The White Stripes have won Grammys, made six studio albums and sold millions of records. And on February 2, 2011, they announced their breakup.
I found out when a Myspace (yeah, I still have a page, mostly to follow a handful of bands) e-mail notification told me the White Stripes had a new blog posting. In it, there was a short, but well-thought out, message to fans that the band had indeed “officially ended and will make no further new recordings or perform live.”
With an elephant-heavy heart, I checked and rechecked the internet for confirmation and wondered if this was some hoax.
In my heart, I saw it coming, but pushed it further and further away from my analytic brain, for fear of the truth. The band’s been on hiatus for a few years now, with their last album “Icky Thump” in 2007.
The album itself was a bit of a stretch for the Stripes, and Jack White’s maturation as an artist clashed with their earlier aesthetic. Put all six album covers in a row, and pick out the one that doesn’t quite belong – it’s the pearly king and queen of “Icky Thump” that have a slight air of weariness to them.
Album art aside, the band seemed to understand their position, and in a way to ease the transition they released the 2009 concert tour/documentary “Under Great White Northern Lights.” It is a beautiful tribute to the band as a whole and a touching parting gift for fans. If only we realized it at the time.
The band’s farewell message seems all at once too vague and profound, as they wish to “preserve what is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way.” What was so beautiful and special about that band in the first place?
The childlike duo’s air of curiosity and innocence fueled their creative process and visual dynamics. What was great was the band was growing up in the prime of its pre-conceived childhood. What they didn’t count on was the maturation beyond those years.
Jack White’s collaborations within the Raconteurs and Dead Weather have given him the musical equivalent of studying abroad as a teenager – he’s grown up amongst different cultures and changed. It may not be better or worse, but it is different. He’s no longer the wide-eyed kid with a plastic guitar in a garage.
When I said the Stripes had an air of weariness to them, it wasn’t as if they were sick of playing music, of being together. They were weary of pretending and keeping up the act and suppressing the creative maturation they know they have gained over the years.
The farewell letter states that Jack and Meg hope the fans see it as “a positive move done out of respect for the art and music that the band has created.” You have to appreciate the dedication of the band, to forcibly get back into their old mindset, and when they can no longer do it, they call it a day. A lesser band would continue using their name as only a vehicle for music no longer relevant to their original intent.
It should be said that I am relieved the band hadn’t waited until they put out a bad record to announce the breakup. They had six amazing records. I still wouldn’t rule out musical collaborations between the two (I suspect that they would simply say that it was done by Jack and Meg White, as opposed to the band name). Jack is of course always working on the next great project, collaborating with Norah Jones and Danger Mouse on an album due out later this year.
Even though I fully understand it and even applaud the decision, I’m still slightly heartbroken. I remember watching the electrifying Grammy performance of “Seven Nation Army” in 2004, before I even knew about the band. I remember listening to “Elephant” on a burned CD-R over and over on a portable CD player during a family trip. I heard the “Icky Thump” single on the day of my senior prom. I have grown up with this band and eagerly awaited each release.
The closing of the letter sums it up nicely. “The White Stripes do not belong to Meg and Jack anymore. The White Stripes belong to you now and you can do with it whatever you want. The beauty of art and music is that it can last forever if people want it to.”