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The White Stripes

The White Stripes

Jack White

July 1975 Detroit, Michigan

Guitarist, pianist, singer, songwriter

Meg White

c. 1974 Grosse Pointe, Michigan

Drummer

Instantly recognizable in their stark red-and-white outfits, the White Stripes have become a worldwide phenomenon with their energetic blend of blues, punk, folk, and country. Consisting solely of Jack White on guitar and vocals and Meg White playing the drums, the Detroit-based White Stripes have been among the most visible groups connected to a revival of the loosely defined style known as garage rocka usually fast-paced rock 'n' roll style favoring short songs with intense drumming and memorable lyrics. The White Stripes, however, bear the mark of a number of influencesnot just the passionate, in-your-face Detroit signature sound they were raised withincluding old-time country and traditional blues. With the release of their 2001 album White Blood Cells, the White Stripes graduated from regional success story to international stars. Their following release, Elephant (2003), further cemented their status, earning hordes of new fans, enthusiastic reviews from the music press, and a Grammy Award in 2004 for best alternative music album.

Even in the midst of tremendous recognition and fame, the group has insisted on maintaining a strong degree of independence and control, holding on to their unique vision. They tightly control how much and what kind of information the press receives about their personal lives, creating an aura of mystery. When they first began to receive national attention, Meg and Jack White told reporters that they were siblings. Later, it was revealed that their relationship was not one of brother and sister but rather exhusband and wife. Even after proof of their relationship surfaced in the form of a marriage certificate and divorce documents, Jack White continued to insist, as he told Entertainment Weekly 's Tom Sinclair, that "we will be brother and sister till the day we die." White additionally maintains control by producing every album the band makes. In an interview with Guitar Player 's Darrin Fox, White explained his reason for acting as producer: "I didn't want to argue with anybody about how we should sound. It's not an ego thingI just wanted to be as in touch with the original idea as I could."

"I consider everything about the songsexcept the storytellingto be a trick. If you're successful, and people love the songs, then you've successfully tricked them into liking the story."

Jack White, Guitar Player, June 2003.

Meet the White Stripes

Born John Gillis, Jack White is one of ten children in a musical family raised in southwest Detroit. He started playing drums in elementary school. He first picked up one of his older brothers' guitars after receiving a reel-to-reel tape recorder. He started playing the guitar simply to record some basic tunes to accompany his drumming. Jack told Fox in the Guitar Player interview that he thinks starting as a drummer helped him become a better guitarist: "A lot of guitarists I respect, like Dick Dale, started off as drummers. I think it's interesting how rhythms are already in your head before you even know how to play guitar." He attended Cass Technical High School, also known as Cass Tech, a highly respected public school in downtown Detroit. As a teenager, Jack became intensely interested in the blues, delving into the music of such legendary artists as Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson, and Howlin' Wolf. While still in high school, he got a job working part-time at an upholstery company called Muldoon studio. He and the owner, Brian Muldoon, often jammed together, and Muldoon dipped into his extensive record collection to introduce White to the music of a number of influential bands. In 1994 Jack became the drummer for country-punk outfit Goober and the Peas.

In 1996 Jack and his girlfriend, Megan White, were married. Jack took his wife's surname, ever after being known as Jack White. The story of the band's origin involves Meg one day simply picking up drumsticks and playing along with Jack on guitar. "She was playing so childishly," Jack told Andrew Perry of Mojo magazine, intending the description as a compliment to Meg's simple, minimalist, untrained style. "So when Meg started playing that way, I was like, 'Man, don't even practice! This is perfect.'" Two months after Meg first picked up drumsticks, in 1997, the duo began playing gigs all over Detroit. They recorded two singles for the Detroit label Italy Records, "Let's Shake Hands" and "Lafayette Blues." They struggled for recognition, gradually winning over a small group of fans with Jack's songwriting and their passion for the music. During this time, Jack was invited to play guitar with the Detroit-based garage band the Go, an emerging band in the garage-rock scene. He joined the band, playing on their debut record. When the Go got a recording contract with the Seattle label (and former home to Nirvana) Sup Pop, Jack found himself at a crossroads. He felt that signing a contract with a band would compromise his freedom. He would not be the band's leader, and he knew that would not suit his personality. With the White Stripes, Jack would have the freedom to continually experiment, working in tandem with just one other performer: Meg. He left the Go and, by 1999, was completely focused on the White Stripes.

