The White Stripes
Club Downunder, Tallahassee, FL • September 18, 2001
It wasn’t as much trying to return to normalcy, trying to blot out what happened mere days ago and blithely go on as if nothing had happened. It was more trying to reach out, y’know, like how everyone started going to church again and flying their flags again, yeah, trying to reach out to the ONE thing that had always helped me through, that had always healed me up to that point. Music, trash, noise, rock — many names, but all the same thing, the only thing I ever had/have faith in. But I’ve been shaken, man, we all have, down to the foundations. Is it gonna sound the same, is it gonna feel the same, can we (I) possibly be so fucking callous and cold to believe that mere pop music, disposable entertainment by its very nature, can be elevated to such a divine religious status in such a changed world? Am I fucked for reading a book about The Rolling Stones on September 12th and savoring every little goddamn word and picture and lyric and thinking — THIS is my salvation. Always has been, even if in the end, it’s a really, really silly salvation.
To add to a generally ragged emotional state, I hadn’t been able to talk for about six days; some sort of mutant bug went around and knocked me down and rubbed my face in the dirt — coughing up my insides and rasping, “Fuck it’s pretty crowded in here.” Cold spells and bundled up the hilt, adding even more to my increasingly Charles Manson-ish countenance. Would you permit me one more quick indulgence? I’d just like to request for people to stop speculating and/or informing me about the “truth” behind Jack and Meg White’s relationship; what are you gonna try to tell me next, that The Ramones aren’t really brothers? Damn. Let ’em create a rock myth, any disguises and aliases they need to protect themselves from the impending juggernaut of next-big-thingdom, well, fine with me.
Speaking of which, I recognized an English professor from Florida State University (good fella to be sure); after I croak “hello,” he breezily informed me that this is the event of the year. Huh? Looking around the crowd, and it is goddamn crowded, he’s right. The White Stripes aren’t just a little New Musical Express curiosity band anymore — no way, no how. Whole buncha different tribes here tonight, and they ain’t just here to be seen. They’re here to try and escape and forget what’s outside, yes, but there is also a powerful whiff of anticipation in the air. Event of the year, huh? 11:30, 11:40 — the band ain’t even on the premises yet.
11:50-something. Two pale figures in matching red and white saunter on stage like this is any other damn night of the year, strap on guitar and pick up drumsticks and become two utter rock beasts. Jack White is leaning in close to the mic, slashing away at his guitar, and just screamin’ and hollerin’ in a way that John Spencer always wished he could. Unflappable Meg — think Moe Tucker crossed with Uma Thurman — only ten times as cool, pounds away distractedly with a bigger drum sound than Bill Ward. Somethin’ ain’t right about that boy Jack, the way he swaggers and preens, shakes and spits; but he’s no Mick Jagger spoilsport, he’s like a conduit for this electrical force. He makes the music seem alive and writhing, like it matters, that it’s not just an audience passively watching a band. It’s showmanship, fuck yeah, but it has no truck with contrivance and pretension. Little Jack and Meggy, their parent must have raised them just for this moment. Or so it seems. Or so it is, fuck it.
They sass their way through a brilliant, tortured cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” which is even better than The Sisters of Mercy’s version, and way more believable. Gender and sweat blurring all over the bloody place. They play a bunch of their own songs, too — I don’t know any of the names, but I do know that this is the biggest noise I’ve heard in quite some time. The drums just boom, the guitars cut through steel, the vocals alternate between tortured howls and ecstatic groans. Jack White shakes his hair and changes guitars a whole bunch, Meg White barely looks up from the drums, but makes that racket look so effortless.
Yeah, The White Stripes ARE nice enough to learn classic nugget “Tallahassee Lassie” and rip out their insides playing it for us. That means we’re not just another town, another cattle hall for an Identikit rock pantomime to be inflicted upon. Yeah, later on Jack White channels the blues, Van Halen, and The Make-Up simultaneously for a quick singalong part that for some reason feels right. Where the fuck is my voice when I need it? I fucking swear, The White Stripes play such pure music with conviction and sheer Satanic flair that I’m/we’re all able to forget, if only for an hour. And the world seems a beautiful place where beautiful bands wearing red and white play beautiful music for rapt audiences that participate actively in the spectacle being created. This is where the walls come tumbling down. They play a few encores, thank us and then leave. All the boys and all the girls seem in love with one White Stripe or the other, take your pick. It’s pretty cool, in a naÃ”ve, innocent sorta way. So, is it okay for me to say the “N*rvana” word? Cuz that’s sure as hell what the buzz around this band feels like; and the British are totally gaga over them too. Boy + Guitar + Girl + Drums = Rock Perfection. Fucking insanely simple formula, then how come no one else had it figured out? I leave grinning ear to ear. Things can change, even if only for a little bit.