The White Stripes
My left ear hurts. Inside is my head and outside Corrientes Street, the portal of the Great Rex. In the middle my left ear. From inside comes a tense note, like a television pattern, blocking the normal course of sound, which should come from outside. In the left half of the field of my face it is the other way around: my head is screaming at Buenos Aires through my ear. It is November 2019, close to midnight.
In the civil registry of rock there is a page where the birth of grunge is recorded. The academy more or less agrees that this one took place in Seattle, sometime in the second half of the '80s. However, when someone arrives asking for a document that certifies their death, the pain in the skull of the archivists begins right there, because they do not know where to look. If asked, I'd say that grunge died on August 14, 1997, at Detroit's notorious and defunct Gold Dollar Bar, the night Jack and Meg White decided to perform in public for the first time. Neither they, nor the parishioners quietly drinking beer, knew of the funeral they were attending. These things are almost never known, luckily, until they become past.
I'm in a P-12. I turn on my eight GB MP3 player. I open a folder titled The White Stripes. I don't know if the name is from the band or the album. the songs are called Track 1, Track 2, and so on until the last one, which is called Track 17. I try to guess what era the sound belongs to. Late '70s, I say. It's 2008, or maybe early 2009.
Jack White is a unique specimen. tell me who has more swing that he? He is among the few people who can continue to be called rock star at this point in the century without trembling your lips. Possibly, within rock in English, he is the guitarist I love the most. He continues to see the guitar with the same eyes as the first time. For the young White, first, all objects—including the viola—were toys, things his curious hands wanted to grasp, to explore. Later, those objects gradually became a remote control, a cup of coffee, a book, a vase, but the guitar never became a guitar for him, he continues to grope it with the wandering hands of a stump boy. The hive of sound produced by those hands —especially on the stage with The White Stripes— seems to be a consequence of accumulation, as if the guitar had a built-in lithium battery of noise, where the music remains, tight, until he decides release it, and then it comes out all at once, dirty, thundering. The noise made by Jack White's hands (sometimes using only two strings) is beyond logic. Give him a viola, an amp, some shitty speakers, and you'll have the fucking Rolling Stones in your garage, and the old lady across the street calling the police.
“…but we don't have a bass, and I can't play the drums,” Meg says to Jack, in English. He smiles. Think of Son House and Robert Johnson. It is January 1997, in the morning.
The infantilized style of The White Stripes is not only a visual strategy. It has a lot to do with music. Jack plays plastic guitars, mid to low range, and Meg plays the drums in a very basic way. This makes them always seem like a couple of malicious children to us. Imposter kids posing as rock band musicians. The duo is also an aesthetic concept. Meg's pose behind the set of drums it's the natural opposite of the drummer of the genre: sweaty, euphoric, nodding, very Lars Ulrich, very Mike Portnoy. Meg appears smiling, using scooters, waving her torso in a childish gesture, with a white and red chambelona on the drum head that she gives to the public. The concept turns Meg White into a tremendous instrumentalist, because it is very difficult to imagine that in more or less 10 years that the band lasted, she did not learn to play "better", someone did not teach her two or three more tricks. However, she continues to play like someone who doesn't know how to do it. His skill is to practice inexperience.
“I have some new sounds in my head. They've got a bass and another guitar,” Jack says to Meg, in English.
"Start a gang," she replies. He hesitates for a second, and thinks of something he doesn't get to say. "And The White Stripes?" he asks then.
"What about The White Stripes?" Meg replies. It's 2005.
The self-titled album (Sympathy for The Record, 1999), the duet's first work, already makes it clear to which places in the past the Whites looked to configure the present. There is a bit of metal (second stanza of cannon) and a bit of western & country (intro by One More Cup of Coffee), but what there is most is punk and, above all, blues.