The White Stripes take off

The Stripes recorded their self-titled debut album in 1999. Made for about $2,000, the album was released by the independent Sympathy for the Record Industry label, located in California. The album, recorded in part in the attic of Jack's parents' house, captured the raw, stripped-down power of the White Stripes' live show, but it also showcased Jack's poetic, heartfelt lyrics. Writing for All Music Guide, Chris Handyside singled out the words to the White Stripes' songs, suggesting that it was the lyrics that set them apart: "The White Stripes are grounded in punk and blues, but the undercurrent to all of their work has been [a] striving for simplicity, a love of American folk music, and a careful approach to intriguing, emotional, and evocative lyrics not found anywhere else in ... modern punk or garage rock." Looking back on their debut during a 2003 interview with Guitar Player, Jack White said, "I still feel we've never topped our first album. It's the most raw, the most powerful, and the most Detroit-sounding record we've made." In the fall of 1999, the White Stripes were invited to tour with Pavement and Sleater-Kinney, two bands that had earned critical praise and were fixtures of the independent-rock scene.

During the summer of 2000, not long after Jack and Meg White got divorced, the White Stripes released De Stijl, which means "the style." The title refers to an early twentieth-century art movement that emphasized simplicity and abstraction, or the depiction of objects in a way that makes them unrecognizable. Critics praised the White Stripes' second album for its primitive, basic style and the variety of songs, both originals and covers. In Rollingstone.com Jenny Eliscu described the album as "blues-tinged rock & roll scaled back to its most essential elementsone guitar, a simple drum kit, and sneering vocals." Heather Phares summed up De Stijl in All Music Guide: "As distinctive as it is diverse, De Stijl blends the Stripes' arty leanings with enough rock muscle to back up the band's ambitions."

Stars and Stripes

For their third release, White Blood Cells (2001), the White Stripes laid down some ground rules before recording began. First, they decided to avoid the genre they felt most passionate about: the blues. Jack explained to Fox in Guitar Player that he had always felt conflicted about playing the blues, a genre that originated among African Americans in the South in the early twentieth century. Jack worried that fans might think his own interpretations of the bluescoming from a white man living in Detroit in the twenty-first centurywere phony and inauthentic. So, as he told Fox, the White Stripes thought, "'What can we do if we completely ignore what we love the most?'" In addition to the "no blues" rule, they also, as Jack told Fox, "decided to record the album in three days, take no guitar solos, avoid slide guitar, and banish covers." The result was a CD featuring the Stripes' simple, tight arrangements and lyrics ranging from viciously angry to innocently sweet. White Blood Cells marked the band's arrival as an international favorite with both audiences and critics. The Stripes made the rounds on late-night talk shows, and their video for "Fell in Love with a Girl"featuring animation of LEGO characterswent into heavy rotation on MTV. The video earned three MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) in 2002. The album showed up on numerous critics' "top ten" lists for the year.

The Stripes continued their upward climb with their next album, Elephant, which was released in the spring of 2003. Heather Phares of All Music Guide wrote: Elephant overflows with qualityit's full of tight songwriting, sharp, witty lyrics, ... judiciously used basses and tumbling keyboard melodies that enhance the band's powerful simplicity." The album showcases the female half of the duo more than previous releases had, with Meg contributing not just her telltale strong-but-simple drumming but also vocals on such songs as "In the Cold, Cold Night." Increasing numbers of critics and fans were won over by the Stripes' intensity and sincerity, somewhat unusual in an age where many artists feel that detachment is far cooler than passion. Writing in Esquire, Andy Langer expressed his appreciation for Elephant: "In the end, Elephant is an album destined for a long shelf life.... But its importance couldn't be any simpler or any more worth repeating: There are fourteen blistering songs on this record with Jack and Meg White's blood, sweat, and tears all over them. And every single one of them matters." The album certainly mattered to Grammy Award voters in 2004, who designated Elephant the best alternative music album of the previous year.

While keeping busy recording and touring with the Stripes, Jack White also tried his hand at acting with a small role in the 2003 film Cold Mountain, starring Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and Renee Zellweger. He contributed several songs to the soundtrack. Most were covers of traditional songs, while one track, "Never Far Away," was composed by White. This soundtrack allowed White to further demonstrate his versatility and talent, prompting John Mulvey of NME.com to assert that "Cold Mountain proves what most of us have long suspected: when the White Stripes end, White will be far from finished."

