August 31, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 5: Showing 'em how it's done in Seattle

I was reminded that the first rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about Fight Club, so unfortunately I can't describe our adventures with the homeless folks of Seattle. We were in Seattle for the same reason we'd been in San Francisco two days before, to see Jack White. I'm going to preface this tale by thanking any and all gods that might exist that I have people to share these experiences with, people who understand the addiction, who don't think I've gone over some sort of edge, who don't think I'm stuck in some sort of fantasy life. I mean, for crying out loud, I function rationally enough that I'm able to work a full time job and support myself. I explore other interests, I try to learn about new and different things that do not involve Jack White, so why am I sometimes made to feel that I have to explain why this man's music and ideas are so important to me? If I hadn't managed to find other people who understand and share my addiction, that would have put me 'round the bend. Having to experience things like this and the feelings that are created by it alone is what forces people into fantasy obsessions. 

So, Seattle. This sums up our two days there pretty well-- 
Photo courtesy of Sharon Harrow

Seattle won the prize for weird, man. But it was a good weird, the sort that keeps you interested and on your toes. Our evenings there had us on our toes, too, quite literally, as the Jack White roller-coaster kept on a rollin', sprained ankle and all.

Watching him these two nights was intense just as it'd been the second night in San Fran because we were unconsciously watching for signs of pain, but Jack was again full of smiles. Whether it was painkillers or pleasure there's no telling, but he seemed to be getting something out of these shows.  One thought that crossed my mind was, with all Jack's talk over the years of having to overcome struggle, could there be some part of him that was perversely enjoying this injury? He's talked of having to create struggles for himself on stage, that often his band-mates don't even know about the obstacles he creates in his own mind. He's talked of fighting his guitars and equipment (most famously demonstrated in the infamous bleeding fingers guitar solo featured in the documentary, It Might Get Loud).  Could having to overcome this painful physical limitation be fulfilling for him in a way that self-imposed or mechanical limitations can't reach? 

Whatever the case, these two shows were stellar. The second night was broadcast live and recorded from the broadcast, so I've got an audio souvenir of it. Actually, I've got audio souvenirs of three of the four shows on this trip, as both San Francisco shows were taped and shared. But the first night in Seattle, the night that contained one of the most beautiful moments I've experienced yet at one of Jack's shows, on a par with the heart-breaking You've Got Her In Your Pocket at Detroit's Fox Theater just last month, was apparently not recorded. There's no reminder of what we experienced that night beyond whatever notes I took and what my friends will be able to retain in their memories for us to talk about in months to come. And that is a damned shame. I don't know how Jack feels about recordings of his shows being shared on the internet, but these broadcasts and ROIOs are very precious to me. They're an archive of his art beyond what's pressed to vinyl, they capture the true brilliance of what he does-- His records showcase his impressive song-writing skills, but it's when he's on stage that we fans can experience the gyroscope of his brain spinning at full force. Of course nothing truly captures the breath-taking quality of actually being there with him in front of you, not even video, but audio and video recordings at least give an idea of how he's able to create an entirely different show every single night. From pulling the setlist out of his head as he goes along, to changing the arrangements of the same songs from one night to the next, to making up songs on the spot, it's through experiencing a multitude of shows, either in person or vicariously, that you come to really understand what he does.  These recordings help to enrich the appreciation of his art.  And for fans in some parts of the world, they're the only way to experience what Jack does live. So while I agree with his tour manager's nightly pre-show injunction that people keep their damned cell phones in their pockets, I'm still grateful to the few folks who slip in recording devices or sneak a bit of video (which apparently no one did in Seattle).  

It was one of those songs made up on the spot that blew us away the first night in Seattle. A little over halfway through the second set, Jack began an acoustic interlude with We're Going To Be Friends leading into Blunderbuss. He had Dominic Davis on aluminum standup bass, Fats Kaplin on mandolin, and Lillie Mae Rische on fiddle all step forward to play in a line next to him. At the end of Blunderbuss, he continued playing and began singing something that at first sounded like an old folk tune, then sounded like it might have been some obscure Bob Dylan number. We glanced at each other wondering if any of us recognized it, but none of us did. It went on for a while, this story that began with a man who did not need to be forgiven, a tale of wandering in a valley and spending time in prison, then ended with a woman who did not need to be forgiven. Through the whole thing, Jack stared calmly at the front of the stage, not looking around or up at the audience at all, seemingly completely focused on the words and melody. Dominic, Fats, and Lillie Mae smiled as they played along behind him, then towards the end drummer Daru Jones picked up a tambourine and Ikey Owens joined in softly on the keyboard and it was so incredibly lovely that I broke down and began crying. When Jack sang the final line of "She doesn't need to be forgiven" and then walked to the back of the stage to switch guitars and launch into a sludgy version of Cannon (the fifth of the night, which was incredible in its own right), I couldn't throw my fist into the air and bang my head the way I'd normally do for Cannon because I was completely overcome and wiping tears from my eyes. After the show and in line the next day, we talked about this song and tried again to wrack our brains to figure out where it was from. After a few days of this, I checked in with a reliable source and found out that it was indeed completely improvised and that, just like the rest of us, the band had not heard a note or word of it before that moment. 

