Art by Jeremy D. Larson and Drew Litowitz.
You’d Be A Lot Cooler If You Did.
Alec kind of looks like Shawn Andrews from Dazed and Confused. He was only a few months old when the movie came out in 1993, but he’s a sophomore in college now, so I’m sure he has to have seen it by now, right? I don’t know because I didn’t say this in front of him for fear of him not knowing the movie, which would make me seem like I’m throwing an obscure reference his way right off the bat and/or make him feel insulted that I’m comparing him to a stereotypical ’70s hippie ne’er-do-well, and then I’d have to pull a conversational Y-turn to get back on track.
But his head overflows with thick hair down to his shoulders, he’s got some good facial hair going on, all the ratios are in place; he’s a pretty dude. Most notably, though, Alec is wearing a black peacoat with ¼” rivets outlining his cuffs, side pockets, and lining the inside of his lapel. It’s like chic-punk. Oh, and he’s also wearing red and black twin-tone pants.
“I have three pairs of these pants that I’ve made in all different colors, modeled after Jack’s pants. I watched their live DVD Under Blackpool Lights, and I was like, ‘I gotta do it. I gotta make a pair of pants like that’ ‘cause there was no way I was going to find a pair of pants like that in the store.”
I ask him if he made them after The White Stripes broke up, postmortem.
“I made them before they broke up, in preparation to see them live!” He pauses and laughs through his teeth. “But I never got the opportunity.”
I tell him, “You know who you really look like? Jack White.”
All You Need Is Love. Love Is All You Need.
I’m looking for something with Alec, some, I don’t know, deeper meaning of what it means to love a band, and I don’t know if he possesses it. I don’t know if I possess it, or even have the ability to possess it. I don’t know if it’s able to be fucking possessed. If that all sounds cliche, that’s exactly the point.
It’s kind of how The Who look at love in “I Can’t Explain”. That song feels like the very apex of love, the terminal velocity of a feeling — when words fail to capture it, when music itself fails to capture it, when all art is helpless in the shadow of its beguilement. We have a habit of dismissing this as a remedial definition or as an unwillingness to dig deep within ourselves or as an assumption that someone just doesn’t have the right faculties to describe what’s really going on inside of them. There’s a good reason why Roger Daltrey never sang, “There’s something tautological about love.”
In short, the idea of tautology is to render an argument unfalsifiable by repetition. This self-reinforcing creates an intrinsic truth without context outside of the subject. Our example here would be “Alec loves The White Stripes because he loves The White Stripes.” On the surface, it can sound petulant, or draconian, like all the arguments in your young life that ended in “Because I just don’t want to” or “Because I said so.” Those kinds of responses aren’t necessarily tautology per se; they’re probably covering up some fear or knowledge, like not wanting to admit to your kid that you smoked pot in high school too, because you know exactly what goes on at band practice in Peyton’s basement. That’s unfortunately the context most people take with this kind of case-closed logic.
But if everything else is stripped away, the tautological response serves as the most efficient answer to the hardest questions. We just have to be willing to understand that sometimes the inexplicable can be the greatest form of truth. Writers, artists, people of all walks expend large amounts of energy trying to convince their audience that what they’re selling is truth, because no one buys the tautological argument. It’s the opposite of a flashy think piece or enchanting rhetoric, but just as hard to articulate. Before I sat down with Alec, I wasn’t sure that there was any merit to not having to justify your love. Isn’t that what writing about pop music is all about? We’ve toyed with explaining our tastes with words one through infinity, but perhaps the most private and veracious expression of our taste exists at word zero.
Finding Word Zero
Alec and I are inside a Mexican restaurant in Lincoln Park, surrounded by porcelain tiles with various Hispanic-themed paintings crammed into each square. The salsa-techno is a delicate balance of forgettable and loud, and I’m convinced this Diet Coke has residual bleach agent in it. Good chips and salsa, though.
I asked him here because I wanted to talk to someone who was really in love with a band. I put out an APB through various social media outlets for anyone who obsessed over a band or artist to get in contact with me. I stressed that I wanted to avoid any I Think We’re Alone Now types, but other than that I was ready to talk to anyone.