Many fans of the White Stripes feel the band's power comes across best in live performances. Jack's guitars are old, inexpensive, beat-up instruments, and Meg's drum kit is small and simple. They rely very little on technology for their performances and recordings, instead banking on their energy, anger, and earnestness to carry their message forward. Jack told Fox in Guitar Player: "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves live. We don't have a set list, we don't rehearse, and we don't play the tunes exactly like on the album. We're just two people on stage with nothing to fall back on. But, that way, if something good comes out of it, we can really be proud because we know we did it for real."

For More Information

Periodicals

Fox, Darrin. "White Heat." Guitar Player (June 2003): p. 66.

Langer, Andy. "The White Stripes' Elephant Is a Rock 'n' Roll Record So Rousing, You Won't Mind Paying for It." Esquire (May 2003): p. 80.

McCollum, Brian. "A Definitive Oral History." Detroit Free Press (April 13, 2003).

Web Sites

The White Stripes. http://www.whitestripes.com/ (accessed on August 17, 2004).

"The White Stripes." All Music Guide. http://www.allmusic.com/ (accessed on August 17, 2004).

"The White Stripes." Launch. http://launch.yahoo.com/artist/default.asp?artistID=1042272 (accessed on August 17, 2004).

"White Stripes." NME.com. http://www.nme.com/artists/173888.htm (accessed on August 17, 2004).

"The White Stripes." Rollingstone.com. http://www.rollingstone.com (accessed on August 17, 2004).

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The White Stripes

The White Stripes

Rock group

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

The White Stripes are perhaps the most critically appreciated rock band from Detroit since the heyday of such bands as the Stooges and the MC5. Along with New York City band the Strokes, the White Stripes were one of the most highly praised rock acts of 2001. The duoconsisting of formerly married couple Jack White (born John Gillis) and Meg White (born Megan White)won critical accolades and worldwide fans for their minimalist hybrid of American punk, folk, country, and blues music. Featuring Jack on lead vocals and guitar and Meg on drums, the White Stripes have elicited comparisons to such diverse musical acts as Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, the Kinks, the MC5, the John Spencer Blues Explosion, the Violent Femmes, and the Velvet Underground. According to Entertainment Weekly reporter Tom Sinclair, Here, at last, is a duo thats doing it right: stripping things down to the primal spuzz, kicking up a racket thats an inspired mix of electrified Delta blues, Zeppelin riffage, Velvet Underground thud, and MC5 firepower. With hooks, yet.

Alternately featuring Jacks primal electric guitar playing with his raw, bluesy acoustic slide guitar playing, the White Stripes have also received critical commendations for Jacks vocal style, which has been compared favorably to Led Zeppelins Robert Plant and the Sweets Steve Priest. Megs straightforward drumming style has been compared favorably to that of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham and the Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker. The groups incendiary performancesoriginal songs interspersed with covers of Bob Dylan songs, blues standards like Robert Johnsons Stop Breaking Down, and Dolly Partons Jolenetranslated well to New York City and European venues, where critical praise and word-of-mouth appreciation from fans quickly brought them international fame. After a London performance, Uncut critic John Mulvey wrote, Here, quite simply, is the most exciting, inspired, unavoidably magnificent new rock n roll band anyone can recall seeing in years. Mulvey continued, The White Stripes are a forward-thinking band with deep roots, one who realize they can make a massive emotional impact while retaining a slippery way with the truth. On stage and for publicity photos, the duo only wears red and white, which Jack described to Mojo writer Andrew Perry as the colors of anger and innocence.

The history of the White Stripes has been manipulated and falsified by Jack and Meg White, who repeatedly told journalists that they were brother and sister. In fact, the couple were married in 1996 and divorced in 2000. Insisting that she is indeed Jacks sister, Meg White has only revealed that she was born and raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a wealthy suburb east of Detroit. Jack White, however, admitted to being the son of a maintenance man and a secretary, and claimed to be one of ten children. The story that they were not actual siblings was revealed in Time magazine in June of 2001, but Jack insisted to Sinclair, We will be brother and sister till the day we die.

For the Record

Members include Jack White (born John Gillis in 1976 in Detroit, MI), guitar, piano, vocals; Meg White (born Megan Martha White c. 1974 in Grosse Pointe, MI), drums, vocals; couple married on September 21, 1996; divorced, 2000.

Released debut album, The White Stripes, 1999; released second album, De Stijl, 2000; released third album, White Blood Cells, made European television and stage debut, 2001; performed on MTV Movie Awards, 2002.

Addresses: Management Monotone, Inc., 8932 Keith Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90069, phone: (310) 887-4485. Media Chloe Walsh, Girlie Action Media and Marketing, e-mail: [email protected]Website The White Stripes Official Website: http://www.whitestripes.com.