There were many more standout moments from both nights-- An acoustic version of Screwdriver (most of it, at least), an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Top Yourself (it was acoustic, it was electric, it was acoustic again, it was the old version, a slow version, the new version...),  
All show photos courtesy of David James Swanson, from
...James Booker's Papa Was a Rascal (third time I've heard this from him now and I swear that, if he hadn't been born before Booker died, he might be Booker reincarnated) and the White Stripes' Little Room, which ended with him on his knees screaming into an echo mic and then whipping off a hellatious guitar solo for a song that's never contained guitar--

There was the moment before Three Women when he asked the crowd how they were doing and then turned around, crossed his legs, and leaned on the piano with a smirk on his face, just waiting it out to see how loud we could get in response.  Then a few songs later, during Steady As She Goes, he stepped behind Daru Jones on the drum platform, picked up Daru's glasses and put them on, then leaned over the drummer's shoulder until Daru noticed him and cracked up, while Jack continued playing, looking for all the world like Buddy Holly--

And for me, there was a moment at the beginning of Black Bat Licorice.  Jack had his back to the audience facing Daru when the first few notes played. I recognized the riff instantly, gave a whoop and yelled "Thank you!!"  Jack walked to the back of the stage and turned around and I could swear he looked directly at me, then made a sort of "come on" gesture.  For one thing, I wasn't completely sure he was looking at me, when he's at the back of the stage he could be looking at the person next you or behind you for all you can tell, and for another I wasn't sure what that gesture might've meant, so I just stared back and mouthed "What?" with a lift of my chin.  He gave one of his smirky smiles, I tilted my head trying to figure out what was going on, he smiled more, then stepped up to the mic and launched into a nearly perfect rendition of the song, while I sang along with every word.  Whether that moment at the beginning was meant for me or not, who the heck knows.  Right now, days later, it really doesn't matter, but right then and there it made me giddy. 

Now remember, all of this on these two nights was done by a man whose ankle looked like this after he'd sprained it just a few nights before--

At the end of the second night in Seattle, after Jack had blown our minds yet again with Death Letter, Sharon was screaming to the world in general "That is how it's done!! That is how you fucking do it!!!" And she was fucking right.

To be continued in September...

August 30, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 4: Are we in San Francisco?

San Francisco. What can I say about you, San Francisco? My friend Sam kept asking "Are we in San Francisco?" Strange to go to a city and get to know it's homeless population rather than it's culture, history, food, and tourist attractions. But we weren't there for humanitarian purposes. No, we were there to see Jack White. But according to the barista I spoke with during one of my many visits to the nearby Starbuck's, the area around the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium contains the highest population of homeless in San Fran and we were there long enough to have a few interesting experiences with them. If you ever run into Alicia Please around Civic Park, be sure to buy her a cheesesteak and ask her to show you her roundhouse kick.

Oh yeah, there were a couple of very interesting shows, too, and time spent on the roller-coaster.  I found it very hard to write about these shows because I followed them up with two more in Seattle and by the time I flew home I felt as if I'd been to one great big 10+ hour long show instead of four individual ones, so reading this entry and the next might feel a bit like being on the roller-coaster yourself. But I'll do my best to make things clear.

 Jack apparently has a soft spot for San Fran, so he came out very exuberant and full of smiles the first night. And he had lots of surprises in store for us- The first was when he quieted the band and motioned to drummer Daru Jones to keep playing a simple steady beat, then grabbed the mic off its stand, whipped the cord to yank it loose, and stepped from the stage down onto the row of speakers in front of it to belt out Little Room, a simple-yet-profound song that pretty much sums up his philosophy.  It was something I would never have expected him to add to his solo sets, so it was a tremendous treat.  There were also great cover song surprises, such as Charley Patton's Pony Blues, Albert King's Born Under a Bad Sign, and Eddie Cochran's Jeanie Jeanie Jeanie.  And the thing I always hope for with Jack, his interesting streams of consciousness and ramblings-- My favorite of this night was when he was prompting us for the call and response portion of Steady As She Goes, when he asked "Would you help out a poor American who's down on his luck?"  I didn't recognize the quote right away, but Jack soon explained that it was from a Bugs Bunny cartoon, telling us how Bugs' cartoons aren't allowed to be shown anymore because they encourage people to hit each other too much, which he agrees with, but "God damn, Bugs Bunny's a brilliant motherfucker, don't you think?"  I do think, so he got a rousing cheer from me. 

