“I can’t even tell you how much it means for me to be here tonight…so I’m not even gonna bother”
-Jack White, July 31st, 2007
long after I walked offstage as the hired-gun drummer for opening act
Dan Sartain, an assortment of crew and musicians and friends gathered
together and took part in a celebratory, raise-the-glass toast, all led
by Jack White to mark the end of the run of nine shows in the previous
As the crowd thinned, Meg White and I were the last
ones left standing there. Apropos of nothing, cups in hand, not even in a
conversation at that point, Meg said to me, “I think this is the last
White Stripes show.” Confused, I responded “Well, yeah, last show of
this leg of the tour.” She replied “No…I think this is the last White
Stripes show ever” and slowly walked away.
I was dumbfounded. I
had no idea what she was talking about. I had no idea what she meant. I
had no idea what to do. I looked around to see if anyone else heard
what Meg had said, but I was all alone.
Within minutes, the band was onstage.
would YOU do if half of your favorite band told you (and ONLY you) it
would be their last show immediately prior to taking the stage?
and having no better ideas, I went and grabbed two pieces of paper. One
of them a perfunctory, public-facing schedule posted backstage. The
other, more-detailed, sharing much of the same info and privately posted
inside the band’s tour bus.
Just typing that makes me
self-consciously feel like an ass...more preoccupied with the artifact
and ephemera than focusing on the actual feeling of (and living in) the moment. Also, I should’ve at least made the effort to grab a damn camera.
Breaking Down” was an unexpected opening song. Despite being released in
1999, it had only opened a set once before, just three weeks earlier.
The inspiration behind that first opening performance was the band
headlining the Ottawa Bluesfest, being met with newspaper headlines that
asked “Are the White Stripes bluesy enough to headline Bluesfest?”
Seems as Jack’s intention of starting both these shows with the
Robert Johnson classic was to leave no doubt to a skeptical homegrown
audience of armchair connoisseurs or a lazy Canadian newspaper editor
that the band was well-within their powers conveying the blues to the
masses. All that was only further buoyed by Jack later throwing in an
unexpected tease of another Robert Johnson song “Phonograph Blues” to
assuredly placate the ghosts of the Mississippi Delta.
Inspired, one-of-a-kind takes on both “As Ugly As I Seem” and “Astro” now jump out to me as beautiful…each
song's last hurrah from the band that birthed them. Exploratory
adventures the both of them, proving that no piece was ever finished or
finalized or etched into stone. Rather, they were all living, creative
works, changing and adapting over the years and begging to be recorded and shared and analyzed by all of you reading this right now.
began the encore by himself, pouring every last drop of feeling and
emotive vocal quiver into a solo offering of “300 MPH Torrential Outpour
Blues” that was achingly bare. The raw force behind it feels beyond
naked...as if Jack had pulled back his own skin to reveal his truest,
innermost thoughts, particularly when he changed the lyrics on the fly
"See there’s three women in my mind that know they have the answer, but they’re not letting go…
What else is new? I’m the only one that seems to care where I should go”
re-listening to this show for the first time in ages, I feel like only
now have I fully absorbed the enormity of that line. Frankly, it just
hit me like a freight train to the chest. I was caught entirely
off-guard. I couldn’t help but be moved to tears.
that make me feel this show is the audio manifestation of opposing,
equally-powered forces clawing for control of my brain in an
id-versus-ego battle of monumental proportions. On one end I’m mourning,
absolutely fucking hurt that this huge presence in my life, my
occasional reason for being, my family both by blood and by choice…just
ceased to be. And yet at the other end, I am so goddamned lucky that
the White Stripes ever existed at all...that people even paid attention,
that the band was able to make a lucrative career out of their passion,
out of art and that I had a side-stage seat to the entirety of their existence.
These are feelings that have never reconciled themselves. I doubt they ever will.
the completion of a bombastic, career-defining version of “Death
Letter”, Jack poignantly says “Son House, thank you for finally letting
me come home.” House was a passive participant in this matter, having
died in the band’s hometown of Detroit in 1988. But Jack’s comment has
seemingly little to do with any physical structure...what he is saying
is that Son House (and to a larger extent, blues music in general)
provided both he and Meg with an avenue to pursue their artistic vision.
In this sense, home is not spoken in the predominant, noun usage of the
word to describe where one lives, but rather in a more colloquial,
adverbial sense meaning ‘deep, to the heart.’
In short, the blues
is home. The blues provides comfort, the blues provides center, the
blues provides foundation. It provides a manner to express one’s
feelings, both a connection to the past and a path through the future.
the set with Leadbelly’s “Boll Weevil” and the singalong chorus
repeating “he’s looking for a home” only further drives this point,
well...home. The White Stripes were only able to become THE WHITE
STRIPES because of the blues. Able to find their voices, to spread the
word in a way that was seeming antithetical to two white kids born in
Detroit in the 1970’s. Blues was the language, not chosen, but
seemingly divined, to best communicate themselves, to express, to
converse, to paint this masterpiece.
In that same way...we are all
always looking for a home. For where we belong. Where we can be
ourselves. Where we are free to do what we need to do. For a way to be.
For a conduit to something bigger.
Upon the completion of the
set, with a backdrop of Who-like synth arpeggiations singing out into
the night, Jack sincerely says the following...
“I can’t believe
how long it has taken us to get here. Thanks for waiting. Thanks for
coming. Thanks for buying our records. Thanks for buying a ticket. We
love you very much. Thank you. God bless you Son House. God bless you
Robert Johnson. Thank you so much.”
I can think of no better
epilogue for Jack to punctuate the White Stripes last-ever live
performance. Each thought a simple sentence that, upon closer
inspection, opens up to a wider meaning...not just spoken to these folks
in suburban Memphis on a Tuesday night. Rather, they speak to all their
fans across the world. About the journey. About patience. About action.
About appreciation. About presence. About gratitude. And ultimately,
about the blues. Which is, arguably, all it was ever about.
intervening twelve years I’ve had countless conversations with Meg
White. And I have never once, not for a moment, even considered asking
her what was going through her head that night in Mississippi. To me,
she has found her home and that is all that matters.