Meg worked in the 1990s as a bartender and cook, and Jack apprenticed as a furniture upholsterer in Hamtramck, Michigan, a working-class suburb adjacent to Detroit. He apprenticed with Brian Muldoon, who also introduced Jack to the music of such bands as the MC5 and the Cramps. Muldoon was a drummer who taught Jack how to play along to classic rockabilly records. Eventually, the two men recorded a single of rockabilly covers as a band named the Upholsterers. When the two men ended their friendship, Jack spent the next few years running his own upholstery business, Third Man. Another friend introduced him to the music of Son House. He told Perry, He played me Death Letter, and then this a cappella song, Grinnin in Your Face. I heard the song Id been waiting to hear my whole life. It said, Dont care what people think. Your mother will talk about you, your sister and your brothers too. No matter how you try to live, theyre gonna talk about you still.

Jacks musical resume during this period includes a stint as a member of the Detroit-based rock band the Go, which had been signed to the Seattle, Washington, punk label Sub Pop. In 1996 Meg played drums to accompany Jacks guitar in his apartment. She was playing so childishly, he told Perry. Everyone Id ever played with was, like, male drummers. Id been writing all these childish songs, like Jimmy the Exploder from our first albumthis story I made up about this monkey who exploded things that werent the color red. So when Meg started playing that way, I was like, Man, dont even practice! This is perfect. The duo played Detroit bars throughout 1997 and made two singles for the Detroit label Italy Records: Lets Shake Hands and Lafayette Blues.

Steve Shaw, a member of the Detroit Cobras, recommended the White Stripes to Sympathy for the Record Industry label chief Long Gone John, who invited them to cut their first album without ever having seen them perform. Recorded for less than $2000, The White Stripes came out in 1999. It was followed by De Stijl, recorded at Jacks house in Detroit. Taking its title from a magazine co-founded in 1917 by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian that emphasized functionalism over decoration in art, the album contains a cover of the Son House blues classic Death Letter. The band also recorded a single on which they covered Blind Willie McTells Send Me an Angel. The third album, White Blood Cells, began with their mandate that the album contain no blues, no slide, no guitar solos, no covers, Jack told Perry.

White Blood Cells was recorded at Easley Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. The studio location in the top of the Mississippi Delta was fitting for the more blues-inspired songs recorded for the album. The success of White Blood Cells opened the doors of television to the White Stripes. The group filmed a video of the song Fell in Love with a Girl, which received regular MTV airplay. The band also performed live on British television and landed a featured spot as musical entertainment on the 2002 MTV Movie Awards. When they played in London, British disc jockey and radio host John Peel declared them the most exciting band since punk or Jimi Hendrix, according to Perry. The White Blood Cells album and the Hotel Yorba single culled from the album both became hits in Europe.

The rising popularity of the band caused some original fans to accuse the White Stripes of becoming commercial, prompting Jack to tell Sinclair, People look at things in a weird way. Theyll look back on the Rolling Stones and the Who and say, Those bands were cool, they were rock & roll, they werent pop. But those bands sold millions of records. I mean, its like if youre on television now, people go, Oh, theyre selling out. But the Rolling Stones and the Beatles were on TV all the time, on The Ed Sullivan Show, no less, and it was cool. White Blood Cells was licensed for release in the United States by the V2 label, and in Europe by XL, a subsidiary of Beggars Banquet Records. Jack White told Music & Media writer Chris Barrett, We just license our albums so there is absolutely no influence on whats gonna be the single or how the artwork is gonna be. It would be stupid now just for money to give up all that freedom.

The band recorded its fourth album, tentatively titled Elephant, in 2002, with British punk producer, songwriter, and recording artist Billy Childish at Toe Rag Studios, in London, England. Jack told Sinclair that Toe Rag contains excellent equipment and a good engineer. Its not computerized or modern in any sense. Just an 8-track studio with all of the things that are good about recording and none of the things that are bad. The White Stripes also planned to release a compact disc of previously released non-album 45 singles. Despite the bands success, Jack told Sinclair, My real dream is unattainable. I wish I could be a blues musician back in the 20s and 30s, just playing in juke joints in the South by myself. But Im white and I was born in Detroit in the 70s, so I guess Ill have to settle for this. He insisted, however, that he is not intent on copying the old blues masters. He told Perry, Im not interested in copyingat all. Im interested in retelling the story. I just believe in singing John the Revelator one more time, referring to the blues standard performed originally by Delta blues musician Son House. He continued, It seems like every other kind of music is fooling itself about being original or being the future. Well, its not. These electronic instruments, these toys. Music has been storytelling and melody for thousands of years, and its not going to change.