My own personal surprise was that I had come to this show with a message for him. At the Detroit Masonic Temple, he'd said something at the end of Black Bat Licorice-- When he says "Whatever you feed me, I'll feed you right back...", he added a line about "when you call me ugly" (possibly a reference to the "sad Jack" meme that'd recently gotten way too much attention around the internet?). It put me in mind of the White Stripes song I'm As Ugly As I Seem, which has been one of my favorites since the beginning of my addiction. So the day before my trip, I picked up a yard of silky blue fabric and painted a banner that read "You're not ugly, Jack, but I'd love to hear Ugly As I Seem". The first time he slowed the pace of the show, I pulled it out and unfolded it, holding it in front of me on the other side of the barrier so he could see it when he looked in my direction. It didn't seem to attract his attention 
through the next song or two, so I draped the top of it over the barrier so that I could go back to clapping. But then, in a moment between songs when he was standing back from the mic, he stood still with one arm resting across his guitar and the other hand on his hip and stared at the spot right below me, apparently trying to see what it said. I picked it up and held it higher so he could read the full message. After contemplating it for a moment, he got a strange, unreadable expression on his face (captured here, I believe. Edit: In looking at that photo again, I realize he's holding the wrong guitar. But whether it's that moment or not, that's pretty much the same facial expression) then looked up, around and down. I stood there watching him and trying to figure out what his expression and head roll meant, if perhaps he was trying to slow the gyroscope inside his brain long enough to find the words to the song. Then he stepped to the mic and began Hypocritical Kiss. When he got to the second verse, I was tossed back onto the roller-coaster as he sang something along the lines of "I walk and talk and sing on stage for you, I do everything that I can for you". I must have misread the situation, but those lines and that inscrutable facial expression had me paranoid through the rest of the show and much of the next day, wondering if my request had somehow annoyed him.

The next-to-last surprise in store for us was when his guitar tech brought out his specially-tuned Kay guitar. The Kay is normally the signal that the show is almost over-- There are only a few songs Jack plays in the key it's tuned to and one of them is sports arena favorite and frequent show-closer Seven Nation Army. Instead, he flipped out every serious fan in the crowd by launching into Death Letter, the Son House cover that practically defined the White Stripes. We didn't get the whole song, but it was enough to blow many of the minds in the crowd.

But the final surprise of the show, the one that we didn't actually learn about until the next night, came before that and it was that Jack sprained his ankle during the show. In the middle of a blazing Ball'n'Biscuit solo, he stepped down onto the speakers in front of the stage, missed his footing, and fell backwards onto the stage. While still wailing away on the guitar, he pulled himself back up into a sitting position and brought the song to an end, then dropped the guitar, hauled himself up, and limped back across the stage as the curtains were drawn to end the main set. 

But then after the usual break, he came roaring back out into High Ball Stepper and played his usual full-length encore-that's-really-a-second-set. We walked out at the end wrung out and exhilarated and wondering how tomorrow would be different.

There was much roller coaster drama the next day. We were first in line, but the security crew at the venue that day decided it would be fun to tell us how people behind us would rush past when the barrier to the doors was removed.  And then there was a screw-up late in the afternoon that sent 50 or so people over to the Third Man Vault early entry line even though they didn't have early entry. Security tried their darndest to get those folks to move back to the regular line, but of course were ignored by most of them.  I was assured by a supervisor that they wouldn't get in ahead of the regular line (but, of course, they did). It all put us right onto the damned roller-coaster.  Sharon started saying "If Jack wills it, it will all work out". Pragmatist that I am, I changed it to "If we will it, it will all work out" and crossed my fingers.

And as if we weren't anxious enough, 20 minutes before doors opened we found out what'd happened the night before, when Third Man Records posted a photo of a bruise covering Jack's entire ankle and containing half the colors of the rainbow. 

It was an ugly sight, but the caption of the post assured fans that Jack intended to go on that night despite being advised to cancel the rest of the shows on the tour. 

So there was a slightly angst-ridden anticipation in the air as we stood on the rail (yes, we made it despite the security crew's threats and screw-ups) waiting for the second show to begin. Just like at the Detroit Fox Theater show, I hate to see Jack have to deal with things like negative emotions or physical discomfort. It's a natural human instinct to sympathetically want anyone we're dealing with to be happy and comfortable. And yet, in the case of someone like Jack, knowing how adverse conditions can stimulate him, I couldn't wait to see how he would deal with the pain of a sprained ankle. Would he, could he, refrain from jumping and throwing himself around the stage and instead perform standing still? Hah. That thought shouldn't have crossed a single mind in the crowd. There was less hopping up and down than the previous night and he seemed to catch himself a few times before stepping off the stage onto the speakers in front, but beyond that there was no sign of his usual whirlwind being slowed.

This is one of the things that makes Jack White so singular. Yes, there are certainly other musicians, actors, dancers, and athletes who would go on with the show when ill or injured. But Jack not only went on, he acted as if nothing had happened, never mentioning the sprain or giving any indication to the audience that he'd hurt himself or was in any sort of pain. I don't think it was entirely a matter of professionalism, either. I think it was in large part his compulsion to do what he does, and his constantly driving need to overcome struggle. He wanted to play this second show, he was happy in front of the crowd in this city both nights, he just plain wasn't going to let an injury keep him from it.  He not only went on with the show as full of smiles as he'd been the previous night, he gave us treats like the White Stripes' I Think I Smell a Rat and Jimi Hendrix's Manic Depression, and a very surprising hip-hop cover song, Dead Dogs Two, by cLOUDDEAD.

