Speaking of awesome videos, here is a fan-made gem that probably cost no more than that stack of quarters. The White Stripes’ graphic style is not hard to copy, admittedly, but there’s more to it than the color scheme. I think this is very much in their spirit and nicely referential. They’ve done stop-motion in their video on a much larger scale, and also have used cute little dolls to represent themselves, so all of those elements are straight off the old apple tree, so to speak. But I’m guessing The White Stripes didn’t have much of a video budget for their first album, so they didn’t make any. That first record was a masterful breakthrough, a clear statement of artistic intent signalling the arrival of a fully-formed vision. That is sounded very much homemade a big part of both its charm and its importance. It was charming because it was so clearly made with love, and it was important in that it showed just how visionary two dedicated people with minimal resources could be. So it’s only fair and appropriate that it would inspire a handmade homage.
Are you tired of this little White Stripes series? If so, we’re halfway through it, and it’s their idea, not mine. But if you’re like me, you’re enraptured, because I never could get tired of having an excuse to sit and listen to every White Stripes album, albeit out of order. As for the ‘little’ series, this song is the best offering. I don’t have a huge appetite for this sort of pure Americana, but it’s definitely most amusing to occasionally dip into, and I think The White Stripes are especially suited to exploring roots music. Because I think their vision of what constitutes roots music is more diverse than most; they take in both bluegrass and Detroit blues, and a wide swatch in between. The White Stripes style of rootsiness also reflects the fact that for people of their generation Led Zeppelin and The Stooges constitute roots music as much as Son House or Earl Scruggs. In the sense that enough time has passed that what used to be a contemporary takeoff on traditional musical style is an accepted part of the historical continuum. The White Stripes famously care a lot about musical purity, but their purity is held to their own eccentric standards, and when they explore musical traditions they’re not so much striving to recreate something as it was in the 1950’s, but processing it through their personal lens, thereby creating the next step in its evolution. Because recreating something traditional in note-for-note perfection doesn’t bring anything new to it – it’s just recreation for its own sake. To built on the foundation of the old without losing its spirit, or your own, is what keeps traditions alive.
Not actually one of my favorite White Stripes songs, but in the interest of scientific consistency, I feel compelled to include it. Because, as you well know, every White Stripes album has a song with the word ‘little’ in the title, and this is the one from Icky Thump. This is the only one of the series I’m not particularly crazy about, but it still merits an audit. There isn’t a single White Stripes song that doesn’t have any merit, not one that makes you leap across the room in a mad scramble to hit the skip button. That’s an honorable accomplishment right there; many of the greatest artists alive can’t say the same for themselves. There are a number of songs in the Stripes’ songbook that are unimpressive or mediocre – one can’t be brilliant 100% of the time, you know – but none that make you cringe and shudder and experience proxy shame. I thought Icky Thump, their final record together, was a bit hit-or-miss. Though it had some great moments, and nothing that could be called bad, it didn’t have quite the same sense of noisy delight that their early records were so full of. I don’t know what their personal dynamics were, but it’s easy enough to guess that by that point Meg was just about done with the entire enterprise and Jack’s attention was getting stretched thin by all the other projects he was organizing. It was a sad day when they announced their split, but it was the right move to quit while they were still capable of being a great team together instead of waiting for the inevitable point of just reluctantly hammering it out for a paycheck.
Every White Stripes album has a song with the word ‘little’ in the title and this is the one from De Stijl. There’s a noticeable progression in the three years intervening. This has a definite cobbled together in the garage vibe that has faded since The White Stripes became more sophisticated and gained access to nicer toys. Although everything Jack White does, to this day, still smells of the garage, so to speak, it’s become more expertly welded than cobbled together on the fly. And it has been long enough that I can legitimately begin to feel nostalgic about the first two or three White Stripes records. Despite the fact that I never heard any of them until Elephant. But I heard rumors of them, or I heard of them, or I heard rumors that somewhere in the world of music a turn for the better was forming and a couple of weirdo in red from Detroit were spearheading it. That itself was legitimately world-changing, and not just for me in my little corner of it. So lest we forget somehow, this ratty little garage duo came out of nowhere and changed the world.
Every White Stripes album has a song with the word ‘little’ in the title; this is the one from Elephant. One of their many lovable eccentricities. This also the most inspiring and uplifting White Stripes song. That or it’s the most ironically satirical of all things inspiring and uplifting. The opening monologue is by the broadcast journalist Mort Crim; whether the Stripes commissioned it or just stumbled on it and thought it was cool, I don’t know for sure, although I’ve heard that the snippet just happened to be on a tape that they were about to record over. Either way, it’s very motivational in a slightly fusty 1950ish sort of way. The song itself appears to be ripping into the neat idea that you can motivate yourself out of despondency by taking simple and easy steps. On the other hand, the apparent irony in the song doesn’t stop the little opening salvo being effectively motivational. It may be that the juxtaposition of those contrary elements is purposely, and effectively, designed to form a perfect balance of message and counter-message. And overall, the message is a positive one that you can take home and call upon when need be.
You can’t beat the sheer exuberance of the early White Stripes. Sure, they got more sophisticated as they went along, as bands will do if they stick together long enough. Jack White has permanently cemented his place as one of the modern masters. They’re on level:legendary. I don’t know if anyone predicted that in 1999, when they were loud, brash and a little artless. They crackled with energy, and there was a joy in just banging out songs fast and hard. It’s great they moved on from being a garage band. If they’d stuck the course of repeating their first album, they’d be just another flash-in-the-pan attempt and post-punk attitude. The point is, they were great at being a garage band, but garage bands are boring as fuck and always sound the same, unless they have what it takes to evolve from that puddle. The early White Stripes were great because they became the later White Stripes and led to all the other great Third Man things. It was a moment in an evolution. And it’s great to watch someone who starts out great and becomes even better. So much more satisfying than being witness to unfulfilled potential, whether by laziness or misadventure.
(Photo: Save me Barry!)
Meg White is very sexy in an arctic sort of way. She likes to hide behind her drums and she doesn’t always photograph well, but there’s something about her. Maybe it’s her veneer of mystery. She’s compelling and interesting precisely because she never says anything, so you have to suspect that she’s got all kinds of amazing stories and secrets that she’s just not telling. Or it could be that’s she’s simply a very shy person. Anyway, this is an incredibly sexy song both on its own and as a rare clue on Meg. Imagining it as a personal statement would be a stretch too far, because she’s obviously not the kind of person who’d put a personal statement in a song, but it does completely suit her persona. It’s a taciturn person’s declaration of desire, a love note from someone who occupies a lonely home in the tundra, either literal or figurative. You can easily imagine a shadowy Meg White, swathed in polar bear fur, mooning about in a creaky old isba somewhere in Siberia, feeding her reindeer and keeping a candle in the window for her lover. A glamorous image, but most likely another one of tricksy Jack’s acts of mythmaking. The real Meg White resides in Los Angeles.