Despite the White Stripes success, Jack continues to play the guitars he has been playing for years, including a 1960s Montgomery Ward retail Airline electric guitar, and an acoustic 1960s Kay guitar on which he plays slide guitar. The latter guitar was given to him by a friend for his help in moving a refrigerator. Meg Whites drumming has been praised by Perry as a beat that rarely errs from pounding, near-moronic propulsion. Very male, actually: think the Troggs, the Kingsmen, all those thrusting 65 guys. Meg has also expanded her duties within the White Stripes to include sharing vocal responsibilities. In live performances, she has covered the Loretta Lynn song Rated X.

Selected discography

The White Stripes, Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1999; reissued, Thirdman/V2, 2002.

De Stiji, Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2000; reissued, Thirdman/V2, 2002.

White Blood Cells, Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001; reissued, Thirdman/V2, 2002.

Sources

Periodicals

Entertainment Weekly, May 17, 2002.

Hollywood Reporter, April 8, 2002, p. 28.

Mojo, June 2001, p. 20; January 2002, p. 120; January 2002, p. 69; February 2002, p. 50; March 2002, p. 88.

Music & Media, December 1, 2001, p. 3.

Q, December 2001, p. 65.

Uncut, September 2001, p. 100; October 2001, p. 131.

Online

The White Stripes, All Music Guide, http://www.allmusicguide.com (June 15, 2002).

Bruce Walker

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The White Stripes

The White Stripes

Rock group

Group formed in 1997 in Detroit, MI; members include Jack White (born John Anthony Gillis, July 9, 1975, in Detroit, MI; married Meg White, 1996 [divorced, 2000]; married Karen Elson, 2005), vocals, guitar; Meg White (born Megan Martha White, December 10, 1974; married Jack White, 1996 [divorced, 2000]), drums, vocals.

Addresses: Record company—V2 Records, 14 East 4th St., New York, NY 10012. Website—http://www.whitestripes.com.

Career

Jack White was a member of the Detroit-area bands Two Part Resin, The Go, 2-Star Tabernacle, Goober and the Peas, and The Hentchmen; appeared in the film Cold Mountain, 2003; produced compilation album Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit, 2001, and Loretta Lynn's album Van Lear Rose, 2004. Jack and Meg White formed the White Stripes, 1997; released debut album, The White Stripes, 1999; released De Stijl, 2000; released White Blood Cells, 2001; released Elephant, 2003; appeared in the film Coffee and Cigarettes, 2004; released Get Behind Me Satan, 2005.

Awards: MTV Video Music Awards for breakthrough video, best special effects, and best editing, all for "Fell In Love With A Girl," 2002; Grammy Award for best alternative music album, Recording Academy, for Elephant, 2004; Grammy Award for best rock song, Recording Academy, for "Seven Nation Army," 2004; Grammy Award for best country album, Recording Academy, for Van Lear Rose (produced by Jack White), 2005; Grammy Award for best country collaboration with vocals, Recording Academy, for "Portland, Oregon" (with Loretta Lynn), 2005.

Sidelights

With just a guitar, drums, and vocals, the White Stripes excited modern rock fans with their breakthrough album White Blood Cells in 2001. They were celebrated as leaders of a "garage rock" revival that made simple guitar rock with smart lyrics popular again. After multi-platinum success, Jack and Meg White, a duo who were once married but still claim to be brother and sister on stage, have stayed true to the boundaries they set for themselves when they formed their band. They still perform most of their songs with only two instruments, record entire albums in a few weeks, and try to create music that draws from blues, folk, and rock traditions while sounding raw and new.

Jack and Meg White met at a Detroit-area coffee-house after graduating from high school. Jack, who was born John Gillis in Detroit, grew up on the city's southwest side, playing music from an early age with a friend. Meg White, shy, with a creative bent, had grown up in Grosse Pointe Woods, an upper-middle-class Detroit suburb. Meg worked as a bartender, and Jack worked as an upholsterer while playing in various local bands, including the country-rock outfit Goober and the Peas. The couple married in 1996. Jack White took his wife's last name.