And just to show how completely he can re-work a cover song and make it his own, here's the original--

And this, this was one of the most special treats of all, an entirely improvised song apparently off the top of his head--

So the roller-coaster ride of this second night was not without it's high points. These were the first shows at which I really noticed how subtle and terrific Jack's interaction with his current band is. There were moments when it was also quite endearing, such as when he repeatedly and playfully backed up into fiddle player Lillie Mae Rische until she finally had to climb up onto one of the monitors to get away from him. And his childhood friend-become-bass player Dominic Davis has developed a set of signals with Jack that allow him to help direct song changes to the rest of the band so that Jack can continue singing and playing. At the beginning of the Ball'n'Biscuit solo the first night, when Jack was all the way up at the front of the stage, Dominic came forward to step on the appropriate pedal on Jack's board at the just the right moment in the song. And the end of Seven Nation Army has become a battle of sorts between Jack and drummer Daru Jones, with the two of them seeming to try to outdo each other in power and intensity until Jack finally stops and holds the guitar still, letting Daru unleash on the drums and obviously enjoying watching it just as much as the crowd does. Sometimes he'll grab a spare drumstick and begin bashing at a cymbal as Daru plays, or even use the Kay to bash away. On the second night in San Francisco, he climbed up behind Daru on the drum riser, grabbed a pair of sticks, then leaned down and reached around Daru's waist to beat at the snare drum in front of him, then reached over next to Daru to pound on the tom drum and cymbal, continuing on like this, shifting position around Daru until the two of them became like some kind of giddily grinning four-armed wild beast beating the hell out of the entire drumkit until they brought the song to a crazy crescendo. 

As can be heard there, he closed the show by telling the audience that San Francisco was the first city on the west coast to stand up and cheer for his music and then cried out "And you're still doing it!" And his voice choked up as he said that this wasn't lost on him. The combination of his appreciation for the audience's reaction both nights and the fulfillment of just accomplishing this show on a sprained ankle was a pretty heady thing for both him and us. 

To be continued in Seattle.

August 17, 2014

The difficulty of knowing when to give something your attention

I almost missed a tremendous experience this afternoon.  Wandering the contemporary wing of the Baltimore Museum of Art, I stepped into the room in which they set up revolving video installations. I'd heard the hummed tune coming from the room a few galleries away and was, as always, curious.  Coming around the corner inside the darkened black-walled room I found myself facing a screen projecting 15 pairs of lips humming the same song.  Contemplated it for a moment, then began to decide that there wasn't anything to get out of it and turned to go.  But then I stopped myself, partly because I'd wanted the opportunity to sit down for a bit and partly because I told myself I should give the thing another chance. Worst case scenario, I'd get a little rest and hear a soothing melody.

So instead of plopping down on one of the two benches, I stepped into the farthest back corner of the room and sat down on the floor against the wall facing the screen.  As I watched with eyes flickering from one set of lips to another, my ears began to pick out individual voices and variations of the song.  After a while, I closed my eyes to listen to let it relax me.  Within a few seconds, I realized that the sound had changed.  It had become one voice, one harmonious tone, like a symphony.  I opened my eyes and again, within a few seconds, without even realizing what I was doing, again began picking out unique tones as I watched, the individual voices within the harmony.  At that point, a big, silly, delighted grin spread over my face in the dimness of the room and I sat there alternating between open- and closed-eyed listening.  Various people came in and out of the room, doing what I'd initially begun to do-- Watching for a moment and then turning around to leave.  I noticed a few glance over at me in the times when I had my eyes open and wondered if my smile made them wonder whether they were missing something or if I was just goofy.  After the song had played a dozen or so times, a group had formed in the room and, listening to the whispers of a woman standing near me, it seemed some of them were more interested than others had been. I pushed myself up from the floor and, on my way out, leaned over to the woman who'd whispered and said "Close your eyes and see if you notice that the sound changes".  But I didn't stay to see if she tried it.

At the entrance, I stopped to read the interpretive placard on the wall.  It seems I had vaguely gotten what the work was about, through the metaphor of harmony.  "Getting" contemporary art doesn't happen often for me.  I'm sometimes moved by pieces I see and can find my own meanings in them, but am more frequently left unmoved and/or perplexed.  And moved or unmoved, I pretty much never feel that I "get" it, even with the help of interpretive signage.  So the fact that this piece clicked for me when I thought of it in musical terms means something to me.

This is a small portion of what I experienced--

The full video can be seen here, but unfortunately not in a perpetually repeating loop the way it was displayed at the BMA.

The lyrics of the song are quite lovely, too--

Your sweet expressions 
The smile you gave me 
The way you looked when we met 

Easy to remember 
But so hard to forget 

I hear you whisper 
"I'll always love you" 
I know it's over, and yet 

Easy to remember 
Oh so hard to forget 

So I must dream 
To have your hand caress me 
Fingers press me tight 

I'd rather dream 
Than have that lonely feeling 
Stealing through the night 

Each little moment 
Is clear before me 
And though it brings me regret 

It's easy to remember 
But so hard to forget 

The song was written by Rodgers and Hart and originally sung by Bing Crosby.  But, somehow, as poignant as the words are, that hummed version is so much more affecting than Bing's.

