in reply to elektra luxx re: jack white

ELuxxI guess my love for Jack White started when I saw The White Stripes live. At the height of their uber-hipness, pushed past the point of over-exposure, I attended a concert at the Greek theater in Los Angeles. And I must say, to witness Jack and Meg play live, it’s almost impossible not to be on their side. This was some of the most focused, eccentric, contagious music being banged out as is nothing in the world mattered but each other onstage. After that, I’ve seen The Raconteurs a few times (I found them terrific) and The Dead Weather a couple times (confused by that one) and also Jack solo on tour with the dual male/female ensemble. On top of that, I saw him lead the band for the great Wanda Jackson (all 4 ft 7 of her, or whatever) in concert, where he was happy to fade into the background and let a legend shine. Impossible not to be won over. All around, I find him to be incredibly talented and willing to push himself (and I’m also a sucker for his graphic design color coded obsession and the fact the he is an upholsterer at heart). – Elektra Luxx

All fair comments, really. And I’ve had similar up-close-and-personal experiences with artists that have otherwise pushed me from a position of casual appreciation to mega-fan. I’ve also had the opposite experience, where a few perceived notions have pushed me into a dark corner about them and their work.

My corner with White came about this way:

I took notice of his project with Meg back when they began, and felt their sound added a much needed bright spot to the dull sheen of current radio playlists, and I believed his/their songwriting abilities stayed just about neck-and-neck with their gimmick. It was a clever trick, and his voice was fresh. However, I found that the fresh taste of the material wore away too quickly like a stick of dime store gum, where you find yourself chewing on the same piece of edible rubber for an hour until succumbing to a mild headache. Still, I had to appreciate their minimalist artful approach, and how far they came with so little. There was a real DIY vibe about them, as well, and they seemed to, as you say, shy away from the spotlight in favor of digging into doing what they truly believed.

Flash forward to the next couple of records, and the relentless beat went on. There were standouts like their cover of “Conquest”, a noisy affair that showed a refreshing sense of humor, a la our friend Mr. Beck. I sensed they weren’t taking themselves too seriously, even if Ms. Bridget Jones’ Diary was in the picture. And yes, he was channeling a peculiar outsider vibe that felt a cross between Depp’s Edward Scissorhands and Michael Jackson circa Bad. Not his fault, really, that he was showing up in all the tabloids, but he wasn’t exactly behaving as shy as he appeared, either.

The songs kept coming, in same or similar vein: stomping 2/4 beats, squealing guitars and vocals, repeating themselves in a fat white stripe of sound that held the needle at zero for the entire length of the track. There was a sense of “importance” to their insistence, like something big was happening that I still wasn’t getting. Yes, I had heard his hook, and I appreciated a newfound confidence on his instrument, but the gum, while bursting at first, was still getting stale too fast.

Soon, I felt the prolific nature of his career began to overshadow the depth and quality of his catalog. It seemed like he couldn’t stop, and perhaps no one dare ask him to. Hey, if you’re selling lots of downloads thanks to a huge crossover appeal generated from mainstream ubiquity, then why not wring out every last drop? I’m not so naive as to call anyone a “sell-out” – I can imagine how breezy it can feel on that fast track – but there is a danger where one begins to believe that what they’re doing is more important than it really is. I staved off my suspicions as long as I could, but then this happened.

To be clear, I do not intend to launch into a rant about old masters versus noobs, because times change and it’s pointless to measure one rock era against another without it becoming about one’s personal associations and individual tastes. And when I loaded up It Might Get Loud, I promised to keep an open mind, even if I did have a little trouble going along with the suggested equivalence of the chosen artists. Jimmy Page, The Edge and…Jack White? I once again dismissed my skepticism (I play guitar! I want to believe!) and settled into what I thought would be an illuminating discussion of blues theory, where it would become the focal point, not the respective careers of our trio.

And for the most part, I got that, along with White stomping away on the rickety old boards of one dusty, bluesy set after the next with both the fashion sense and outre lack of subtlety of a Magritte. I watched with fascination his fascination with vintage analog equipment, and, well, stomping, and struggled to work out where he was playing antique dealer and guitar rock trail blazer. And I confess to wincing a little when he explained to the two legends before him the ersatz genius behind, what was for all intents and confessed purposes, his super electrified nicks off one blues legend after another. I get that he’s preaching, but it almost wasn’t fair that he was there. In fact, I might have felt for him with no small amount of affection had he not appeared to take his fashionable rediscovery of the old blues greats so darned seriously. If Page’s style is the blues put through lager and a fag, and The Edge’s style is the blues filtered through Irish country folk, Jack’s is the blues put through the lens of a camera.

