It may not have been the most traditional trail to the Stripes, but the scenic route works so long as I meet my destination: the first time I ever heard The White Stripes was in Napoleon Dynamite, the cult-classic loser film from the mid-2000’s. “We’re Going To Be Friends” was playing, which was a nice enough tune to me. It was catchy and I liked the lyrics. I remember watching a video montage of White Stripes footage spliced together with the song backing the visuals. I remember noticing how much red the band used in everything. This was in the very beginning era of YouTube, to put things in perspective. At the time, I wasn’t so invested in music, so it didn’t cross my mind to look deeper for more from the band. As I recall, I didn’t cross paths with the band again until I started to use iTunes around 2006 when I was browsing the new music section and noticed a song called “Icky Thump”, which was the leading single off of their upcoming (and ultimately, final) album Icky Thump. By now, I was beginning to get really interested in music, so I found out that band from Napoleon Dynamite also made this really cool song – and seven years later they’re the band I consider my “gateway drug” to music fascination.
I listened to all the albums. De Stijl and Elephant were my favorites, but I’ve gone through phases with each of them. Get Behind Me Satan was far from their center of normal and Icky Thump was the sophisticated transition to the layered music you see Jack White making today. The White Stripes opened all sorts of doors to me.
Imagine my surprise when The Dead Weather were unveiled (The Raconteurs had just become a formal thing as I was discovering the Stripes). The Raconteurs aren’t too far of a cry from what you’d expect from the Stripes, remaining rootsy and riffing just as White’s original band. But The Dead Weather were something all new. Dark, eerie themes crept up in their songs, crooned then howled by a new female voice fronting a Jack White band – Alison Mosshart. Even the guitar which White had specialized in had a new direction with Queens of the Stone Age’s Dean Fertita taking the reigns. It was an all new experience, just showing the range White had kept within all along. It wasn’t too hard sifting through red and white to find the black.
In case there was any remaining doubt, Third Man Records was opened. White was now in a discovery position, hand picking artists and producing material in the familiar warmth of his musical context. Essentially picking his idols and friends to pal around with, White was fronting one of the most admired record labels out there, pushing the record player mystique. Third Man Records went on producing singles and albums from any kind of artists. Everyone from Beck to Insane Clown Posse is in on it.
Since, as it was apparent to many fans in denial, The White Stripes have officially disbanded. Of course, there was no ill-will between the duo; only a priority to not tarnish the lightning in a bottle energy they once had with a lackluster effort. There’s no shortage of material from White, who just released a Grammy-winning solo album last year on his label, but there is only admiration for the small band that made so much noise and led to an empire. All hail Jack White and the little Detroit band that could.