If you ever find yourself in artist Sam Adoquei’s studio near New York’s Union Square, you’ll see a large, striking painting of John F. Kennedy on his deathbed displayed prominently on one wall. Stare at it long enough, and you might notice that among the somber onlookers is a handsome, familiar-seeming young cop. “That’s me,” says Julian Casablancas, 39, with an impish smile as he walks in on a recent evening and points out his double. Adoquei, who painted the JFK scene when Casablancas was 18, is his stepfather. An accomplished portraitist with a genial, cool-professor vibe, he has been an important mentor to the singer since his early adolescence. “As a kid, you know that what people are telling you in school is kind of BS,” Casablancas tells me later. “He was the first person that I thought was not full of it. When I started playing guitar, he was like, ‘You’ll be the next Jimi Hendrix!’”
In 1998, not long after sitting for the painting, Casablancas formed The Strokes with a few friends. That decision would change his life in irrevocable ways -- and if you were a young music fan at the turn of the century, there’s a not-small chance it changed yours, too. The band’s first EP set off a major-label bidding war in early 2001; its debut LP, Is This It, was hailed as an instant classic when it arrived that fall on RCA Records. The album went on to yield two hits on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart (“Last Nite,” No. 5; “Someday,” No. 17), and, more importantly, single-handedly bend the course of history back toward good-looking guys with guitars.
That’s the legend. Living it was harder. The Strokes got very famous, very fast; had fun until it wasn't anymore; and hit the brakes on their career in 2007, entering a long twilight phase that, 11 years later, shows no sign of ending. They’re not broken up, but they’re not what you’d call an active band, either, especially since fulfilling the terms of their RCA deal with 2013’s Comedown Machine.