The White Stripes (1997-2011)
It wasn’t love at first listen. At the end of freshman year of high school my friend David made a mix CD for me with some White Stripes songs tacked to the end. I was more into Elvis and the Beatles and the Doors and other classic rock stuff and didn’t really care for the discordant Iggy Pop noise at the end of the mix. It was too rough, too loud.
Of course, the Stripes had a way of finding me. I caught them again on a late-night SNL rebroadcast doing “I Think We’re Gonna Be Friends.” I was taken in by the odd costumes, the stage makeup, and as I watched kind of embraced the simple way Jack played guitar on stage. G chord. C chord, back to G. I knew he was a great guitar player, but he didn’t have to show it off, either.
It was another friend, Annie, who gave me a ripped copy of White Blood Cells and then after I whined and asked, Elephant. I played “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” in my mom’s Volvo (on one of my first unparented drives, too) but had to turn the CD off after those first chords hit like nails on a chalkboard. But I didn’t give up on them this time. I had fallen in love with the Jack White in the SNL spot and knew I would have to trust his brand of rock. Luckily, I skipped to the poppy energy of “Fell in Love with a Girl” (track four), and from then on I was hooked.
All of the major events in high school I can easily link back to the Stripes. I developed my first crush listening to “You’re Pretty Good Looking (for a Girl).” I fell out of that crush with loud, angry replays of “I Can’t Wait.” College indecision’s anthem became their David-Bacharach cover “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself.” And so on.
The Stripes were also the first band I admired. Their interviews, their photo-ops, their decision to live and make music in Detroit all seemed cool to me. Let’s face it, a blues song feels more authentic written in downtown Detroit than somewhere in suburban Washington. Plus their philosophy, that a simple set-up: guitar, vocals, drums, three chords, and simple songwriting could produce such powerful music, struck me. It instilled an intense desire, whether in music or filmmaking, to not add too much, to sort of strike away from the action movie and into the real life of things. And to hopefully not worry too much about the other things.
Sure, there are other bands that Jack and Meg would readily admit are more “authentic” and more true to that simple garage sound than even they were. The Flat Duo Jets, The Sonics, even the Stones are prime examples of the sort of primeval rock that they championed. But there will never ever be another band who I will feel a connection to like the Stripes. They were my first.