jack-white1So, to the Lazaretto video you posted, with Jack and his serious face standing proudly beside the hipstery label exec in his hipstery accoutrements discussing his new vinyl with a reverence normally reserved for a Japanese invention that will revolutionize the way we’ll come to think about some manner of distraction, I have to be honest when I say I actually thought it was a parody. The lock groove? The label grooves?? I was half-expecting them to tell us it was mastered to “11”. Now, I’m all for eccentricity and geeking out. I truly am. But the presentation here was so in keeping with a Jack White who I believe believes he is the new maverick of American rock music that I was left shaking my head. Forget that I didn’t find a single sample played of any interest whatsoever – again, possibly down to taste, and we’re talking mere seconds of information here – but I began to get images of retro-fabulous companies who will sell you tailored jeans made from the finest organic cotton distressed by the mastication of nearly-extinct cats and delivered to your door with a package of fresh ground coffee beans, all for four times the price-tag. The best I could say about it was, “hey, maybe he’s just another brilliant throw-back entrepreneur and I’m clearly out of touch”.

A lot to read, I know. But as I said before, I felt you deserved it. Not the fuck ton of eye-strain, mind, but a clear explanation. And before I go, I do want to say that I think fashion and style and a sophisticated eye for both lends a great deal of weight to any artistic endeavor. Such a discipline can lift a sagging melody or plot point, and in many cases, it is the point, and a not too fine one, at that. Unfortunately for me, I find Jack White’s expertly calculated career sharp in execution, but far too dull in substance. That said, I’m willing to continue to work on my opinion, with the added evidence that his execution is done with, as you pointed out, a genuine conviction.

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About S. Norton

Writer, marketer, musician.
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2 Responses to in reply to elektra luxx re: jack white

  1. Elektra Luxx says:

    Well, Scott, that’s a beautifully articulated reply. Let’s be clear about that! And I think your Michael Jackson/Edward Scissorhands analogy is spot on — in fact, I once found myself in a conversation with Jack where he vehemently defended Michael Jackson in the vein of “leave him alone/he was a genius/judge only the music”. But I think we differ in the appreciation of “It Might Get Loud”. I felt Jimmy Page and Jack where actually vibing on a similar wavelength (not that anything in that rather silly film could top Jimmy Page’s body movements miffing on “Ramble On”, proving he is truly is a creature (and I mean creature) made for rock&roll — a sort of aging lesbian lookalike dinosaur built to play this primitive music… but I digress. I was so put off by The Edge in that doc — and I like U2 just fine, despite all their shortcomings — but I felt the doc exposed the following reality: Jimmy Page is a godhead guitar player, Jack White is a wacky analog primitivist on a quest to channel the blues and David Evans is… a sound engineer with a bunch of effects pedals who never became a better guitar player than when he started out in 1978 (the built in issue with punk — sooner or later you’re bound to learn how to play, right? Right?).
    Having said all of that, I find Jack White inspiring — even if the ambition is bigger than the output — and I DO think that stuff like the “ultra LP’ presentation is meant with a huge sense of humor, he’s just not as good a deadpan actor as he wants to be. He was much better in that one video I posted a while back where he is touring the record pressing plant and the sound keeps getting louder as he goes into wacko conspiracy theories.
    Jack White is not great at PR, he’s a true oddball, but the kind of searcher/student we see less and less of these days.
    This subject remains open to further investigation and — make no mistake — I agree with your assessments — I think they’re just coming from the more “frustrated with” viewpoint than the “benefit of the doubt” viewpoint.
    To be continued…

  2. scottyus says:

    Firstly, thanks for the kind words and, well, the words in general! It’s an honor to have you as my guest here. I don’t get many, but I can at last definitively point to quality over quantity.

    Your personal experience with Jack surely reveals a more nuanced perspective of his choices, and I agree with your “Frustration” vs. “Benefit of the Doubt” theory. If I were to apply it to D. Evans, (albeit minus the private conversation) I would likely point to his early work as indicative of a U2 whole that began an important chapter in rock. He’s held up as a guitarist here, and his later forays into electronics do let him down a bit, but I feel he originated a style in pop music that, while simple, lent a depth of emotion that had, perhaps unbeknownst to American punk/pop fans across the board, previously been missing. I’ve played his stuff on an acoustic, free of help, and it holds up well and with great power and beauty. My thoughts on his contribution to the doc married a long-held opinion that much of the Brit output that became so popular in the states is a result of actually failing to precisely mimic American blues music, while being wholly inspired by it. It swings, but in a completely different way, informed by classical training and ancient Gaelic rhythms. True or not, I always liked that idea.

    Still, I appreciate the fact that White is a true “odd ball”, and it makes perfect sense that he’s reaching out in a way that may not be fully understood. However his work matches my personal tastes, I will always appreciate his digging deep – in wells of hardware or theory – as if the future of the world depended on it. In true geek fashion, he knows that music is bigger than he is, and he is its humble student. I may have to rethink my position on an apparent smugness, or at least come to a new understanding about where it might be focused: not on the great canon of American rock and roll, but at an industry that too often rewards the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

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