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23: The White Stripes

Photo By Tim Roney

“But If You See Us Around, I Got Something Else To Show You…”

Relationships can become complicated for a variety of reasons. As a relationship develops, a person may feel differently about his or her partner. A party in a relationship may fall out of love with the other or fall in love with someone else entirely. Partner behavioral patterns may change, sending mixed signals about their position. Perhaps the partner feels used by the other person, or there may be tension between the two partners due to disagreements. The expectations you had of them may have changed and sometimes friction can occur when something is bothering a partner, but they are not sure what it is. You may still have feelings for them, but they are not reciprocating back to you in the same fashion. Understanding the complications is crucial to determining how to deal with the relationship and its future.

We’ve all been through hard times with former partners, with the lingering need for some level of retribution for the lost time and opportunity. Even so, sometimes there can be a constructive  outcome from a fragmented rapport, as shown by the iconic rock duo The White Stripes.

During their years in high school, they would meet during the open mic nights at the “Memphis Smoke” restaurant Meg worked at.

Jack’s infatuation with poetry, which evolved into songwriting, would allow them to form an artistic bond that would span nearly a decade afterwards. A new friendship had blossomed. The path had been laid. It took a while for them to journey it however, with Jack discovering a love for Detroit punk with influence from his upholstery master Brian Muldoon, a keen musician himself at the time. He would soon after signing on as the drummer of the established Cow-punk band “Goober & The Peas.

A dark humored, satirical country band, Jack would use this a steppingstone to gain vital musical experience for his future. They would play live shows until their inevitable break-up in 1996, but Jack was always thinking forward, enough to propose to his darling, and take her last name after the ceremony. The newly-weds began to craft and mold their signature sound, performing at local venues around Detroit for a few years before the first record label offer. The chosen destination would be “Sympathy With The Record Industry” and the debut release? The self-titled “The White Stripes”.

Cover Art for The White Stripes' "The White Stripes"

The opinions of the music media, who had much more influence than those of today, were mixed. Many stated that the album was simple, an unrefined take on a sound that could become considerable.

“Debut album is extremely primitive. It’s messily produced and raw sounding, and there’s seldom more than a single guitar track, jack’s vocal and Meg’s drums…”

“The group would benefit from clearer production and a more powerful sound on their next effort, but most of the fundamental elements of their style are already in place here…”

They would follow this up with a more advanced version of their first album. 'De Stijl' is a Dutch term that means "The Style". As a result of a reduction to form and colour, De Stijl advocates pure abstraction and universality. Visual compositions were simplified to verticals and horizontals, using only black, white, and primary colors. As we know, the duo has the signature colour scheme for their presentation, red, white, and black, and this was fully established at this point in time.

Cover Art for The White Stripes' "De Stijl"

With so much written material to choose from, Jack and Meg would produce yet another album, their third in 2 years. This would take them a week to fully produce and master, with a more traditional garage rock sound at the epicenter. “White Blood Cells” was the final release independently with “Sympathy For The Record Industry”, and the final step towards superstardom.

Cover Art for The White Stripes' "White Blood Cells"

Having released two previous albums, "White Blood Cells" was their breakout effort. Suddenly, they became the darlings of the media, especially those in the music industry. It had reached a point where their popularity had been fully realized. Described by Rolling Stone as the next “Big American Rock band"

“With their stripped-down sound and aggressive delivery, The White Stripes were among the flag bearers of the garage rock revival in 2001 with White Blood Cells...”

By virtue of its simplicity and straightforward instrumentation, White Blood Cells laid the groundwork for the White Stripes' mainstream success and is often compared with classic rock. As a result, the band's sound was defined by it, and its role in the garage rock revival changed as a result. Many music publications have included the album on their lists of the best albums of both the 2000s and the century. Little did people know that the “siblings” had been divorced for almost a year at this point and had started to create their finest work in spite of the fact. Nonetheless, the best was yet to come.

We all know this melody, embraced by all manner of races and creeds. A truly iconic single which has morphed into a sports anthem, over the years, used by fans of various sports. It would only reach #76 when initially released, but like most genius, it would take its time to receive the acclaim it deserved. The lead single of their magnum opus.

Cover Art for The White Stripes' "Elephant"

“Elephant overflows with quality -- it's full of tight song writing, sharp, witty lyrics, and judiciously used basses and tumbling keyboard melodies that enhance the band's powerful simplicity….”

The album sold millions of copies worldwide, with titanic singles “Seven Nation Army” and “The Hardest Button To Button” lifting the album into the stratosphere, earning multiple awards and nominations, including a Grammy and multiple MTV awards.

A couple of years later, Jack would begin to write more material for a fifth album from his residence. Even though it continued to be based on basic production styles, the album featured a strong emphasis on piano-driven melodies and experimentation as opposed to its guitar-dominated predecessor. On both the British and American album charts, it reached number three, their highest debut position so far.

Cover Art for The White Stripes' "GBMS"

“Elephant was a career peak for The White Stripes, and it was difficult to top it. Therefore, the band diversified by releasing Get Behind Me Satan, which was softer, more relaxed...”

Their fifth album granted them their third “Album Of The Year” Grammy of their career, cementing them as Rock icons, with their aesthetic adding to the allure. They had become “too big to fail”, a label given to the bands that had reached the pinnacle of the genre, conquering any doubt as to their genius.

Their sixth and final album would be called “Icky Thump”. A project to complete the circle in a way, a return to their garage punk, blues foundation. An addition of Scottish folk, avant-garde, trumpet was implemented into the formula. Jack stated that the album was essentially for the original fans, the ones that loved their debut EP, with the theme being of feeling positive about being alive and coming full circle.

Cover Art for The White Stripes' "Icky Thump"

As usual, the reviews for the project were very positive, receiving critical acclaim with an overall average of 8/10 from Metacritic. However, a poignant remark from Time magazine perfectly foreshadowed the stage in which the duo was at in their careers.

“The White Stripes are too weird and talented to be boring, but it sounds like they might be a little bored…”

Even with another Grammy double in the bag, the end was nigh, with Meg White taking an extended hiatus due to performance anxiety. The White Stripes were over as we knew them, even with a performance on the final episode of “Late Night With Conan O’Brien”. Various solo projects were undertaken by Jack White whilst Meg would remarry. The obvious absence of the two sparked rumours of an unannounced split, which would later be confirmed.

“The raw emotion in Jack's voice, this is a performance coming from way down deep in his soul, how the hell they managed to keep their shit together when they are obviously both a heartbeat away from just falling apart in tears....utterly entrancing…”

The overall arc of the White Stripes is one of perseverance. Many a couples aren’t strong enough to achieve the feats in which Jack & Meg achieved. The have been nominated for a total of 53 awards over the span of their careers, winning 19 across various ceremonies.  Although billed as siblings, they were in fact divorcees. Jack thought it would be more digestible for fans to see them as brother and sister, which for the time was a wise choice. However, I do feel that this had a deeper meaning. Love between siblings is only rivalled by the love of a mother for her child. Jack may have tried to sell the strong bond between himself and Meg as that of a love between siblings. You never know, his genius is multilateral. What we do know is that they overcame the most lumber some situation when it comes to relations and made themselves icons instead. They are nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year for the first time. They couldn’t do something unprecedented again could they?

Written by: @Arriv3r

Edited by: @Whosaria