August 2, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part III: It's so cold in the D

The Christian religion takes Sunday as a day of rest.  Jack White fans in Detroit this week took Tuesday instead, as it was the day in between his insane show at the Fox Theater and an upcoming one at the Masonic Temple.  Instead of watching him blow our minds musically, we were going to take in a ballgame and watch him throw out the first pitch.

The game was a much needed respite for all of us, despite the beating the Tigers took in the 7th inning.

Woke up on Wednesday morning battered and bruised, having been rained on and baked by the sun over the last few days, exhausted and ill-fed, having cried a bit and laughed much, and sleeping through the shiveringly cold night in a section of abandoned Detroit under the watchful eyes of the guardians of a Gothic temple of secret Scottish rites.  But, dammit, I loved every minute of it and wouldn't have been anywhere else if you'd paid me to be, even with the damned screaming seagulls at 6:00am.  

Fortunately, the weather warmed up and the people running things at the Masonic helped to make the day extremely pleasant for us, to the point of the general manager of the Temple taking me on a mini-tour of the interior after I asked him about the history and architecture of the place.

As for the show that night, I was initially hesitant to talk openly about portions of my experience, afraid that sharing it widely would diminish it.  It was so very intense and I've found that sharing the things that are meaningful to me sometimes backfires when others don't get it.  But writing is how I process things and part of this experience was very public, so I've decided to go ahead and put it all out there.  

I'm not going to go into extensive detail of the entire show, but it was obvious within a couple of songs that this night was a celebration.  Jack played and played and played, throwing himself into the music and around the stage with absolute joyous ferocity.  In contrast to the show at the Fox on Monday night, it seemed tonight that he wasn't going to stop.  So many moments between songs, he'd get a look on his face when it seemed he was trying not to smile but having trouble containing it.  Other times, the grin was uncontainable.  There were a few quiet moments, such as one after he'd gone side-stage to interact with his kids and then just stood there in contemplation for several moments.  There's no telling what he was thinking and feeling in that moment.  The rest was just non-stop motion and exhilaration.  He played so many songs that fans have been wishing for on this tour. Then during one of those songs, My Doorbell, he came over to our side of the stage, as he'd done several times through the show, and pointed and motioned.  Sharon, who with Eleanor had been to several shows in a row leading up to this one and noticed by Jack at them, was lifted up from behind by our friend Daniel and pulled onto the stage by Jack's road crew, then I hoisted myself up and Eleanor did the same as the roadies reached out for us and Daniel helped out from the crowd side. The three of us ended up at the mic with Jack, singing the last chorus of the song.  As we headed side-stage when it was done, my legs gave out and I ended up on my back on the stage, arms splayed.  Kicked my feet in giddiness a couple times, then hauled myself up yet again to head to the side, where the three of us were allowed to watch the rest of the show with family, VIPs, and whoever else was there.  One of Jack's roadies was in front of me, as he had to be constantly ready to run out and upright any pieces of equipment knocked over by the tornado on-stage, so in order to see I crouched down on my knees next to him, singing along and rocking out with as much abandon as I'd done down in front of the stage.  Then it was over and we were ushered along with the rest of the side-stage crowd down and around into the bowels of the Temple until we ended up in the Grand Ballroom where, again, we ended up milling about with various family, friends, whoever that were there.  Talked with a few people associated with Jack (the excellent show opener Benjamin Booker, Benjamin's drummer, Jack's drummer Daru Jones and his sister, Jack's bass player Dominic Davis, and Dominic's wife Rachael, who is the newest satellite in my Jack White musical solar system).  Eleanor had struck up an acquaintance with Benjamin at the shows I'd missed, so he offered to take us upstairs to the dressing room area to perhaps meet Jack.  We ended up again milling about, this time in a hallway full of family, friends, a few of Jack's fellow musicians from other bands, and whomever.  Got up as far as his dressing room door, where we had a view through the chaos of him saying goodnight to his kids before they were carried out looking very sleepy and grumpy. Then he came out himself, stopping to briefly hug almost every single person in the hallway, including us, as he made his way out.  And that was it. No words exchanged with him, I'm not even sure there was even eye contact, but there was definitely a profound euphoria, more intense than any I'd felt over him before.

