If you’re in your 20s, you’ve undoubtedly already had that one-of-a-kind relationship, the one you called the greatest love of your young existence. It’s the one that involved the one person who changed your worldview, made you worship them, did all these amazing things with the greatest of ease, and yet were totally yours and super approachable.
And much like that beloved relationship, which either imploded violently or broke part almost poetically, The White Stripes have come to a close, announcing on February 2nd that the pairing between Meg and Jack White would end. For many, the news of the band’s split will come as a passing moment of defeat, another good band lost to the throws of everyday life. But for fans, the death hits closer to the heart muscle than most any other endings or tragedies. To a whole cross-section of people, many of whom work right here at CoS, the end of the band means more than free time for Jack White or a chance to listen to De Stijl for an entire day (which is going to happen anyway); it means rock music, nay music as a whole, has changed indefinitely.
Beginning with their debut self-titled record in 1999, spanning the likes of White Blood Cells and Elephant, and on into 2007’s Icky Thump, the duo made gigantic strides in the world of music. Riding the wave that was the garage rock revival, The White Stripes’ music was just as simple and grungy as the likes of The Strokes or The Von Bondies, but it transcended the confines of the genre by being so much more. Stripped to the core and as minimalist as possible, the simplistic drumming of Meg White kept the steady rhythm for the wild guitar antics and virtuosity of Jack White. It was country, it was punk, it was blues, it was gospel; whatever it was, it rocked hard and quick and true. Every note was important, yet each sound created was free to interpretation.
Despite the heavy vibes and dark undertones, the band also had a sense of humor with their overall creative output. From a secretive back-story (no, they aren’t siblings; take a moment to wipe the egg off your face) to an appearance on The Simpsons, The White Stripes knew the power of being aloof, which only made the band all that much more appealing. The black, white, and red clothing was a definitive stance that this was all a show and that theatricality and a slight wink could go hand-in-hand with truly meaningful music. It meant that if things got a little weird, that doesn’t mean people have to react with indifference. Songs like “Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground”, “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues”, and countless other cuts from their catalog were nonsensical, yet they spoke to people with their passion, their openness, their dedication to being unique and standing tall despite any eccentricities. They were odd in a time when rock took itself too seriously, continually upping the ante and showing the world that the geeks, dweebs, and underdogs of the world have a place in the sun and that life can still have validity if you just learn to have a little fun. Even as they rose above other acts, cementing their legacy as actual rock stars, they never got any less absurd, turning up the notches of their quirkiness with releases like Get Behind Me Satan. With an album based on the Temptation of Jesus and the pair decked out in ‘40s garb, not to mention a sound that shifted slightly, the album’s initial chart success that other efforts didn’t quite reach made clear the music world’s particular love for the band: being true to yourself is the most rock star thing you could ever do.
It’s safe to say that in recent years, though, the band did ride on their previous successes. From White’s claims that working together again after their last LP would be strange to hints of a reunion in the pages of Vanity Fair, the last few years for The White Stripes had been one where perhaps it was clear that, although an integral part of the lineup as Meg White may be, Jack White had gotten too big for the confines of his most basic and beloved of musical projects. But unlike other bands who rose to fame in the lackluster decade that is the 2000s, The White Stripes are ones that can still be cherished. In a world where artists who rose to fame post-1999 have to continually generate new music or face extinction in the hearts and minds of their fans, The White Stripes are one of the few acts who can ride off into the sunset peacefully, secure in the knowledge that their sounds will continue to entertain fans and keep them constantly satisfied with the endless hours of sonic gold the duo unearthed.
After telling a friend about their break up mere moments after it occurred, their response was that as sad as it was, Jack White will have “12,000 projects to focus on.” As true as it may be, that sentiment, shared by a fairly sizable chunk of popular culture followers, speaks volumes about the segment of the population who would care in any emotional direction regarding their break-up. As a band, they always belonged to us, and while feelings may have changed over time, be it a further intensification or an absolute chilling, there’s no denying that The White Stripes will only happen once.
Thanks for being our friends, guys.
The White Stripes’ 5 Greatest Moments:
5) The White Stripes Make A Trip To Springfield
Always a beloved and popular show (even if the whole thing started to suffer in later seasons), The Simpsons got a shot of cool when Meg and Jack White cameoed to perform “The Hardest Button to Button”. It’s a good thing that trash barge floated by in time.
4) The White Stripes Head North
Lots of bands have played our neighbors to the north; no one, though, has played Canada like The White Stripes. From secret shows to gigs in bowling alleys, their Great White Excursion was documented every step of the way for their Under Great White Northern Lights tour documentary. Those Canadians have all the luck.
3) Conan O’Brien And The White Stripes Are Best Friends
A bit on the aloof side, there’s one force in the late-night TV world that has drawn back the band countless times: Conan O’Brien. Time and time again, the band (and later Jack White himself on O’Brien’s other late-night endeavors) showed just how much they rocked. Plus, turns out they’re pretty funny to boot.
2) A Public Falls In Love
There’s no denying The White Stripes are creative; no other video they’ve done, though, highlights that fact better than “Fell In Love With A Girl”. With a rocking soundtrack, great stop-motion animation, and a boatload of Legos, no one’s done more with less. Or been quite as freaky.
1) The Seven Nation Army Takes Hold
Everyone has their favorite White Stripes sound; as far as pure impact goes, however, there’s only one contender for the heavyweight crown of awesomeness: “Seven Nation Army”. No other cut from them had as much success and yet still succinctly summed up their sound and sensibilities. It appeared on countless best-of lists, topped pop charts, and even stood as anthem for the Italian teams’ 2006 FIFA World Cup victory. All we know is that guitar riff rules.