September 24, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 8: All good things must come to an end

So there I was, all by myself.  Stretched out in my camp chair, trying to snooze, waiting for Sharon and Sam.  Instead of driving to meet my buddies, I had flown into Miami Beach and was sitting there alone in front of the Fillmore staking out our spots while they drove down from Jacksonville, where they'd seen Jack White perform the night before.  

In Jacksonville with Helen but without me. Photo courtesy of Sharon Harrow.

Of course, I was unhappy about having missed that show due to poor planning on my part, especially when they finally arrived and began letting slip little details about it, but for a change I wasn't going so far as to eat my heart out over it.  We ended up having too much fun together for that.

In Miami with me. Photos courtesy of Sharon Harrow

I was also surprisingly not eating my heart out over the fact that these two shows in Miami would be my last for the foreseeable future. Writing this a few days after, I'm just waiting for delirium tremens to set in (especially since Sharon, Helen, and Sam were at the last show of this leg of the tour at the same time that I was typing), but so far, so good.  

The other thing that struck me as strange was that I didn't have the usual butterflies in my stomach leading up to these shows. It hit me the first night while leaning on the rail waiting for the show to begin that instead of excitement, I was feeling something that seemed strangely like relief. That's not to say I wasn't excited for the show, because I transformed into the usual bouncing banshee once Jack hit the stage.  In that moment, though, I was just... calm.  There had been no severe line angst that day and, being perfectly honest with myself, I had to admit to looking forward to getting a break from the emotional roller-coaster of the last couple months.  We would all be on hiatus after this week, as the only dates Jack had scheduled for the rest of the year were in Mexico, the U.K., and Europe and there have been no hints as to when anymore will be announced.

But before that hiatus, I had two more nights with him.

As usual, it started with this (the irony of someone watching Lalo's injunction to not watch the show through a 3 inch screen can't be missed)--

The first night was a little on the strange side, with three sets like at the Detroit Fox show. But the feeling of this one was completely different from that one.  The crowd at this show was rowdy, even slightly obnoxious in spots, with a bit of pushing and shoving going on around us (nowhere near as bad as Cleveland, though, at least where I was standing), but Jack seemed to be enjoying their response to him.  He made a lot of eye contact with people in the front, including us, much of it accompanied by that infectious smile.  So we were confused when the curtain closed after a relatively short set that included standouts like a nice long introductory High Ball Stepper, the rarely heard (though this was the third time for me) I Think I Smell a Rat, a more complete John the Revelator tucked into Cannon than I'd heard before on this tour, and a completely improvised, unnamed song. But then the curtain swept open again and the crowd went nuts to Fell In Love With a Girl.  This second set included a very sweet Same Boy You've Always Known, and then the curtain swept shut again after We're Going To Be Friends.  Very strange to end a show on such a mellow song, which left us confused all over again.  But the show didn't end then, because there was yet one more set of just three songs, all blazing ones-- Icky Thump, Freedom at 21, and Seven Nation Army. And unlike Fenway, this crowd knew how to do a fucking Seven Nation Army chant. (More irony, though, with this person filming everyone else filming the song. But, of course, I'm ironically grateful that they did.)

Show photos courtesy of David James Swanson

What usually happens when he hangs the guitar from the mic stand (this will make sense further on)

It was a damned good, high energy show, but something felt a little off and we had no good ideas of what it might have been.

But if the first night was a little strange, the second night was... well, I'm still not sure what adjectives to apply to it. In talking about the Fenway Park show, I mentioned Sharon and I finding each other afterward and wondering "What did we just see?"  This show yanked the same response from us, but expressed ecstatically instead of with bemusement.

Let me preface this by stating that I never in my life thought I would attend a Jack White show during which he performed sitting down. The man just has too much energy. He may not always spin around the stage like a tornado, but even standing still you have the feeling that he could begin whirling at any moment. But this show was proof that you just cannot ever have any kind of assumption or expectation where Jack is concerned.  

The only other time I know of anything similar to this happening was at a private party at end of the 2010 Dead Weather tour, late at night after the band performed on the David Letterman show. Jack apparently got into a mood and exploded at the crowd and when video surfaced a few days later, fans at one of the message boards exploded over the things he said.  Considering my own issues with temper and snark, none of that bothered me.  If anything, hearing of incidents like that makes me identify with him more strongly because I understand where that sort of shadow stuff comes from.  No, what bothered me  about the videos that popped up from that night was seeing the state he was in when he came out from behind the drum-kit to play guitar on Will There Be Enough Water.  He started out by sitting heavily down on the front of the drum riser with his guitar and then ended up propped up against the speaker cabinet at the side of the stage for support when he wasn't at the mic singing or at his pedal board for a solo. I found it very disturbing to watch, much more so than his displays of temper.  His playing wasn't affected, the solos he wrenched out were as searing as ever.  But was it exhaustion, illness, drunkenness, all of the above, or something else that made him unable to stand without support? I don't know and never will.  But I know it wasn't the Jack that usually takes the stage in front of a crowd. 

