Wednesday, February 2, 2011
GOODBYE TO A GREAT BAND: THE WHITE STRIPES
I had a hard time immersing myself in bands after the Lollapalooza thing started to fade in the mid '90s. After that wave of incredible bands of the late '80s and early '90s, I had a hard time really "buying into" many bands or artists (I'm not limiting this to just artists who literally played Lollapalooza, I'll include Faith No More and Helmet and Nirvana here, as well as less testosterone-y groups like Cowboy Junkies or Cake).
Part of it I attributed to my age: I graduated college in the early '90s, and stayed interested in new bands for a while, but pretty soon I couldn't find anyone new who I'd be willing to go to see in concert. There was also the sort of "indie rock" element, and obviously I don't mean "indie" as in independent artists like Fugazi or Ani DiFranco. I mean the whole sort of slacker thing, which I often feel like comes from bands like Pavement or Sebadoh. I won't say that those bands don't have good songs or talent, but they just don't hold my interest, and they don't seem to care about being great. In fact, the idea of trying to be great seems to be sort of embarrassing to them. That was my take. You can have that sort of attitude if you are, say, Dylan or Lou Reed, but few bands are that awesome. So: they don't care = I don't care.
And then The White Stripes came along. They had the old-school/punk rock "rust never sleeps" attitude, but at the same time, there was definitely a reverence for the past. They were hip but populist. They wanted their music to hold up to the legends, but they didn't want to get lazy. They were disciplined, they had a vision, they definitely cared and most importantly, they wrote great songs. Like a lot of other people, I got into them in 2001 around the time of their third album, White Blood Cells. To me, they were the band of the '00s (The Drive-By Truckers, Pearl Jam and U2 would also be in the running). (Last year, I named Jack White as my Artist of the '00s). After White Blood Cells, I picked up their first two albums, and by the time they released Elephant in 2003, I was all in.
They occasionally collaborated with other musicians (a horn section on "Conquest," Holly Golightly on "It's True That We Love One Another." But really, it was about the power of two people, Jack and Meg White. Three colors (red, white and black) and three instruments (guitar - or keyboards or marimba, drums and vocals)... I guess maybe they ran out of ideas. Part of the discipline of the band was sticking within their confines, and to change that would be to change what was so great about the band. On 2005's Get Behind Me Satan I thought they were maybe running out of juice, but on 2007's Icky Thump, they had some of their finest moments (including the classic "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You're Told)". That's a good way to go out. Their final performance was on Conan O'Brien's (first) last show (ha ha) doing "We're Going To Be Friends."
Of course, Jack has been making music outside of the Stripes anyway, with The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, and more recently with Wanda Jackson. Whatever Jack does, it has a particular sound, but none of his other projects had what The White Stripes had. I'm sad that he, or they, feel that they have nothing else left to say, but I respect that they know what they're doing, and they don't want to ruin what was a great band by putting out music that doesn't hold up to their legacy. That's admirable. Thanks for the awesome music. (By the way, you can read their parting statement at their official website).