Punk is in the muddy sound of the guitar, and in that minimalist and ambitious attitude at the same time. the ninth track Broken Bricks it is an example of that method of concentrating energy in two minutes, essentially punk. Does not have intro, not alone. It is riff-stanza-riff- stanza to the end. It has, yes, two short bridges (because this isn't the Ramones either, we're in Detroit, at the end of the 20th century), but they don't blur the punk posture of I arrive, I say, I finish, I leave, and I leave the guitar doing feedback lying on the stage. That pose of renunciation of adornment contrasts, and it contrasts barbarously, with the vastness of the sound that the band gives off. The White Stripes have little left pub from the neighborhood It's not that they can't play there. They do very well, actually. But Jack White's red and white Airline guitar will always ask for the stadium. In that apparent contradiction is one of the most beautiful mysteries of the duo. go to screw driver and Slicker Drips to verify it.
There is no poster, but I know that in that same theater there will be a concert by The Raconteurs in four days. On the fifth I have to leave the city, reluctantly. I would love the Great Rex to start saying goodbye. From the theater to the airport. Maybe pick up the suitcase at the rental house, but already, that there wasn't so much Buenos Aires between the Gran Rex and the plane. If I could go to the concert it would have to be like this, because I have to be in Ezeiza at two in the morning, and the recital should be ending around midnight. But I didn't get tickets. All ticketing sites say they are sold out. I knew it before coming to walk around Corrientes, but now I'm standing in the doorway of the theater, unsuccessfully hiding my status as a tourist, and I can't stop thinking about it, even though there's no sign. “I should go in for a moment and ask if they sell the failures a few hours before the concert”, I think. "But here they must not know what this is about failures. Here everything should be more organized. Forget. If on the page it says sold outIt's sold out, no chance. If there were any they would tell you. The system is too efficient, it's not going to lose a consumer so easily just because they think they can't buy, when in fact they can." I go in anyway. This is not Denmark either. You never know. It is November 2019, in the afternoon.
The birth of The White Stripes had a lot to do with Jack deciding to imitate Dex Romweber, after going down to North Carolina one day to see a show yours with Flat Duo Jets. And yes, there is a fairly short space between the Romweber cause and the Jack White effect, especially in the sound field, and in that scattered way of playing the guitar, but the boy from Detroit is, more than anything, a son of the blues : Dolphin gen-X of sad black parents, named Skip James, dressed in suits and alone.
Loneliness, more than minor keys or pentatonic scales, defines the blues author. So it's not entirely accurate to say that The White Stripes' music is influenced by that style, at least not in the same way that the British bands of the '60s were. The blues in Jack White is not so much a matter of influence but of identity. Jack is a blues songwriter, and this album is where it shows the most, but it came out at a time when for someone to call you that you had to be black, kind of eccentric, 65 or older, and have at least one featuring with Eric Clapton. The only thing that separates Jack White from the patriarchs of the genre is almost a century, which, said like that, seems like a long time, but time acts very little on the deep and serious solitude of always. Several of the songs on the album share the abandonment, the feeling of orphanhood of those early recordings made by guys with a concise pocket and a rigorous soul like “Blind” Willie Johnson. Let's listen to his famous Dark Was The Night, from 1927, and then let's go back to today's record, to 1999, to the second guitar solo by Wasting My Time. The pain is the same. The notes fall, equally slowly, on the back. The day they wrote those songs, Jack White and "Blind" Willie Johnson woke up, I quote Bunbury, "with the same sorrows."
There is also a lot of blues in the lyrical component of almost all the tracks. Jack, like the wise old men of the style, also speaks from the doorway of his house, and his words very rarely name things that his gaze cannot reach. The words remain in the gossip of the block; that if so-and-so killed menganita, that if my girl left me and took my money, those things. That's how his idols did it, and that's how he wants to do it. For this reason, when he talks about political-social issues (The Big Three Killed My Baby, Broken Bricks), is very careful not to fall into the corajina grunge or the cultured, pedagogical tone of the protest song. Jack White is never going to say something like “The times they are a-changin'”. That's not your tone. The blues don't do that. In the blues, to get to the “big” problems, you always have to go through the “little ones”.