But, of course, I couldn't forget I was still on the roller coaster.  When we were hanging out in the ballroom wondering what was going to happen next and talking to people, a thought began to dawn on me that I might have barged into something I wasn't supposed to be a part of.  At the end of My Doorbell, Jack had said to us "Give me a kiss". As my two friends were not only directly next to him but also taller than me, they each leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. As we separated, he turned around and headed back to his amp away from us.  Realizing we were about to be ushered off-stage, I took a couple steps to follow him and when he turned back around and saw me, he leaned down for me to kiss him on the cheek as well (after which was when I fell down on the edge of the stage in gleeful delirium).  And downstairs, when Jack's bass player came over to talk, he greeted Sharon and Eleanor with enthusiastic recognition.  It was then that it began to dawn on me that perhaps Jack's gesture to come up on-stage hadn't been meant for all three of us.  This was the 24th time I've seen him live in four years, including 12 shows on his last tour and three just this week.  With the exception of two seated shows, I'd been up front at every single one.  So he'd seen me many times before, but not with the frequency that he'd seen my two friends recently, and who knows whether I'd registered in his awareness at all at any of those previous shows.  So my thoughts began to turn neurotic as I started wondering if I'd made a gung-ho assumption and barged into a situation I hadn't been meant to be a part of, which led to euphoria mingling with a sick feeling of embarrassment.  The next morning I was still waffling between the two, wondering who that gesture from the stage had been intended for and whether that was why he turned and walked away before I could plant a kiss.  It's just as likely that it was an issue of proximity and him being focused on continuing the show, but neurosis was having a hard time letting me see it that way.  So I get to carry on with my life, dealing with day-to-day things and going to future shows on Jack's tour, never knowing whether I was supposed to have one of the most unique and special experiences of my life or not.

Post-script:  Getting a Coney dog (Lafayette again, not American) into my stomach this morning and then hitting the road for the drive home gave me a bit of a different perspective.  I realized that the stress and exhaustion of the week (and all the ones leading up to it) may well have triggered the neurotic speculation.  What I originally convinced myself was misguidedly barging into a situation I instead began looking at as recognizing an opportunity and going for it. We'll see which frame of mind lasts, and how this roller coaster ride plays out.

To be continued in August.

August 1, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 2: From snark to pathos

Arrived in Detroit mid-morning on Monday, after stopping to sleep for an hour or two along the road from Pittsburgh.  Met Sharon outside the Fox Theater and headed down Woodward Avenue in search of Coney Dogs (Lafayette, not American) and someplace with free wi-fi.  For a change, we weren't lining up hours early for Jack's show that night because the seats we'd paid a bundle for in the pit were assigned, not general admission.  Hah.  Like assigned seats in the third row, on the wrong side of the theater no less, would keep us away from the edge of the stage. 

And what a show it was.  When the first crashing notes struck as a sliver of light became apparent between the pale blue velvet curtains, Sharon and I bolted from our row and slammed ourselves up against the front of the stage directly in front of Jack and his silver lamé pants.  Obviously excited to be playing not only in his hometown but also his first show at the Fox Theater, he started the show at a frenetic pace.  But within a few songs, it became apparent he was pissed off at the number of people in the audience texting or just standing like zombies.  Eleanor later showed me a photo of a girl next to her who'd passed out in her chair. The girl next to me at the stage and the people with her stood stock still through the whole show, not even applauding, as if they were afraid the slightest motion would muss their oh-so-pretty hair or clothes.  I was tempted to call an undertaker to measure the girl for a coffin, she was so dead.  If Jack was seeing even more of that from the stage, no wonder he was so angry.  And was he ever angry.  When the curtain was swept shut after a short set, it almost seemed as if he might not come back.  

But he did, with the curtains being drawn back for another brief set that began with a frenetic Fell In Love With a Girl and ended with Jack shushing the crowd halfway through Hardest Button to Button and sarcastically telling us we were too loud before maniacally shrieking the last verse of the song at the top of his lungs and having the curtains swept shut again as the band continued to play.

At this point we were stunned.  To end the show like that, with none of his usual encore/set closers, with that insane ending to the song... But no, he came slamming back out for a third set that had a roller-coaster up-and-down pace and a relentless emotional intensity even for the softer songs.  At one point, I can't recall which song, he apparently reached out to grab a cymbal just as drummer Daru Jones brought a stick down on his hand.  At the end of the song, he stood at his amps with his back to the audience, struggling to remove the ring he was wearing on that hand. He finally wrenched it off and spun around yelling "Shit!!", then grabbed a glass of what appeared to be whiskey and smashed it against one of his amps.  Through all of this raging craziness, I was right there with him, pissed off at the audience on his behalf, laughing empathetically at his sarcastic comments, choked up and near tears when he chose to express anguish.  His performance of You've Got Her In Your Pocket is a perfect example of the mania of this show, beginning with Jack making a face and mimicking the people in the audience playing with their phones before muttering "Text, motherfuckers, text!" as he walked toward the mic (which didn't make it through the speakers but that I heard clearly), and then finishing the song with heart-breaking poignancy. Sharon and I were both in tears by the end of it.

The show finally really did end three songs later with Goodnight Irene, during which I put my arm around Sharon's shoulder and she reached up to hold my hand as we swayed back and forth.  When Jack stepped to the front of the stage right above us to encourage the audience to sing along with the last chorus, I couldn't give him what he wanted.  I mouthed the words, but kept my voice silent so I could try to hear him un-mic'd, as I had in Omaha, Nebraska two years ago.  