But this night was not like that.  

It started out as tempestuously as any other show, with Dead Leaves leading into High Ball Stepper leading into Astro leading into Sixteen Saltines. The first slow moment was a lovely You've Got Her In Your Pocket, but then two songs later the energy ratcheted back up again with Lazaretto, Just One Drink, and Black Bat Licorice.  And then things took an entirely different direction.

Fixing the pompadour, something he did several times throughout the show

After Alone In My Home, Jack decided he wanted to talk to his friends, meaning us, the audience. He's done that a lot this tour and the media has made a big deal of his "rants".  In return, he's made a big deal at recent shows of the media's big deal of what he considers "just talking to his friends", which is how he described it at Cleveland.  He also talked at Cleveland about how he feels he should end everything he says (even phone conversations with his mother) with "But you know I'm just joking".  This night in Miami was a perfect example of how subtle his humor can be when he gets going.  He began by asking his guitar tech, Abraham, who had already been dealing with multiple instrument issues, to find him a stool, one like stand-up comics use with the rungs at different heights so you can prop your feet in different spots (yes, he was that specific).  While Abraham went off to search, Jack began pacing around the stage with mic in hand, introducing the band.  I can't remember all of the intros, but by the time he got to Fats Kaplin and began telling us how he'd mowed Fats' lawn in the 80s, I was laughing out loud.  Abraham came back with a drum stool and set it by the mic stand, only to be told by Jack that it was too short for someone as tall as he is.  Off went Abraham again, and Jack took the opportunity to tell us about the public school tube amps he's been using this tour, explaining how they were once used for the sort of announcements principals make in school and that he bought all three for $150 and then checked on eBay the next day to make sure that was a good deal because that's what you do these days (I've actually heard elsewhere that they cost closer to $18,000 apiece) and that the other thing they're really good for is as guitar amps. 

Edited a couple weeks later: And God or whatever's above, please bless the young girl who broke the rules and recorded those band introductions. Obviously I mis-remembered the order of some things, but that really doesn't matter. What matters is this--

Here's the same from another, closer angle--

At some point, back comes Abraham with a taller drum stool and down sits Jack at the mic with his Gibson Army-Navy acoustic guitar (Or was it the Gibson L-1 acoustic? He asked for that to be brought out at one point). He was like Goldilocks, though, because this stool wasn't quite right either. After asking the audience if it was alright if he crossed his legs, he went ahead and did a song and then got Abraham back out so that he could very earnestly and lengthily clarify what he wanted.  I couldn't hear what he was saying but Sharon did and told me later that the drum stool apparently "was not representative of the proper form".  Off goes Abraham yet again and this time he scored with just the right form of stool.  At this point Jack was able to prop his feet the way he'd wanted to all along and he launched into a conversation of how sugar is bad for you, but so are artificial sweeteners and Stevia is supposed to be good for you but now the latest thing is Sorbitol and could "you fucking hipsters make up your minds" and get back to him and by this time we were laughing our asses off as he launched into Sugar Never Tasted So Good.

None of this slowed the show down a jot, just made it very, very different. His body might not have been moving around while he sat at the mic for that handful of songs, but the gyroscope in his brain was spinning full blast and he had us fully engaged with the dryness of his humor and wondering what the hell was going on.

In contrast to the previous night, Jack sang most of the songs of this show with his eyes closed.  But there was one moment, when he stood up from his stool to take a bow at the end of Blunderbuss, when he looked down at the people in the front and his eyes traveled from center-stage across the row outwards and I swear they stopped on Sharon, Sam, and me as the stagehands gradually pulled the curtain closed in front of him.    

He was back to electric guitar and on his feet for the second set, though definitely not as active as usual. But while his energy may have been a bit lower, his intensity wasn't. And there were other moments when the gyroscope went off in whimsical directions, like the minute or so he spent adjusting the guitar mic at his stand, twisting it one way and then another until it became clear he was just playing around with the thing and not at all concerned with getting it into the right spot, and at the end of the show, when he draped his guitar strap from the mics and then began wrapping the guitar and strap around the booms with a little grin on his face, leaving the guitar balanced atop this construction, watching it sink a little without dropping while feeding back crazily as he and the band lined up for their final bow.  All of these moments made for the most strange and wonderful show.

In talking about it afterward, we came to the conclusion that the ankle he sprained in San Francisco had not healed as well as it appeared at the first few shows on this leg of the tour. This could also explain why he was less active at Fenway Park the previous week, when I thought the issue was a lack of connection with the crowd. Whatever the case, there was no lack of connection this night and we saw him perform in a completely unexpected way.  It left me giddily high in just the way I love so much and when we walked out of the theater into the beginning of a drenching rainstorm, the last thing I wanted was the protection of an umbrella.  I wanted to feel everything-- euphoria, whimsy, electricity, rain, everything.  This is why I do this.  This is why I'll be damned if I'll give up on the addiction. 

