Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Return of the Blogger

C'mon Jack, you dragged it all the way down here in a little red wagon. C'mon, just tell me about it.

So I've been fairly silent over the past six months, existing in two-job purgatory. Now that I have, not without regret, quit my night job of teaching English as a Second Language, I should have more time to continue my creative endeavors.

My first order of business is the bittersweet ending to the saga of one of the most innovative bands of the past few decades: The White Stripes. Frankly, I'm disappointed to see them go, but glad for their sakes that they quite whilst ahead. They never jumped the shark; they put out consistently good music on all six of their studio albums, culminating in 2007's Icky Thump, probably their most ambitious release.
Of course, no fan of The White Stripes could honestly admit that they just liked the band for making brilliant music. They were the rare band with an arty shtick that invited constant voyeuristic speculation on the part of their followers. They were a duo--a rarity in an era where most commercially successful bands were traditional four-piece outfits--and they had an unmatched public presence centered around their riotous black, white, and red color scheme. But the truly intriguing facet of the band was the convoluted, dichotomous relationship between Jack and Meg White. They were married for a time, though Jack (born John Gillis), with characteristic flaunting of convention, took her last name. They continued to tour together while separated. For a time, they told the rock journalists that they were siblings. Their lyrics, and their album art suggest an old-timey innocent relationship, childhood lovers perhaps, or a brother and sister who never truly grew up. Their songs proclaimed loudly the virtues of a bygone era, when all you needed was an ice cream cone and a little cream soda, when you could start a band with some secondhand instruments and a little gumption, when love was easy and love was beautiful and love was what you did when you were in love. However fictionalized their relationship might have been, it is one of the most beautiful ever to be immortalized in song.
As inseparable as Jack and Meg might have seemed within the idiom of their lyrics, in person they could hardly be more different. Jack White is generally held to be a once in a generation rock-n-roll genius. Whether it was his brutally distorted chord progressions, his bombastically bluesy solos, his contemplative piano playing, or his wailing, Zeppelin-esque voice, Jack had a way of making himself heard. Even with the dissolution of the White Stripes, his already magnificent career has miles of open road ahead of it as he contributes regularly to the supergroups The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, not to mention his solo work and his frequent collaborations with the gentry of rock, soul, and country. It's not hyperbolic to say that Jack White is probably the hardest working popular musician in the world right now.
Meg, on the other hand, seemed like she was just along for the ride. She learned the drums from Jack and never really ventured too far with her instrument. Ironically, it was her soft-spokenness (though some would call it mediocrity) that proved the perfect foil for all of Jack's bluster. Her enthusiastic, meat-and-potatoes drumming was the anchor to the band's often chaotic sound. In person, she was very shy, rarely giving interviews and almost never venturing outside of Jack's umbrage. Her battle with anxiety came to a forefront when The White Stripes cut short their 2007 tour due to her health problems.
To say that Jack White cast a long shadow is the understatement of the century. I resent the critics who say that Meg held him back, or that she was nothing without him when really, quite the opposite was true. Meg was Jack's muse in the purest sense. That may or may not be true, but if it is a myth, it is a beautiful one. Together, they broke all the rules. The White Stripes proved that you could be arty and still accessible, lo-fi and still mainstream, edgy but not caustic, nostalgic but not mawkish. They fused the energy and hopefulness of punk at its best with the narrative style and artistry of the blues. Together, they forged a legend with both widespread and lasting influence in the music world. While I look forward to the continuation of their careers, as a pair, they will be sorely missed.