We all walked out of the astoundingly gorgeous theater afterward and I sat on a curb along the street trying to take notes about the show with shaking hands.  I hate seeing Jack frustrated and angry in that fashion, the same way I would sympathetically not want to see anyone feeling that way.  But at the same time, I love seeing him in that state because he takes those terrible emotions and uses them like lighter fluid, fanning his own fire in order to try to build one in the crowd.  As I was processing what'd just happened, I couldn't help but wonder what we were in store for two nights later, when he would be playing again at the Detroit Masonic Temple.  The only thing I felt I could be sure of was that it would be different.  And sure enough, it was.  

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 1: Pittsburgh to Detroit

The road from Pittsburgh was all rain, shale rock, arctic bog, Queen Anne's lace, and herons on the wing.  I was following Jack White, even though he was probably either still in Pittsburgh or on the road behind me because I'd left almost immediately after the show there.

Road-trips are, of course, a great time to think things out, either obsessively or with a greater clarity than usual, depending on one's frame of mind. Thinking about the show last night in Pittsburgh led to exploring my relationship with Jack and his music in a way that's been creeping around in my mind, noticed but willfully ignored until it surged forward along this drive.  

My relationship with him has recently become a complicated one.   His current tour began at the end of May, a week and a half before his new album Lazaretto was released.  The first show was in Tulsa, the "campfire in the desert of [his] mind", site of one of the most wonderful of his shows I've experienced yet (to give that statement some context, last night in Pittsburgh was show number 22 1/4 in just over four years).  I had sworn after seeing him in Tulsa on his last tour that, come hell or high water, I would be there again the next time he was.  So what did he and his business managers go and do? They scheduled this Tulsa show on a day when I was going to be stuck in Las Vegas on the annual business trip from Hell, a trip there was no way in Hell my boss would let me take a day away from.  From the night of that show, when I cried a little bit before falling off to sleep in Las Vegas, my relationship with Jack changed.  For the first time, I felt an aching sadness from the things he did.  

And then Lazaretto was released.  I've already written in detail about how that record affected me, how certain songs hit way too close to home even as my response to the album confused me by swinging back and forth over the course of a couple of days.  Through all of that, I was hearing from friends who were going to the shows that I was missing because of work and my guts began to tie up in knots.  With the first of my own shows not coming up until the end of July, the excitement I've felt in the past over seeing Jack was replaced by anxiety and a terribly ugly jealousy of my friends.  My friend Sam was at a show during which he sat down on the edge of the stage and then rolled off into the crowd, letting people reach out to support him and grab at his hair and she was one of the many who made physical contact with him.  Two others, Sharon and Eleanor, began a run of shows in mid-July that had them right up at the front of the stage for several nights in a row, holding up signs for Jack and having him come over and acknowledge them as he was playing.  Normally I try to be rational about that sort of experience-- What does it really mean when someone like Jack acknowledges your existence? Nothing, really, because you exist as a fully developed human being whether he is aware of you or not.  But at other times I can't deny the thrill that comes from even the most brief interaction with him, whether it's two sentences of conversation in the Vault chatroom or two seconds of eye contact and, if you're lucky, a wink from him from the stage.  So with my emotions already in upheaval over missing shows and from my response to the album, I found myself not wanting to hear about their experiences lest I turn bitter and begin making diminishing comments about them.  I wanted to be happy and excited for these friends, but kept getting caught up in my own self-centered and self-pitying concerns and that in turn made me loathe myself, which led to more self-pity. It turned into a pretty ridiculous cycle.  At a time when I should have been feeling euphoric anticipation, I instead felt like I wanted to throw up and then crawl into a hole.  

Then my own turn finally came.  I met up with Sam, Sharon, Eleanor, and our friend Helen in Pittsburgh for Jack's first show there in several years.  We camped out for hours at the venue so that we'd be first in line, sitting through rain, chilly wind, and then swampy heat and a nerve-wracking line experience in order to get our chosen spots at the front of the stage.  

My memories of the show itself have already become indistinct, but I very vividly recall my reaction to it.  It started out as usual, with an explosion of sound and motion that swept me up immediately.  And yet, as it progressed I started to feel as if I were just going through the motions.  I felt a growing disconnection to what was happening on the stage.  When Jack slowed the pace of the show for the lovely acoustic You've Got Her In Your Pocket, all the emotional upheaval that had been building the last several weeks suddenly came to a head and I began to cry.  When he followed that one up with Alone In My Home, the song on Lazaretto that'd been a punch to my heart, I had to put my head down on the rail and just shut everything out for a moment.

I was almost completely still and insular for the next handful of songs.  When the pale blue velvet curtains were pulled shut after the first set, I almost didn't even applaud and, again, kept having to put my head down to hide the fact that I was crying.  But when the curtains flew open again to a fresh explosion of Blue Orchid, something snapped and it was as if all the confusion and upheaval I'd experienced leading up to and during this show was drop-kicked away over the mountains surrounding Pittsburgh.  I don't know what happened, but I suddenly connected with every song that followed, especially a letter-perfect and incendiary Black Bat Licorice, exactly as I should have, giving myself over with complete abandon.  When the skies began to pour down just as he sang of not being afraid of standing out in the rain at the beginning of Would You Fight For My Love?, it was a joyous thing, instead of something I'd been wishing for to camouflage my tears.