When the roller-coaster ride will continue is up to Jack.  

(But here's where it began: Introduction)

September 19, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 7: Strike three, Boston, yer outta there!!

The roller-coaster hit a trough this morning as I headed north on 95 past Baltimore on the way to Boston.  I'd been cranky and argumentative in internet conversations the previous evening, but became truly ugly as soon as the car got into rush hour traffic.  Things came out of my mouth directed at other drivers that could've made a sailor not just blush but cower.  I know how easily I become ugly like this, it's a trait that runs through both sides of my family and it used to be much more constant in me.  Discovering both Buddhism and Stoic philosophy several years ago helped me to learn to watch for it, but ten hours of sleep in four days could lower anyone's resistance to irritation and I'd also woken up this morning with the early symptoms of a cold.  So while that couldn't excuse the stuff that kept going through my head, it at least explained why it was happening.  Seeing myself become this way reminded me all over again why I identify so strongly with the song I'd requested from Jack that first night in San Francisco.  While the song is not specifically about these things, the title alone always reminds me of the pettiness, selfishness, rage, jealousy, and condescension I struggle with so frequently, much of it driven by a shadow need for recognition and attention that I've only recently truly acknowledged.   I queued up the White Stripes' Get Behind Me Satan and set I'm As Ugly As I Seem on repeat from the Delaware border all the way into New Jersey, letting the softness of that voice and guitar soothe me as much as possible (live version from the Stripes' appearance on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic, since the album version doesn't seem to have been slapped up on YouTube)-

"I'm as ugly as I seem, worse than all your dreams could make me out to be..." While listening to that song and the rest of that album did calm my road rage, it also caused me to begin wallowing in self-loathing as a response to the anger.  When I look at myself in that state, all I can see is a bitter, vicious hag and who could love themself in such a form?  But it was too early in the day for wallowing and tears, my makeup had to last all the way through that night, so Satan and Ugly were replaced with Lazaretto and Black Bat Licorice in an attempt to perk up both my mood and energy.

One of the main things I've learned from Buddhism is the concept of right thought, part of the Eightfold Path, which is not about controlling emotions and thoughts but about catching ourselves before we react habitually in unconstructive ways, taking the time to look at the situation we're in to see if it warrants such a reaction or if the reaction is really being driven by other things going on in our own mind.  Stoic philosophy takes a similar tack.  I think most people think of stoicism as being a grit your teeth, grin'n'bear it sort of attitude, but the philosophy is similar to Buddhism in that it requires you to look at your actions and reactions and think about them.  One of my favorite quotes from Marcus Aurelius is one I should have tattooed inside my eyelids, so that all I'd have to do when I needed to be reminded of it would be to close my eyes-- 

Do not disturb yourself by picturing your life as a whole; do not assemble in your mind the many and varied troubles which have come to you in the past and will come again in the future, but ask yourself with regard to every present difficulty: 'What is there in this that is unbearable and beyond endurance?' You would be ashamed to confess it! And then remind yourself that it is not the future or what has passed that afflicts you, but always the present, and the power of this is much diminished if you take it in isolation and call your mind to task if it thinks that it cannot stand up to it when taken on its own.

I have no problem with being angry, anger can be constructive.  But the sort of irrational rage I let loose in the car this morning is not.  I can accept it in myself to a small degree, but I have to constantly watch and be ready to reel it in when it goes too far.

Self-loathing is just another habitual negative response that's no more constructive than those directed outwardly.  Another tenet of Buddhism is compassion, not just for others but for ourselves.  We have to be just as understanding and patient of our own weaknesses as we should be of those of other people. Such weaknesses are something to work on, not something to condemn.  We need to work on them because these emotions are all very productive, they breed tremendous amounts of negativity. But they're not constructive, you can't learn anything from them.  Unless you can catch yourself, step back from them, and observe them.

Whoa, wait a minute... What's going on here?  For a moment there I almost forgot that I'm supposed to be an obsessed Jack White fan-girl, er, I mean junkie.  Who do I think I am getting all verbose about philosophies and stuff?  Gotta get back to the program! 

And snideness is yet one more unconstructive reflex.  Oops.  So anyway, I was heading north on 95 to Boston today to meet up with Sharon and see Jack fucking White perform at the Bleacher Theater at Fenway Park.  Made it through the morass of interchanges that are the NJ/NYC area to find myself admiring one beautiful Art Deco bridge after another along Connecticut route 15 and then the hints of color in early-changing leaves along I-90 in Massachusetts.  And there was a whole 'nother cast of characters joining Sharon and I today, people we'd not seen since Jack's Blunderbuss tour two years ago. So I had much to look forward to.