The pause is widely used in the album, as a tool of strength. By suspending the march for a few seconds, Jack and Meg guarantee the subsequent momentum. It doesn't fail. Silences are your fuel, your turbo. This also connects them to the blues, although now, when the guitar is momentarily turned off, the time is not marked by a shiny black shoe on the floor, but by Meg's caramelized bass drum.
Another similarity: Jack White, when narrating, often reduces the elements of the composition to a minimum. Anything the listener can infer will be excluded from the picture. Let's take a look at the start of Suzy Lee, fourth track: “There's a story / I would like to tell. / My problem is: / It's one you know too well // Miss Suzy Lee / the one I'm speaking of, / the question is: / Is she the one I love?”. Why spend more ink, right? The great Robert Johnson also did that, and you don't have to leave the album to look for an example. Two tracks earlier, the duo covers their theme stop breaking down, which begins like this:I can't walk the streets now / to console my mind. / Some pretty mama, she starts / breaking down”. In both cases, the listener, from the very beginning of the story, experiences a feeling of bewilderment similar to what happens when we enter the cinema and the movie has already started. This is very bluesy, a tribal, village music that does not need to introduce or characterize its characters much, because everyone knows who is the milkman, who is the drunk and who is the boss.
I'm in the college computer lab. I type in Google The White Stripes. It is, as I suspected, the name of the band. I read on and find out that it's also the name of their first album, the same one I heard on P-12 the other day. I know because it's the only one in the group's discography that has 17 tracks. I connect my eight GB MP3 player to the computer and change the names of each of the files in the folder titled The White Stripes. Where says Track 1 I write Jimmy The Exploder, where says Track 2, stop breaking down, and so on until the last one, which is called I Fought Piranhas. That's why I came, but I still have machine time left and I start reading the biography of Jack White, the singer. About the end he says he has a new band called The Raconteurs, and who have just released their second album. It's 2009, or maybe the end of 2008.
I do not want to leave without dedicating a separate paragraph to Wasting My Time, the most beautiful song on the album, and one of my favorites above and below the earth. It is great like the greatest songs. Here Jack White shows us that he possesses the unique substance of the eternal singers. I really cannot understand how it is possible to make such a profound, simple, sincere, sad, painful, unloving, pessimistic, optimistic and sarcastic statement, all of this in just over two minutes of music and three verses of words. I leave here the first of those stanzas: “And if I'm wasting my time, / then nothing could be better / than hanging on the line / and waiting for an honest word forever"
Beyond the show, it is already worth coming to the theater just to see the people who are arriving at the portal, while you wait to enter. It's 15 or 20 minutes of seeing the city show itself. Of course, it's better in Havana, not because it really is, but because that's where I live, and therefore, my role in the portal is not only that of an observer, but I participate by greeting, hugging, talking, riding tickets or selling them, waiting for people who are always late. Also, in Havana, the theater portal, half an hour before the start of the show, belongs exclusively to the people who arrive, and there is no need, like here, to share it with the t-shirt sellers. Some of them look exactly like t-shirt vendors (or anything that is sold on the ground in a city like Buenos Aires), with that worn and indifferent countenance. There are others who look more like the people who arrive at the theater, but their work face distinguishes them (the face of people who are working is never the same), and in addition to selling more shirts, they talk more. Among the things they say, I can hear that Jack White is the best guitarist alive, and that today's concert is a unique opportunity. People keep coming, but I go in, because in the end I'm not expecting anyone. The lights are on and there's a band playing for appetizers. I like it, and it bothers me that they believe that they are not paying attention to them, although it is true; not even they themselves have come ready today for people to pay attention to them. I wonder if they will stay to see the concert afterwards. sure not. Just when the lights go out, the smell of marijuana begins and the momentum of the people (without there being any connection between the two things, although I, who still smell marijuana in public spaces seems to me something, not extraordinary, but relevant, for for a moment I think so). A minute later, on stage, Jack White's right hand strikes his guitar so forcefully that it causes a slight hearing disorder in my left ear, known as tinnitus. It is November 2019, at night, a little before ten.