Alec messaged me via Facebook, “It sounds really arrogant for me to say it here but I would say I am a total super fan of Jack White.” Full disclosure: Alec interviewed me for a documentary he’s making about music festivals, so I had known him only a little bit before. He’s 19 years old, and I feel like I’m talking to a great friend of mine, or like a younger me. He’s polite, energetic, and really eager to talk to me about Jack White. It’s not often I find someone who’s eager to talk about their favorite band though I’m sure it’s because when I talk about bands I love, I qualify everything I say with “I know it’s ughh” and hide my gushing in dumb Twitter riddles.
It’s a breath of fresh air to hear Alec prattle so earnestly about Jack White, like about how he saw “Fell in Love With a Girl” on MTV when he was nine growing up in Winnetka, IL, and remembered the guitar lick years later when he was older, or about how he bought some White Stripes albums and stole other ones from the internet, or about all of his current Third Man Records vinyl. His retroactive adoration is all the more charming, really, since that seems to be indicative of his and my generation’s way of absorbing culture. Alec is so effusive because he missed out on a lot of the initial hype surrounding The White Stripes. He’s only lived out a lot of these moments in his mind, so they’re still the faraway dreams of a fan of a rock star. I can relate, as I recall the only thing that mattered when I was 16 was Led Zeppelin, and now I look down at my late pass to The Replacements and am just thankful that Alec and I are not talking about Caleb Followill.
Alec in his twin-tone pants. Photo by Jeremy D. Larson.
Alec Tells a Little Story About Meeting Jack White
“I went up to MI Fest where The Raconteurs were headlining, and I was filming this documentary, and I saw two buses pulled up. Jack White walks out one of them, and my heart just drops. I’m freaking out, like, he’s right there, he’s right there. And as I was watching him all day, I noticed how he interacted with his fans. He doesn’t snub anyone. He’s not a dick, but he doesn’t talk to anyone long enough to supply them with an image of him. He keeps everything very mysterious, and this air of rockstardom that keeps him interesting.
“All day I had been waiting for the opportunity to meet him, and my drunk friend finally grabbed me by the lapels of my coat and pushed me over to him, so I gotta do it now. I tap him on the back and say, ‘Jack,’ and he turns around and goes, ‘Yeah?’ I go, ‘I’m just a college student and I really wanted to meet you,’ and he says, ‘Ok, nice to meet you’ and turns around, says goodbye to whoever he was talking to, and just walks off. So, I felt like that horrible fan that no one wants to meet. I mean, no one wants to hear that. I was gushing, and I didn’t even get the chance to gush. I realize I fucked that up.”
Alec doesn’t really tell this story with a sense of nostalgia. He’s still crestfallen about this. I’ve never had the chance to meet my idols, and if I did get a chance, I have no idea what I’d say, but I know I’d be in my head as much as Alec. It’s one thing to try to describe what you love to another person, but to describe what you love to whom you love? That would leave me dumb and speechless, too.
Fell In Love With A Boy
I try to hone in on the fundamental differences between Alec and me, especially how we talk about music. I share some of my former legacy acts like Radiohead or Neutral Milk Hotel, each being just as formidable in my formative years as Jack White is for Alec today. He is something of a rockist (mostly, it’s just a 19-year-old’s naÃ¯veté), but there are some walls being built up around him that are already pushing him away from open-minded consideration.
I ask him if his friends listen to Jack White, and he tells me they mostly listen to “techno,” and he had one friend who told him that he was “done with chord progressions and was moving on to noise.” I laugh with him when he says this because far away from message boards and blogs and inside a chintzy Mexican place with a plate full of enchiladas in front of me, that’s a funny thing to say. But I step back for a second in retrospect and think, So what, why can’t he dip and listen to some Merzbow?
“Any other genre I can’t immerse myself in as much as rock music,” Alec explains. “There’s definitely a part of me that wants to be in that scene, that sees myself as a contender, a player. Some songs I just like how they sound.” He’s not a huge fan of The Raconteurs’ Broken Boy Soldiers or Jack White’s latest solo stuff, and his least favorite White Stripes album is, of course, Get Behind Me Satan. He says they don’t have the “intensity” of other White Stripes stuff or The Dead Weather. His favorite JW songs of all time are “Screwdriver”, “Bone Broke”, “Death Letter”, “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground”, and his cover of “Black Jack Davey”. The dearth of tender songs doesn’t surprise me, though The White Stripes aren’t really known for their balladeering. I think about how my favorite Radiohead songs are ballads.