One of the coolest things about the Lazaretto tour is how Jack's mapped it out to coincide with his recent dive into baseball.  From attending games to taking batting practice to visiting museums of the sport, to throwing out the first pitch at a Tigers game in Detroit, it's obvious that he's gone deep into the history and minutiae of baseball the way he seems to with everything that interests him.  So it had to be a huge deal to him to perform at Fenway Park in Boston, one of the few historic ballparks left.  When I scored my ticket, I half jokingly said to anyone who would listen that, at the end of Seven Nation Army, I wanted Jack to jump off the stage of Bleacher Theater, lob a left-handed homer with the Kay (he didn't have to make it over Fenway's scoreboard, dubbed the Green Monster, though it'd be an extra thrill if he did), then run the bases.  I would scream my throat raw if he did something like that. But it was not to be.  I should have been tipped off early that the night would not be at all what I anticipated when Sharon and I grabbed a pair of hot dogs on the concourse.  Most bland dog I've ever eaten.  The minor league ballpark in Frederick, Maryland has better hot dogs than Fenway.  

An incident with the tour photographer on the concourse after we'd finished our dogs left me again feeling embarrassed that I'd barged in on Sharon's thing. She's been to twice as many shows on this tour as I have, in part because she has a job that allows her to coordinate business travel with show dates.  Not everyone has such a convenient situation. But she's also admitted to putting herself into debt with all this travel and is incredibly single-minded about doing what it takes to get up there on the rail, so while I'm ridiculously envious of her I also admire her dedication.  We've been great partners at the shows we've been to together, accomplices with a common goal.  We've had tons of fun in line and very emotional experiences together in front of (and on) the stage.  But as I see her being acknowledged by Jack's crew, demon jealously keeps rearing up and making me make comments I shouldn't to try to feel that my dedication lives up to hers.  It's that need for recognition and attention that I mentioned above. But where anger-driven feelings make me picture myself as a vicious hag, these feelings of jealousy cause me to see myself as a petulant little child. I can't deny that the silly little fan-girl in me is pining for Jack to to see and acknowledge my devotion.  The rational side of me understands that's never going to happen. Not only is it never going to happen, it doesn't need to happen.  Life will go on and be just as fulfilling without it.  I've been in one-sided relationships before, in which the other person expected me to share their interests but didn't share mine and in which it felt I was loved for how I made that person feel rather than for myself.  I swore I'd never be in a relationship like that again and, in fact, that's part of what led to my recent Facebook friend list clean-up--  I don't even want "friend"ships in which I comment on other people's posts and they never comment on mine.  And yet here I am with Jack, in the most one-sided sort of relationship anyone could ever hope to have. Incidents like the one this evening, the ones that have left me feeling embarrassed for my attempts to connect, make me wonder why I bother.  But who am I fooling?  I know exactly why I keep reaching out, babbling incessantly in the Third Man Vault, on message boards, here in a public blog, needing to be right in front of him at shows to be seen as well as to see--  Because the fan-girl addict will never give up wanting to be acknowledged.  She and the rational side battle over this, but the rational side often ends up indulging her because it realizes that we've rarely in our life been so swept up and moved by anything as powerfully as by Jack's music. When a tour's going on... forget about it. The rational side may as well go take a nap. 

And I know that I'm not alone in this craving. The majority of fellow fans I've spoken to want to meet him, even if it's just for an autograph or hand-shake.  There are always people at shows hovering by the tour bus, waiting for an opportunity.  What's behind this craving?  I tend to shy away from hanging by the tour bus, I've had that experience before with rock stars I admired and it was anti-climactic, so I have trouble understanding why such brief and often hectic encounters are so important to people. And I'm honestly not even sure that I want to actually meet Jack. As I said, I've had that opportunity with other people like him and it's never once turned out the way I imagined it might.  A couple of the experiences have been decidedly negative.  I got to know one of my dearest friends when she stumbled across my blog and contacted me with a story of how she and her grandson had written to Jack and received a letter from him in reply.  She's shown me this letter and it's a beautiful thing.  It's brief, but he made the effort to touch on every subject they'd written to him about.  While I'd be amazed if he would remember writing that letter, to me something like that is a much more meaningful connection than the five-second hand-shake, "Your music means so much to me", "Thank you very much" encounter by the tour bus.  For some people, though, that five seconds is all they need to be thrilled right down to their socks.  

And what I'm talking about here really applies to any musician, actor, athlete, or celebrity that people revere.  Why do we all need this so much?  Is it an altruistic impulse, do we want to be able to give these people the gratification of knowing that what they do is meaningful (might have to question that in the case of some celebrities) and touches people ?  Or is it a more selfish desire to have our own existence elevated by their acknowledgement? I've seen people in the Third Man Vault chatroom who've gotten a response from Jack in chat gush after he'd left that, verbatim, "I'm so excited, Jack White knows I exist!"  Is the motivation for this need some combination of the altruistic and selfish?  Is it an individual thing, varying from person to person?  Interesting stuff to think about.

