It’s a sad day for rock ‘n’ roll. The White Stripes have called it quits.
When the band broke onto the mainstream music scene in the early 2000s, it was a breath of fresh air for the highly pierced, tattooed and angry nu-metal scene. Their garage-rock sound harkened back to the days of the sweaty ’70s rock scene of Iggy Pop and The Stooges and The Ramones. Their debut music video for the single “Fell In Love With A Girl” (directed by Michel Gondry) was and is still regarded as one of the most memorable videos from that era.
At the time, I was only somewhat impressed. The band had a different sound, very jangly and fun. It was something I wouldn’t turn off when it came on the radio, but not something I’d run out and buy at Compact Disc World.
Then, in what seemed like moments, The White Stripes were plastered all over the music magazines being proclaimed “the saviors of rock ‘n’ roll” along with other “the” bands like The Strokes, The Vines and The Hives. Their “are they brother and sister or are they married” mystique began to overshadow the band’s talent and accomplishments. The hype and buzz and press this duo from Detroit received in its early days was almost too big, and it became annoying.
In short, I hated The White Stripes.
I felt as though the group, who I had only heard on radio and TV, were being saddled with an undeserved mantle of rock ‘n’ roll saviors. From the singles I heard on the air, I thought they were good, not great — kind of shrill, dissonant and sometimes annoying. I felt that the music mags were shoving the band down my throat, and I resented it. I was a staunch fan of the hard rock and heavy metal that was dominating the charts at the time. How dare this loud, this little band be touted as the best thing in music today. Wasn’t I listening to it?
Then in the summer of 2003, my best friend Victor Reyes decided that he was going to change my mind. For the entire summer, I was force fed a steady diet of White Stripes. Elephant had just been released that year, and every time we got together, “Black Math,” “Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine,” “Ball And A Biscuit” and “The Hardest Button To Button” became the soundtrack to our summertime hangouts. On trips to the beach, I’d get an education in albums like De Stijl, Red White Blood Cells and their self-titled debut. I was very resistant to the idea at first, letting out audible groans of dissatisfaction.
And by mid-summer it finally happened — I realized the awesomeness that was the one-two combination of Jack and Meg White.
The singles I had heard were nothing compared to the electric excellence that occupied their albums. Jack White’s frenetic guitar work was a manic dream that brought back the same feelings I had when I heard Jimi Hendrix for the first time. I am an unabashed fan of the guitar solo from Clapton to Hammett to Satriani to Page — guitar solos make me love rock music. Today, I can easily add Jack White to those names of guitar icons. His style is rooted in the dirty, sweaty rock clubs of the 70s and the Southern back porches of the Delta from the ’20s. It’s an amazing mash-up of punk, blues and rock.
Oft criticized as “amateur,” there’s something about Meg White’s drumming that is just magic. Can she compete with Keith Moon, John Bonham or even Charlie Benante from Anthrax? No. No one can do the double kick like Charlie. But her drumming style, as seemingly laid back or laconic as it looked, fit the band’s style to perfection. And her soft, mellow voice was a wonderful contrast to the screaming banshee sound that emitted from Jack’s vocal chords. And on a completely and utterly superficial note, I always found Meg to be quite a looker.
What also fascinated me about the band was the development of the White Stripes lifestyle and culture. The black, white and red color scheme, the love for Holga cameras, their invocation of Orson Welles movies in their lyrics, design and eventual corporate brand (Third Man Records), as well as their love for a sense of nostalgia in their physical and promotional look — it was undeniably White Stripes.
In 2005, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing The White Stripes perform at The House of Blues in Atlantic City. It was one of my Top 10 concerts of all-time. The sheer energy, ferocity and passion that they played with should be the blueprint for a successful live act. Rent their concert movie Under Great White Northern Lights to understand what I’m talking about. And the kicker to the whole concert was — they actually sound better live than they do on record.
Yet today, Feb. 2, 2011, the little duo from Detroit that outlasted, out sold and out performed all their contemporaries, that showed the world that the blues isn’t just for small clubs anymore, that did it their way with no compromise — is no more. And while Jack and Meg have asked us to not be sad on this day, we are. We, as fans, are in a state of mourning. We lost one of the great bands of our generation. It is a sad day indeed.
However, as they said in their farewell speech, “the White Stripes belong to you now and you can do it with it whatever you want.” That statement brings me back to the days of driving down the Shore with my best friend Vic, listening to Elephant. It was the album that scored our soundtrack, it’s music that will forever be linked to good times. And no matter how long the band stays apart, we as friends will always have that connection. And the music world, as a whole, will have an amazing body of work to fondly look back on, to draw inspiration from and to let future generations of music fans know how we fell in love with a girl … and a band.