Alec’s love for Jack White is starting to take shape. He talks like it’s all so fresh and new this “blues rock”, all while deifying Jack White like that moment his heart first opened up to a girl. I’m jealous. I ask him what makes Jack White rise above any other idols, and in a moment of supreme clarity, Alec says, “He’s someone to look up to. After looking up to something that he’s done so long, I think I’ve fabricated his personality, and I just want to check it out to see if it’s real.”
Real Feelings Move in Silence Like John Cage
Maybe all the post-structuralists were right: Language is prison. The articulation, unpreparedness, and enchilada-coma factors are not going unnoticed while talking with Alec. It’s not that I’m trying to stump him, or get him to admit that he has no words left. But every time he reaches for something beyond the glow in his eyes and the open smile, he’s like a tilted pinball machine. “There’s something about him,” he says about four times in our conversation. “It’s hard to answer” and “I don’t know how to describe it,” he says twice. Only once he says: “When you love a band, it’s really hard to describe how you feel when you listen to it because only people who feel passionate about it will understand what you’re trying to say.”
The difference between Alec and me is this: He has someone like this, and I do not. Jack White fills every musical need in his life, whereas currently I am in a limbo state, disenfranchised by my own insufferable need to talk about why I like something. For those people who found peace in silence, engaging in heady conversation/trollgazing with friends about your own terminal velocity act would no doubt create those nasty feelings in your gut, like someone had just punched your only kid in the head. People who are silenced by a band should be able to wave a flag or say a secret code phrase (Perhaps finally incorporating “There’s something tautological about love” into pop culture?) that pardons them from the conversation, and then the other party politely understands with a smile and a nod, and then they both go out for malts.
As I orbit closer to things that leave me with an inexplicable depth of feeling, like Oneohtrix Point Never or Liturgy or Steve Reich or The Replacements, I start to talk less about them to other people, else they become sullied with too much analyzation. I stow those feelings away so that perhaps they’ll grow stronger in stasis and hibernation, feeding only off their intrinsic greatness so that one day they overcome me and then there are simply no more words. Until then, John Cage’s 4’33” strikes me as a good approximation of what that feeling may be.
Alec Tells the Last Story
Even if the “why” is nebulous or tautological for Alec, the what, the where, and the when are the most enthralling connections I make with him. Alec just talking about Jack White or The White Stripes and his experiences hold more currency than any justification of his taste.
Outside of the abstract, he talks about how “I’m Finding It Harder to Be a Gentlemen” helped him get through a rough breakup with an unstable ex-girlfriend, where he was in fact finding it harder to be a gentleman every day. He mentions that he met a fellow die-hard fan at an Arcade Fire concert – “someone who finally understands” – and how that bond only grew stronger and how they’ve been good friends ever since. He tells me that his favorite Jack White moment was the riff for “Death Letter” that he played live at the 2004 Grammy Awards and the slide-guitar solo after it. (“When he’s done playing, you see Quentin Tarantino’s face, and it’s complete shock and awe.”) He tells me he was a little attracted to Jack White, and I meet him halfway and admit that I was a little attracted to Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear.
Then Alec digresses on seeing The Dead Weather at The Congress Theatre in Chicago after I comment to him that I didn’t really connect with the emotional tenor of The White Stripes.
“There’s emotion in his music. Absolutely. I don’t cry. I don’t cry very easily. The last time I cried was probably in 5th grade when my cat died. I just don’t do that. And it’s not some ‘I’m a man’ thing. It’s just I don’t ever feel the need to do that. But I did cry when he played ‘Will There Be Enough Water’. I think there’s more emotion than you think in there.”
After he says this, I don’t think there’s anything more to say.
Jeremy D. Larson is Content Director for Consequence of Sound, editor of Aux.Out., and tweets.
Do you love a band? Like, a lot? Do you live near-ish Chicago? Please email me because I want to talk to you.