Getting back to the show...  I was initially very upset about my seat in Bleacher Theater, all the way over at the end of the first row far from the side of the stage, and concerned about being on a step with nothing in front of me to hold onto for balance as I danced and jumped about.  Not to mention being all alone and far from my friends, who were all one section over and spread around.  Ended up rocking my ass off anyway, despite only being able to see drummer Daru Jones from the back and bass player Dominic Davis barely at all.  And I watched Jack all night trying to engage the group of people directly in front of him, a bunch who sat for much of the show, who kept leaving to get beers, and some of whom several times stood up and turned their backs to him while talking to their friends.  I kept wanting to run down the row and shake those people, to make them turn around and realize what they were missing. I don't know what else he was seeing in the crowd, but that group definitely caught his attention.  At least once, he stepped to the front of the stage and stared fixedly at them, much like he stared down the camera man at Merriweather Post Pavilion two nights before. And I know from Cleveland just how penetrating yet impenetrable that stare is, but it seemed lost on that group (I later found out they were apparently some of the owners of the Red Sox and their wives).  And it seemed that they weren't the only part of the audience with better things to do, because he didn't even bother to invite the crowd to sing on any of the songs that are perpetual crowd sing-alongs-- Not on Hotel Yorba, not on Hello Operator or Steady As She Goes, not even the line in Seven Nation Army about the Queen of England and all the hounds of Hell. But the most unbelievable thing, for me at least, was when it came time for the Seven Nation Army chant.  This is the chant that can be sung even by people who have no clue who Jack White is because they've heard it in stadiums and via television broadcasts of sporting events for the last several years.  But could Boston pull it off in their own venerated sports stadium with Jack and his Kay guitar there on the stage right in front of them?  Fuck no.  I heard two repetitions of it and then it died away.  Jack stood in front of his amps with his guitar, waiting for the response that most audiences wait all through the show to be able give to him, and Boston couldn't muster it.  He didn't even bother to clap and gesture for the crowd to join him as he usually does, didn't bother to spur them on, just finished the song, then thanked the crowd, stressing over and over that through the night it had been "Just you and me!  Just you and me!!" I couldn't tell whether there was sarcasm in his tone or if he was trying more obliquely to let them know that they'd not held up their end of the arrangement or if, bizarrely, he'd felt a connection despite the lack of one that I'd observed.

Through it all, even though I'm not sure he or the band saw me at all, I danced and sang and jumped and cheered as usual (and only fell off of my precarious spot on the ledge a few times), feeling like a wallflower at the prom, dancing by herself and watching the Prom King have a lousy experience with the cool kids, just knowing I could show him a great time if only he'd come over and ask me to dance.  But alas, it wasn't to be.  I continued dancing by myself and he continued to be stuck with the kids who were too cool to clap.  During the break between sets, I suddenly heard a voice over my shoulder say "We've been watching you and you know how to enjoy a show!  We want to dance with you!!"  I turned around to find two young girls whose seats were two rows up and across the aisle who'd hopped down and squeezed in next to me.  I said that if security would let them stay, it was cool with me. One of them was convinced that we'd be able to get down into the empty VIP section in front of the stage when the show continued, and I didn't bother to tell her I doubted it highly. Sure enough and sadly, security chased them back to their seats when Jack and the band came back for the second set.  I would have enjoyed their company.

This is the most subdued performance of Hardest Button that I've experienced yet, fourth song to the end of the show.  Fiddle player Lillie Mae Rische is more animated than Jack is.

Compare that to this bit of the ending of Lazaretto, four songs from the beginning of the show--

The difference in his energy is notable and, again, weird to me.  Jack's typically the opposite, amping up himself and the crowd more in the second half of the show than the first. And yet despite the weirdness of the crowd response and its seeming effect on his energy, this was not a bad show. And I certainly hope that the musicians on stage got something out of it. Just like at Cleveland, the negative aspects were balanced by many high moments--

Each of the band members emerged one at a time from a door in the Green Monster and headed from there to the stage, with Jack making his entrance last.  It was a brilliant idea. Wish this person had caught his entire jog across the field, with the pouring of about half his bottle of champagne onto the grass.

One of my favorite moments was a version of Black Bat Licorice that could've been re-titled Black Bat Gibberish, and I do not mean the word gibberish in any derogatory way.  Jack started inserting mostly unintelligible verses in between the regular ones, causing me to throw up my hands as I tried to sing along and yet giggle at the same time. It reminded me very much of the second show at Roseland Ballroom back on the Blunderbuss tour, at which he pretty much completely lost the lyrics of the first song and flubbed another one shortly into the set, but then later in the evening made up an astoundingly beautiful song on the spot.  And, dammit, I love this song in any form, it's one that just speaks to me.  Loved the slight twist to the final line-- "Whatever you feed me, I'll feed you right back. But it will do me no good."

Did I say something about snideness being unconstructive...?  Just never you mind, I hope Jack never removes his King of Snark crown. He uses it so delightfully to make a point.

