by a certain situation. That album soundtracked some very complicated times in my life; perpetually stuck between the pursuit of moral fortitude and reckless bouts of hedonism, if I ever needed to be assured when dealing with the unwavering presence of contradiction in anything that is interesting in this world, I put on Room on Fire and let it run for its full 33:05 minutes roughly four times in a row, or so.
While my days of somewhat relating to the feelings portrayed in songs by The Strokes have likely passed, in a move that could be ascribed to a potential quarter-life crisis I splurged on tickets to this year’s Lollapalooza festival in Chicago to see The Strokes headline the first night a few weeks ago. I have since described it as my most significant musical experience of all time, and I’m always insistent that my opinion is largely guided by my deep love for the music and not necessarily the objective talent or significance of the band itself (what’s the difference? who cares). But I cried like a baby during “Under Control,” I screamed enough to break chest in two during “Reptilia,” and I realized that the only way that a band like the Strokes could exist is if their lead singer was still drunk and cynical and ridiculous in his crowd banter even at a ripe 40 years old. And let me assure you, he was, and it was incredible.
Seeing The Strokes live reignited my deep sense of appreciation for their music, and today as I was driving I discovered a song called “Fear of Sleep” from their album First Impressions of Earth. I have to admit, I often do this thing where I overhype a song or album based on my preconceived notions of it (Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho, anyone?), and I certainly did for this track. At first I was kind of disappointed, I didn’t think that the song gave the title or the idea that I thought was behind it justice. But I decided to give it a few more listens, and it grew on me when I came to the conclusion that actually, this was the most “that song” version of that song.
My first thought was of a troubled Casablancas, attributing his latest drawn-out inebriated rampage on a credible fear of going to bed. How ridiculous, right? Imagine your friend getting too fucked up during a night on the town, and then proceeding to get sad and apologetic, and eventually begging for forgiveness by making themself the victim of a legitimate phobia. Except no, Casablancas is too self-assured of his vices for that. Instead, the protagonist / antihero / prima donna / tortured soul rages against all reason, rebuking any requests to tone things down with writhing, impassioned repetition of his assertion that he’s having a better time than you are:
“You’re no fun, you’re no fun
You’re no fun, you’re no fun, you’re no fun
You’re no fun, you’re no fun
You’re no fun, you’re no fun, you’re no fun”
And it’s quite possible that he is. After all, responsibility is such a buzzkill, and doesn’t everyone realize that the whole charade is basically a veiled call for help anyway? Or maybe it isn’t, maybe it’s really just someone who thinks everyone is entitled to their own good time, and even if no one else is going to take advantage theirs, they are sure as hell going to. Anyone that has ever been under the influence of anything, done something regrettable, ferociously defended it, and then eventually regretted it and apologized the next day might be able to relate to this in some way. But it’s important to understand that Casablancas doesn’t actually regret it. So the question is, should he?
The song is purposely ambiguous, it doesn’t say why the no-fun people are telling him to go to sleep, because that would give listeners too much of an ability to actually judge the situation and his reaction to it. If someone gets too lit and punches someone in the face for no reason, that’s stupid and they should definitely own up to that. But if they’re wasted doing handstands in the front yard until they get dizzy and sick, who are they harming but themselves? Aren’t we allowed to have the autonomy to make bad decisions?
I’m not going to say that I wouldn’t be the person to ask the self-proclaimed acrobat to stop on certain occasions. But I also know what it’s like to want to push the boundaries of what is safe for the sake of knowing what it feels like; to leave your head and body throbbing from the promise of enjoyment, existing in such a way that your mere presence feels like giving a middle finger to whatever the fuck is going on, a martyr for your right to be irresponsible and kneel at the alter of a good time. I think that’s part of what draws me to The Strokes; the way that the instruments and the melody can juxtapose with the harshness of the subject matter, a harshness that often times results from just not understanding why anyone cares so much, anyway. To each their own, sorry not sorry, that’s just the way it is.