Jul 282011

Super-busy day ahead, but in a little side discussion I’m having with Townsman Oats in this week’s All-Star Jam regarding a new book by and interview with Simon Reynolds, he takes the following shot, which is too good not to bring to The Main Stage:

One key point from Noel Murray’s rebuttal: Reynolds may regard Jack White as some sort of analog purist poseur, but the majority of earthlings who rock out to “Seven Nation Army” don’t consider it a throwback. It’s considered a key rock song of the ’00s. No one hears that song and thinks back to 1971, except maybe some sticks in the mud who may comment on a rock blog;)

To my ears, putting aside the issue of the nonexistent bass, White Stripes couldn’t have been a more fan-friendly throwback unless he’d been backed by the Delaware Destroyers. Does Oats and the “majority of earthlings” who constitute His Generation actually hear the music of White Stripes as “visionary?” Where do you fall on the issue of Jack White: Throwback or Visionary?

I look forward to your comments—and members of the Bad Attitude Club can check their bad attitude at the door!


  32 Responses to “Jack White: Throwback or Visionary?”

  1. Not to throw cold water at this thread so soon, but I didn’t say he was a visionary. Just that he wrote songs that are considered emblematic of their times. Here is Noel Murray’s specific quote:

    Consider contemporary garage-rockers The White Stripes, who get a page or two to themselves in Retromania. Frontman Jack White is a nostalgist of the first order, enamored with vintage equipment and archaic rock and blues records. But out of those moldy old influences, he produced “Seven Nation Army,” a rock anthem that people chant en masse in sports arenas all over the world. Whatever parts of the past inspired it, it’s undeniably a product of now.

  2. By passing along Murray’s point – and for the purposes of this discussion – you are tacitly making the exaggerated statement that I have attributed to you.

  3. Fair enough, but that means I get to also paste this quote from Reynolds.

    For instance, one nuance that I don’t address in the book, one of those things that only occurred to me later, is that there are quite a lot of performers in the history of music who aren’t innovative musically. I don’t particularly think P.J. Harvey is an innovator musically, but where she’s an innovator is lyrics, persona, the games she plays with identity. And someone like Elvis Costello is kind of a composite of all these things that existed before—there’s Dylan in there, there’s Lennon, there’s that album that was in the style of Motown and Stax, Get Happy!, he did a country covers album. But what make Costello quite original are his lyrics and his persona.

  4. machinery

    In our world of over-produced, drum-track assisted, vocal-pitched rock … the Stripes stripped down aesthetic and hard-rock desire strike me as throwback. I think Jack White has a poster of Robert Plant in his studio, not Robert Smith.

  5. BigSteve

    Neither throwback not visionary. How about poseur/charlatan?

  6. I’m a big White Stripes fan and fit into the Gen-X demo better than most of you old timers. Their 1st two albums were bluesy with a decent punk agression added in. They always had more Buzcocks in them than roots rock. The 3rd one, which is the one that had Dead Leaves, We Are Gonna Be Friends has almost no blues in it at all – the main hit was Fell In Love With A Girl that was VERY Buzzcocks. The next two, which are the ones that made it to your New Rock / Alt radio have more of a standard blues based rock sound mixed in. Their blues is Skip James/ Slim Harpo not John Lee Hooker boogie, and there is still noise-guitar and some punk elements. There are also some piano ballads, acoustic songs and Led Zeppelin bombast.

  7. Why would Robert Smith be any less of a throwback? Jack would have a poster of Slim Harpo and Pete Shelley

  8. The only thing I ever saw throwback about the White Stripes was the fact that me and my pal were doing the one guitar/drums combo back when I was in high school. And I was (and still am) a much better drummer than Meg White. But then, I figure most people with even a rudimentary knowledge of how to keep a beat would be.

    I have a few of their albums. I’m not quite sure why, actually. I guess I tried a couple of times to get into ’em to see what all the fuss was about. I mean, everyone treated ’em like the Second Coming and they had a cool look and the write ups sounded like the kind of thing I would be into. But alas, for me they had a look and not much else.

    I will pitch my vote for the Get Behind Me Satan album as I like when Jack White does the piano thing on two or three chords more than his guitar thing.

    The kids really seem to love ’em, though (or loved), so God Bless America.

  9. Yeah, this part of what Reynolds was saying deflated his main points, when I read the interview. (I have not read the book, so it’s a tiny balloon that lost its air, admittedly.) It was a Master of the Obvious statement, wasn’t it? Doesn’t that cut to the heart of achievement in all the arts?

  10. BigSteve’s a member of the Bad Attitude Club?!?! I’m shocked, seriously shocked!

  11. Yeah the fact that he doesn’t seem able to definite originality and doesn’t include valuable art that isn’t necessarily wholly original kinda renders his whole enterprise suspect. I think I’m on Team Murray.

  12. misterioso

    I think I am probably a member of the Bad Attitude Club and I’m not the world’s biggest White Stripes fan, by any stretch, but basically I’m ok with them and quite like Seven Nation Army. Throwback or Visionary? Yes, probably.

  13. saturnismine

    Gen – x ers ARE old timers (born between ’65 and ’80).

    I think the binary nature of the question is a bit arbitrary, as if throwbacks and visionaries are mutually exclusive, or are polar opposites. Most visionaries know how to utlize / reinvent the past in ways that resonate with large groups of people, making them throwbacks. And most people who are labeled throwbacks — an admiring term — are exceptionally effective at their chosen craft in the present, reminding us of some quality from the past that had been lost. This qualifies them for visionary status.

    I think you’re really asking if Jack White is derivative and unoriginal, or creative and original with his sources.