But despite these moments, there was still that seeming lack of connection with the crowd. My buddy Steve, seeing him for the second time this tour, said he thought Jack was just tired.  But Sharon and I have seen him at so many shows and this felt different. I mean, the man played on a sprained ankle with more energy than he displayed at some points in this show.  Was he, like me, just exhausted?  Or was he getting a vibe from the crowd similar to the one I picked up?  Hell, for all I know, he had the flu that night. But when Sharon and I found each other after the show, we looked at each other and said "What just happened?"  One of us said almost immediately that it was like Radio City Music Hall and the Detroit Fox all over again.  After the backlash from Radio City, it's possibly not likely that Jack would ever cut a show short again (though he's ballsy enough that you never know). And his tour manager mentioned in the pre-show announcement that this show at Fenway was being recorded, so we wondered if that was why he pushed through, only giving up at the very end when he didn't bother to encourage the audience to participate in Seven Nation Army. It was an experience I never would have thought I'd have at one of his shows.

All show photos by David James Swanson

Yes, there were moments when this show felt more like other recent ones, with that infectious smile.

And there I am, next to Lillie Mae Rische's right shoulder
Interestingly, there's this video of Seven Nation Army that makes it sound as if the upper reaches of the audience were much more responsive than the folks down front. There's the chant, however faint. Like Radio City and the Detroit Fox show, perspective on this one might depend on where you were in the crowd and what you have to compare the experience to.  So now I really don't know what to make of the night.

To be continued in Miami.  And this is where it began- Introduction.

September 16, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White Junkie, part 6: To paraphrase the Beastie Boys, "NO SLEEP SINCE FARM AID!!!"

Left the house just after 8:30am for the drive to Raleigh, NC to meet Sharon and Helen for Farm Aid 2014.  The last time I headed south on 95, for a day-trip to Richmond, traffic slammed to a halt at Dumfries and crawled the rest of the way, turning a two hour trip into three.  I planned seven for this trip that Google said would take four and three-quarters. But traffic was great and within two hours I was well past Richmond. Along the way, around the time I passed Kings Dominion, I realized I was driving along with a small serene smile on my face.  This is freedom for me, this smooth, flowing locomotion, the rhythm of the road, feeling the vibration of the car and the subtlety of the movements necessary to maneuver it.  Surprisingly, even more freeing was the the idea that our plans were completely up in the air.  Normally I'd be in a tizzy over loosy-goosey plans, but fuck it, we were winging this, going by the seats of our pants and making it up as we went.  On my first road-trip to see Jack a little shy of four and a half years ago, I was on the road and fretting over finding a ticket for a show I was driving toward. This time I was trying to unload some tickets for a show I was driving toward and not concerned in the least whichever way it turned out. All part of the adventure, you know?
So as the car flowed swift and straight down the highway, my mind began to meander meditatively through thoughts of music and friendship.  These shows I go to bring the two together, after all, so it's not so unusual that both would be floating around in my brain at the same time.  I talked in the introduction to this multi-chapter tale about the friendships I've formed over the last few years through my discovery of Jack's music.  We all keep in touch as much as possible through the magic of the interwebs but since we're spread all over it's times like this, when he's on tour, that we're most easily able to come together and actually see each other.  And, again because of how we're spread out, I see different combinations of people from show to show, the groupings flow and fluctuate depending on proximity and people's ability to travel. That's what was on my mind while driving today, how the relationships between these people flow and fluctuate the same way we travel from show to show.  It's been interesting to watch over the last few years, as I've gotten to know more and more folks.  Some of them knew each other before I met them, and have been to other shows together without me.  We've met new people at new shows and they've been incorporated into the group to varying degrees.  New satellites, as it were, in the universe of compatriots with this addiction.  Others haven't been able to make it to shows on this tour yet and the trials of life have pulled them farther out to the edges of that universe where communication takes place less frequently.  I noticed a few weeks ago that my 'friend' list on Facebook had suddenly passed 80,  a heck of a milestone for someone who's been such a loner for all their life.  But I knew that number didn't represent real friends, that there was no way I'd really developed a true bond with every one of those people, so I cleaned house, unfriending more than half of that number.  The people left are the ones with whom I can pick up a conversation after we haven't talked in weeks, even a month or more, and they still make me feel like there's something between us, that even if we're not able to see each other there's still a connection worth holding onto.  And within that group that's left, it's fascinating to observe how new people fit, how alliances form, how people grow apart and yet hang together. These relationships are flexible and dynamic and I wonder what it is that has kept me bound to them these few years.  Is it just our mutual addiction that binds us, or have some of these bonds grown beyond that initial seed and flowered into something that would survive without it?  As someone who's had so few friends throughout her life, and even less that lasted this long, this is new territory for me to explore.
The thoughts about music had to do with conscience over unloading the tickets to today's show.  I'd initially been very excited about seeing both Neil Young and Willie Nelson, the show's main headliners.  I've been marginally familiar with both over the years, through the music my parents listened to, but never thought of listening to them on my own.  Then both of them went and got involved in projects with Third Man Records within the last year and made me realize I'd made a mistake in not giving them my attention sooner.  This show would be a terrific opportunity to experience them live, along with Jack, so how could I pass it up, even at $200 a ticket?  But as the show approached and we began making plans to meet for it, we suddenly realized we'd created a logistical dilemma.  Before the Farm Aid show had been announced, Sharon and I had already committed ourselves to two shows in Maryland and Ohio, and the three were scheduled three days in a row.  They weren't terribly far apart in distance, but far enough that it threw a monkey wrench into our usual modus operandi.  So we talked about bailing out and selling our tickets.  I looked at the secondary market and saw hundreds of tickets already available for Farm Aid. Could we even sell them?  And, heavens above, what was I doing thinking of skipping out on an opportunity to see not only Jack (forgive me, for I have sinned...), but two legendary artists that I'd recently been exposed to by him (probably an even bigger sin in his mind)?  So on the one hand, I was in a bit of a quandary.  On the other, my addiction, my need to see him up close when I see him, was pulling at its chains and snarling at me that these seats at Farm Aid weren't close and I would be a fool to risk losing my spot on the rail in Maryland by sticking around to see Willie and Neil.  By the day before the show no serious offers for our tickets had come to fruition, so it was decided that Sharon and I would go ahead and meet Helen in North Carolina, but then leave as soon as possible after Jack's set.  I felt guilt over letting the addiction get in the way of paying respect to two musicians that I really wanted to experience, whom I could potentially really dive into after seeing them live, but I shoved thoughts of both guilt and addiction aside and when Saturday morning arrived focused on nothing but the pleasure of being on the road, come what may.  Then, of course, along the road I got three text messages from people who were interested in our tickets.
There's not much to say about the show itself because Jack's set, the last before the four headliners, was only 45 minutes. But he obviously crafted his set for this show with more thought than he seemingly usually does, because he played an assortment of songs that would appeal to a somewhat mellow, somewhat folky/country-oriented crowd, contrasted with a handful of his very heavy-toned staples. Before his set began, the women next to us must have heard us talking about him because they asked what they should expect.  The main thing we told them was that he would be unlike anyone else playing that day.  I caught sight of them out of the corner of my eye a few times while he was on-stage and got the feeling that they were both impressed and taken aback at the same time.  They bopped along to songs like Hotel Yorba and You Know That I Know, then stood stock-still staring at the nearby Jumbotron screen during crushers like Cannon, Lazaretto, and Ball and Biscuit.  I could tell there were also a few more fans besides us in the rows ahead, but the biggest crowd response, unsurprisingly, was reserved for the sports-stadium chant, Seven Nation Army.

