One of my friends longest running shared jokes involves riffing on Shia LaBeouf rocking a Strokes t-shirt for the better part of the first Transformers movie reboot. I'm not sure why the joke has lasted so long but I can’t imagine he and I were the only music-obsessed college kids bemused by this wardrobe choice and imagining Michael Bay rocking out to Room On Fire on set.
We later found out at the time Bay had never even heard of The Strokes. Someone was kind enough to inform him they were “a cool band.” But LaBeouf referenced the band in a description of developing his reluctant hero character: “He’s trying to put on this rebellion mask by wearing this “Strokes” T-shirt that you can buy in a shopping mall— it’s sort of a shopping mall rebellion.” Fair enough. This explanation, however, left us no less transfixed by the tee. The Strokes were a band that defined an era for us, and they’d been thrown into a very unexpected forum. Indie rock had neither won nor lost that day, it had simply been bestowed on the torso of the kid from Even Stevens to outwit giant robots at the Hoover Dam, and this cultural collide greatly amused us.
We never really allowed ourselves to connect the film with the band in any larger sense. But at the time (2007), both were still basically on top of their own very separate worlds. In recent years, the two brands have managed to show a few less fortunate parallels. Namely, the more news reported on one or the other, the bleaker the outlet of a core fan base became. I was never ride or die with Transformers, but most folks I knew that were forced themselves to begin ignoring the news-cycle gossip at least a year ago. Somewhere between reports of everyone hating each other too much to even share a studio and their Gossip Girl appearance, I had to bow out of The Strokes Google alerts as well. I was as hopeful for a fourth album to come together as anyone else, but at a certain point a sense of reality's gravity sets in.
Many months later: enter “Under Cover Of Darkness.” There had been some live YouTube footage leading up to this point proving the band could still throw together an old setlist and ignore each other on stage. It looked solid, but a junior high cover band could own a stage with their back catalog. But then in a week rock n’ roll sees The White Stripes officially hang it up and New York City nearly defeated by LCD Soundsystem scalpers, we get this new Strokes single dropped in our laps that, well, jams like a goddamn Strokes song. The disenchanted lyrics, the brash arrogance, the racing guitars: it’s all there. This is not the greatest thing they’ve ever made. It might just sneak in their greatest hits, though. Not so long ago odds seemed pretty stacked against anything being added to that list. So while Michael Bay may have derailed his train beyond repair, it appears The Strokes could end up being reluctant heroes of rock n’ roll once again whether half of them even meant to or not. Maybe a decade from now, that first Transformers movie is going to be streaming live on some college kids’ PlayStation 7 and he’ll smirk at that t-shirt for the same reason we did. We’ll take it.
Download: The Strokes, "Under Cover of Darkness"