I’ve written before about the early 2000s’ post-punk revival before in my posts about “Float On” by Modest Mouse and “Hard to Explain” by the Strokes. For me, the era was ushered in by the Strokes,* whose “Last Night” was the first of the The Bands (™ Lilly) I heard, but the White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Girl” could not have been very far behind it. Among the The Bands, the White Stripes were by far my favorite. I almost instantly became a very, very rabid fan.
*In researching for this post, I have learned that the White Stripes’ breakthrough album White Blood Cells was released on July 3, 2001 and The Strokes’ Is This It was released on July 30, 2001. Yes, that’s just as it should be.
The White Stripes got a lot of attention initially for “Fell in Love with a Girl,” to the extent that I was shocked to see that “Hotel Yorba” was actually released as a single before it. The music video for “Fell” is probably largely responsible for this. The song itself feels to me like the very definition of a “fun little ditty.” It’s much more straight garage-rock than most of the rest of White Blood Cells which is a lot bluesier. The guitar is obtuse and the lyrics are repetitive, but it’s a very strong single. The video is inspired, though. It’s a legit stop-motion work (near and dear to my heart) with legos, to even include little approximate Jack and Meg figures. Amazing and very, very cute.
With few exceptions, White Blood Cells is packed with total bangers, but “Hotel Yorba” is an easy favorite of mine. It’s a swingy, sweet, and simple love song. I associate it strongly with the summer of 2002. Pete and I moved in together the previous summer. We’d relocated together from Hawaii to Columbus and our apartment was my first time living away from my parents. By the following summer, we were humming. Pete was about to go back to school, I was getting used to being a grad student, we loved our little home together. We talked abstractly about getting married (and did the following summer), which appealed because it seemed rebellious, leaning in to that level of commitment even though we didn’t have to. We took our first vacation together (a road trip to DC!) and I remember very clearly scaling those ridiculous mountains along Interstate 68 in West Virginia, following along with my Yahoo! Maps printout, the two of us singing “Hotel Yorba” at the top of our lungs in my little Corolla. Oh those sweet, sepia-toned days. “Hotel” was the perfect soundtrack to it.
The weirdest thing about the White Stripes is that they presented themselves with every gimmick they could think of, but probably didn’t actually have to. At their peak, they were amazing talents, mesmerizing performers who wrote heady, infectious songs--they were just--really incredible artists. Initially, they’d only wear red and white inspired by those gross peppermint candies that Meg supposedly loved best.* They never took interviews separately and despite being married, lied and told everyone that they were brother and sister. Jack would talk in the hipster dude equivalent of baby talk, like a 10 year old character from some 19th century novel. Meg rarely spoke. I mean. This was firmly effective in developing a shitton of mystique and I think what elevated my interest from typical to obsessive. I feel like when they abandoned the aesthetic, I got a little bored with them.
*I suspect this is another gimmick because nobody loves those peppermint candies. We all just put up with them.
Why was Jack so handsome until he wasn’t? I watched the “Hotel Yorba” video this morning (which is almost as charming as the song itself). Holy balls, what a piece of ass. It was around this period that Pete (of his own accord) started dying his hair black and the longer style he wore it in definitely seemed inspired by Jack White’s, but really wasn’t and it gave me a small thrill every time someone would comment, unprovoked that he looked like Jack White. By the time they released Elephant (also an excellent album), he was all emaciated and dating models and the thrill was gone.
I think I only saw them play once, at the then-Promowest Pavilion. I remember it really well. It was the same day I’d passed my thesis defense at some point in November, 2003. We lived out in the suburbs at the time, so we didn’t go home between school and the concert. We got dinner at the Mongolian BBQ place and for some reason I changed out of my conservative brown turtleneck in the car into more appropriate concert attire. It was *so cold* that day and walking across the parking lot without my coat was hellish. The show itself was long and it was so packed inside. I think I was stuck standing next to a pole the whole time, but I didn’t care. They were my very favorite band at the time.
I can’t remember the last time I put the White Stripes on before listening this morning. I’d estimate it’s been more than five years. As I mentioned, by the time Get Behind Me Satan came around, I was done. Jack seemed too far up his own ass by that time and the writing seemed more like imitations of their influences instead of a contemporary take on rock n’ blues. Jack also seemed to be dressing up like an old-timey villain. That shouldn’t be as important to me as it is. If they were still playing good music, I wouldn’t have cared. It’s like the inverse of their not needing to pile gimmick upon gimmick to get initial attention. But after whetting my appetite on a couple of tracks to refresh my memory, I’m super excited to listen to White Blood Cells in its entirety after Golden Girls is over.