Photo courtesy of David James Swanson.  Sharon and I were convinced he saw us in this moment through the large gap in the crowd created by folks either sitting down or not in their seats at all for his set. The lawn was packed, but the pavilion...  not so much. 
Think people were waiting for the main headliners.
After his set, we spent some time walking the concourse of the amphitheater and catching up with Helen, then hit the road back up through North Carolina and Virginia to Maryland, caravan-style.  It was very weird to set up our chairs at the gates of a venue in the woods, with no seagulls, no homeless people, and no Sam, our buddy of the previous two trips.  But instead of Sam at this show, we had our buddy Dan, the man who literally got us up on-stage in Detroit.  And we were in Maryland, practically in my backyard, in my stomping grounds, half an hour from my home but in this situation I didn't see home beyond a quick stop for a shower.  We were in tour mode and the venue was to be our home for this day and night.  

At this point, I've come to the conclusion that there's no such thing as a bad Jack White show. But, honestly, this one was as memorable for the people as for the music.  We laughed so much together throughout the day that my face hurt by the time the show began.  And then we got a taste of what was in store when Jack's tour manager stepped out from behind the blue velvet curtains to deliver the post-show "no cell phones" injunction-- He was greeted with a roaring cheer that probably shook the venerable rafters of Merriweather Post.  If the tour manager got that response, what was Jack going to get?  D.C. and Baltimore love him and I was so gratified that my hometown(s) greeted him with the same warm, raucous welcome this night that they have in the past.  Jack was grinning ear-to-ear almost immediately, and while he gave us treats such as I Think I Smell A Rat and I Fought Piranhas, and teases of Another Way to Die and Bound to Pack It Up, this show was mostly notable just for the overwhelming overall energy of it.  EN-ER-GY.  The crowd poured it into him and he whipped it up and threw it back out to ripple through us in a crackling circuit.  Afterward, as those ripples slowly dissipated, Sharon and I again spent some time with our friends, comparing notes about the show and saying goodbyes, then left exhausted but so very high.

Photo again courtesy of David James Swanson, as are all show photos.  Staring down the camera man in front of him, not the crowd.
Would have loved to have seen what that looked like on the screens next to the stage.