    There’s no question he has a nuanced, knowing relationship to his sources, but as the Seven Nation Army quote points out, there’s also no question that he is capable of doing something with them that’s fresh.

  14. He really, really likes that riff, doesn’t he?

  15. saturnismine

    there is only the riff…nothing but the riff….

    the RIFF, man…the RIFF!!!!

  16. bostonhistorian

    He’s a throwback to the late 80s, early 90s. To my ears, he’s not doing much more than bands like the Cheater Slicks, Jack O’Fire, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, etc. did. I gotta say though, he caught a wave and rode it….

  17. saturnismine

    Lyrically, he’s definitely doing more than Spencer, who mostly just grunted and said things like “sssssssuck it….come ON!!!!”

    But on the whole, I’d say he’s actually doing much less than those bands….smoothing out all their rough edges…taking their configuration and making it more consumable.

  18. saturnismine asked:

    I think you’re really asking if Jack White is derivative and unoriginal, or creative and original with his sources.

    Indeed, and even this old fart and bass lover would say that he falls on the “creative and original with his sources” side of things. I mainly wanted to give Oats a hard time. He’s too nice a guy most days. There aren’t many opportunities to put him on the RTH Dunking Tank.

    I am curious to hear more of what Reynolds has on his mind. I’ve always avoided reading a word by him because I thought he was one of those Post-Punk/New World Order guys who couldn’t see that Scritti Politti were crap. It’s actually nice to see even Post-Punk/New World Order guys get taken down by life to my level of The Music Died in 1983 guys.

  19. Let me quote something mwall said about me in these halls once:

    Oats, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a gently implied Throwdown. Be alert, old farts. You might lose this cage match before you even know you’re in one.

  20. BigSteve

    We associate Reynolds with post-punk because that style is within the RTH domain, but a large part of the music that interests him is what he calls the “hardcore continuum” — i.e., the various permutations of what is sometimes called bass music: rave, jungle, garage, 2step, dubstep and grime. I think he’s mystified, as am I, by the persistence of guitar-based music among younger generations. In any case that side of his work (his first big book was Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture) falls outside of the interests of almost everyone at RTH.

  21. BigSteve

    Certainly one man’s charlatan is another man’s marketing genius.

  22. saturnismine


  23. 2000 Man

    I think he’s mystified, as am I, by the persistence of guitar-based music among younger generations.

    It’s because guitar music kicks everything else’s ass.

  24. 2000 Man

    But Spencer does that so well!

  25. Yeah, I’m mystified by how someone would give up on guitar-based music. I’m not saying there can be no other music, but if your tastes are at least loosely rooted in rock ‘n roll, why give up on the horse that got us here? I know, I know…tastes and change and all that fun stuff.

  26. BigSteve

    The rave scene started in the late 80s, which means that kids who were part of it then are well past 30 now. Their tastes are not loosely rooted in rock & roll.

    The mystifying part is a 20 year old kid today playing music that aspires to replicate the sound of Poco selling tons of records and concert tickets to other 20 year olds.

  27. One thing that occurred to me that was that kids can buy cheap guitars even at Target or Walmart. Don’t think they can get samplers, sequencers, DJ turntables, etc. there. And as long as the Jack Whites of the world occasionally make their mark, guitarists will maintain some lingering cool cache with young ‘uns for a little while longer.

  28. BigSteve

    I guess there’s also a huge supply of used r&r instruments out there waiting to be bought. I was talking to a younger friend tonight who has boys 5 and 8 (I think). He has a Gretsch drumkit there in his basement waiting for one of them to take a shine to it. He said he got it on Craigslist.

  29. Oh, I know, BigSteve. You know I think you’re A-1 Steak Sauce, but I was directing my “mystified” comment toward folks like you more than the kidz. I was thinking about this tonight, though. It’s so hard for me to like new music I’m supposed to like these days. In 5 or 10 years time I may continue to gravitate toward my slowly burgeoning Ethopian ’60s music and Terry Riley collections and feel more like you do. I still hold out hope that guitar-led bands will set me free, but it has been a good 15 years since I really started thinking, “If only some young bands would follow the models of Television, Roxy Music, and Pere Ubu, then things could get interesting for me again!” Instead guitar rock I should like has been mainly thumb-sucking retro British Invasion and garage rock devotees. I like that original stuff as much as the next guy, but in 2011, hearing some 24-year-old earnestly sing about wanting to hold hands with a “chick” in a mini-skirt creeps me out.

  30. To Oats’ point, you actually can get simple sampling devices at places like Target. There are like Fisher-Price samplers available in toy stores. At Urban Outfitters you can buy all sorts of retro-techno turntables and whatnot, no? The problem is, you end up looking pretty stupid on stage, standing behind a table with a laptop and some turntables. I wonder if we could analyze the stage presence of the Top 10 musicians who stand on stage playing a laptop?

  31. The Flat Duo Jets were the starting point for The White Stripes, and they started in the early 80s. Just wanted to interject that, since I didn’t see the name mentioned yet in the thread. Going further back, The Cramps pioneered the guitar/drums, bass-free garage rock thing, and were a huge influence on The Flat Duo Jets.

    I don’t think JW is a visionary, a charlatan or a throwback. He’s a classicist, definitely, but with enough of his own personality to filter his influences into something that isn’t a slavish recreation. If he was a musical charlatan, I would think he would have chosen a more immediately marketable style on which to hang his hat. I would never have guessed that the type of music he championed would have gotten him as far as it did, when it did. It was a fluke, he got lucky and he was smart enough not to blow the opportunity. I don’t think that makes him a fraud.

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