So here's what I thought about after the show on the drive that night from Pittsburgh to Detroit--  I've not had many relationships in my almost half a century of life.  Men have not gravitated towards me, and the few who have were mis-matched, people that I should have had brief flings with and then moved on from.  But they were the only ones so I held onto what little I got from them, believing at the time that it was worthwhile and that I had to make the most of it.  At this particular period in my life, what I choose to make the most out of is what I get from Jack and his music, in lieu of other relationships that I don't seem destined to have.  I've seen other women joke on the internet about him being their "imaginary boyfriend" (Juliette Lewis among them) and I have to admit that what he does in a way does fulfill that sort of role.  His music, watching him perform, reading and hearing the things he talks about in interviews, all summon up emotions that some of us out there wish we could get from the men around us but can't, either because the men aren't Jack or because they just don't exist at all.  (Though the recent essay Jack My Heartby William Giraldi in American Oxford, certainly indicates that men can also have this sort of relationship with Jack White)  Some people might read that and think that it's a sad thing, but it's just what is.   Life is a combination of circumstances and the choices we make.  We can control our choices, but we have limited control, if any at all, over circumstance so we have to get the most out of the situations we find ourselves in.  So I, and others, make the most out of the intellectual and emotional stimulation that we get from Jack's music and ideas.  

So my recent emotions in regards to him have ranged from that aching sadness to intensely ugly, wanting-to-scratch-eyes-out jealousy, bemusement, worry and anxiety, even a little bit of alarm.  Also, though, sometimes at the forefront and sometimes as an under-current to the ugliness and anxiety, there's still been the euphoria, the adoration, and the infatuation.  I've joked so many times about being a junkie for him and his music, addicted to the thrill of him, but it suddenly doesn't feel like a joke anymore.  It's real.  And yet I wouldn't give it up for anything right now, it's become too fulfilling.  So I'm just gonna stay strapped into this roller-coaster ride for now, thank you very much, it's nowhere near the end and I have to see where it leads. You can be sad for me if you want, I'm too busy to care.

Confessions of a Jack White junkie: Introduction

In all the time I've had this blog, I've only ever had one negative comment, to wit:

Jesus Christ. More stupid ramblings of a freakish Jack White fangirl. Will you ever shut the fuck up about Jack fucking White? Do you ever listen, watch, think, say, or do anything that can't be tied to Jack fucking White in some fucking way? Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Geeshie Wiley? Jack White! Keith Richards? Jack White! Charlie Chan? Jack White! We get it: you're fucking obsessed! You seem to think that verbosity and mind-numbing analysis of every little mundane detail somehow separates you from the other fangirls. Well, it doesn't. You're a fucking drone. Shut the fuck up already. Thanks.

At the time, I was dismissive of it because I realize that person's issue is really with themselves, not with my writing.  But right now, what I'd like to say to that person is this-- Fuck you. I write about Jack White because discovering his music four years ago caused a sea-change in my life.  Foremost, it's made me come to experience music in a completely different way.  My musical choices have become like a vast solar system, with his music as the Sun and everything else I listen to now a collection of planets, moons, asteroids, and satellites radiating out from him. Some are related to him directly, some tangentially, and others seemingly not at all but discovered through connections to him.  The way I listen to music has also evolved and become enriched, which I've written about before, because he compels me to pay more attention to what I hear, to learn about it and understand it.  Surprisingly, this more cerebral approach has caused me to feel the music I listen to more profoundly.  And, possibly most importantly, because of him I have a wider circle of friends right now than I've ever had in my life, people I've met through social networking sites dedicated to him, and then spent hours and hours in lines and at the front of the stage with. People with whom I've shared some deeply emotional experiences.

Because of all this, I write about Jack White.  If that or my verbosity annoy you, my anonymous troll commenter, then fucking stop reading my fucking blog and fucking go find yourself a different fucking corner of the internet in which to spew your fucking ire.  Because I'm going to continue writing about Jack fucking White.

For anyone who's still interested, stick around.  Jack's currently on tour and the roller-coaster ride is about to begin.

Part 1: Stage AE, Pittsburgh PA

Part 2: Fox Theater, Detroit MI

Part III: Masonic Temple, Detroit MI

Part 4: Bill Graham Auditorium, San Francisco CA

Part 5: Paramount Theater, Seattle WA

Part 6: Farm Aid, Columbia MD, and Cleveland OH

Part 7: Fenway Park, Boston MA

Part 8: The Fillmore, Miami Beach FL

Part 9: Austin Music Hall, Austin TX

Part 10: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville TN 

Part 11: Madison Square Garden, NY

Part 12: Schottenstein Center, Columbus OH  

Part 13: Fargo Theater acoustic show, Fargo ND