Ascending the curves of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the wee hours of the morning, amped on 10 hours worth of 5-hour energy, I had to keep reminding myself to slow down because Sharon was following.   Unfortunately, it was a small window of being amped, as the energy shots took two hours to kick in then began to wear off again after one, after which a weird out-of-body feeling and double-vision began to set in.  I hadn't slept in 44 hours at that point and, as we'd made no specific plan beyond getting from venue to venue, had no idea when I would get any again.  We pulled in for a gas stop at one point and I think we saw the same goggle-eyed expression on each other's face as we got out of our cars.  But we made it to Cleveland and tried to catch a few winks before many more folks showed up for the line along the dock outside of Jacobs Pavilion.  I think winks were all I got, though. There's a state you can get into that's not quite awake but not quite asleep, where you're not fully conscious but are still aware of sounds and movement going on around you.  That's the closest I got to sleep that morning. 
Photo courtesy of Sharon Harrow. That's me in the sleeping bag to the left of the blankets.
Early in the day, one of the security guys who was going to be working the front of the stage that night came over to check out the line, presumably to see what sort of people he'd be spending his evening with (Eddie, man, you're the greatest, wish you'd been closer when I needed you).  Like the two women at Farm Aid, he wasn't familiar with Jack and asked us what he should expect, so we told him a bit about Jack's music and the whole no setlist/every show is different thing, and he mentioned looking forward to seeing Jack's gear (I told him to be sure to check out the vintage acoustic Army-Navy guitar, created by Gibson for soldiers heading off to WW II.  Jack's is beat to hell and back, but it's wonderfully warm sounding and you can tell just by looking at it that it's got many stories in it).  He left after a while to see what was going on inside the venue, then came back later to let us know that the tech guys had asked if he'd seen a blonde woman with glasses and a dark-haired woman in the line.  He got a big chuckle out of them wanting to know if we were there.
Like Merriweather, Cleveland turned out to be a show as memorable, or more so, for the crowd as for the music, but for very different reasons.  One of the things that has impressed me again and again over the last four years is how cool the crowds are at Jack's shows.  Cleveland was my 30th of his shows and it was the first at which I experienced uncontrollable asshole-ishness.  I knew right off the bat that this crowd was going to be a problem because they were pushing up against us before the show even began. So I went into preemptive mode and began chatting up the folks immediately behind us, figuring that we'd form an alliance and look out for each other during the show.  One of them was a teenage boy there by himself, practically vibrating with excitement because it was his first Jack White show and he couldn't believe he was so close to the stage.  I was really looking forward to his response after everything was over.

But sure enough, as soon as Jack hit the stage assholes started shoving up between the two women behind me and pushing everyone around. The young kid who was seeing Jack for the first time disappeared entirely within a few songs. I was able to keep my space, but Sharon felt like she was back at Vancouver all over again, where the crowd was so rough she had her face smashed against the barrier.  This bunch wasn't quite that violent, but it was clear that there were many there who didn't give a rat's ass about the people around them.  

At one point during the second set, I motioned security over about a woman who'd squeezed up from the back and was shoving everyone around (she didn't get pulled out, only told to "settle down") and when I looked back up at the stage as the next song began, Jack was staring right at me. He kept eye contact for several seconds and I just stared right back.  I would hate to play cards against that man because he's got a stare as unreadable as an un-graffiti'd concrete wall.  I've no idea what he was thinking, but anyone who's been keeping up with my tales from this tour can probably guess the neurotic direction the roller-coaster took my thoughts in--  Had I annoyed him by causing a commotion? But I stifled my paranoia because other than that he was full of smiles throughout the show, grinning like a little kid over and over again (and combing back what's left of his hair over and over again).  So despite the crowd, it was a really terrific evening. More of a blur than usual since I spent so much of it fighting to keep people off of myself and Sharon (I've found in looking at that I completely missed Black Math, one of my favorites of his live, while I was struggling with the woman that security didn't remove), but it looked like Jack and the band were having a great time and their enthusiasm was infectious, so I had a great time, too. Will probably not ever go back to a show in Cleveland again, but otherwise a great time.  
After waiting for the parking lot to clear out, Sharon and I hit the road again, but this time in opposite directions.  I stopped at a Holiday Inn along the Ohio Turnpike, grabbed an order of spaghetti and meatballs to go from the Denny's next door, then back in my room I set my meal down on the desk, lay across the bed, and became unconscious for the next six hours.  Cold spaghetti and meatballs is a surprisingly tasty breakfast.

And here I am having flashbacks to the drive home from the Pittsburgh/Detroit trip, sitting in one of the same rest areas I stopped in along that drive, scribbling frantically before I lose all the words that came together in my head while driving.  But the skies are clear over Pennsylvania as I write this and parts of the turnpike are as well, so I've got to get on the road again soon.  To be continued tomorrow in Boston, with a much bigger bunch of friends...

For those folks just now tuning in, this is where it all began-- Introduction.