The couple began playing music together in 1997, opening for more established Detroit bands at indie-rock clubs like the Gold Dollar in Detroit's impoverished Cass Corridor. Jack White, the guitarist, singer and songwriter, was clearly the driving force of the duo. Meg seemed to learn to play drums as she went along, with her husband sometimes cueing her onstage. In interviews, Jack has spun that into a positive, consistently defending her rudimentary drumming as key to the band's primitive sound. "When we started, our objective was to be as simple as possible," Jack told Norene Cashen of the Metro Times, a Detroit alternative weekly newspaper. "Meg's sound is like a little girl trying to play the drums and doing the best she can. Her playing on 'The Big 3 Killed My Baby' is the epitome of what I like about her drumming. It's just hits over and over again. It's not even a drumbeat—it's just accents."

Once the band released their self-titled debut album in 1999, they had already established an identity that would stay essentially the same for years. Their sound was simple, without even the bass player that usually completes a rock band lineup. Jack was organizing the band's music in threes: guitar, vocals, drums. "It came out the most on 'The Big 3 Killed My Baby,'" he told the Metro Times' Cashen. "It's three chords and three verses, and we accent threes together all through that. It was a number I always thought of as perfect, or our attempt at being perfect. Like on a traffic light, you couldn't just have a red and a green. I work on sculptures too, and I always use three colors." The same three colors—white, red, and black—have always graced the White Stripes' album covers, stage outfits, and even Meg's drum kit.

Parts of The White Stripes, released on the small label Sympathy For the Record Industry, were rooted in the experience of living in Detroit: "The Big 3 Killed My Baby" was a protest song about the negative effects Jack felt the Big Three automakers (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) had on Detroit, while "Lafayette Blues" mentioned the city's French street names. The local press declared the album a success. Cashen of the Metro Times declared that the White Stripes had succeeded where other Detroit bands had failed: "remind[ing] us that local identity has more options than a membership card to the latest cliché … or a one-way ticket to the coast." The band's music, she added, would excite the sort of music fan "who still gets a thrill out of raw talent."

Fans and writers were also noting another part of their stage identity: Jack often claimed that he and Meg were brother and sister, instead of husband and wife—a pretense he would keep up long after the truth was exposed. "When you see a band that is two pieces, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, you think, 'Oh, I see,'" he told David Fricke in Rolling Stone. "When they're brother and sister, you go, 'Oh, that's interesting.' You care more about the music, not the relationship—whether they're trying to save their relationship by being in a band."

In fact, even as the White Stripes' popularity grew, their marriage was breaking up. Writer Chris Handyside began his book Fell In Love With A Band: The Story of the White Stripes in March of 1999, with a scene at a local music festival: Meg and Jack had become estranged, and she did not agree to play their scheduled gig until the last minute, after which an announcer told the crowd, "I've just been informed that this is not actually the White Stripes' last show." The duo's second album, De Stijl, was released in 2000, the same year the Whites divorced.

The band began attracting attention outside Detroit by going on two tours as opening acts for established alternative-rock bands Pavement (in 1999) and Sleater-Kinney (in 2000). They also toured Japan and Australia after De Stijl was released. In early 2001, Rolling Stone named them one of ten bands to watch that year. Writer Jenny Eliscu explained that De Stijl was named after "a 1920s Dutch design movement based on simple geometric shapes and primary colors," and described their sound as "scuzzy garage rock, blues and Mod-era Sixties pop."

The White Stripes recorded their next album, White Blood Cells, in Memphis, Tennessee, at the studio of accomplished producer Doug Easley. Several shows on their national tour either sold out or nearly sold out. Record labels began competing to sign them. On the eve of the third album's release, the Metro Times' Melissa Giannini caught them confronting the beginnings of fame: fans asking for autographs, phones ringing constantly with business offers, and New York audiences showing up with arms folded, waiting to see if they lived up to the hype. The album art for White Blood Cells showed Jack and Meg, clad in red and white, surrounded by black shadows holding cameras. "The name, White Blood Cells, for the album, is this idea of bacteria coming at us, or just foreign things coming at us, or media, or attention on the band," Jack told Giannini. "It just seems to us that there are so many bands from the same time or before we started that were playing and are still playing that didn't get this kind of attention that we're getting. Is the attention good or bad?"

Critics described the band as leaders of a "garage rock" movement, also including the New York City band the Strokes, that was reviving simple, catchy guitar rock. Fans began praising the White Stripes for bringing a new energy to rock music. "That's the nicest thing," Meg told Giannini, "when somebody comes up to us and says they'd been discouraged with music and that we've made them feel a new energy for it."

While De Stijl included a lot of bluesy songs and slide guitar playing (as well as homages to mid-'60s British rock, such as "You're Pretty Good Looking"), White Blood Cells had a different mix of genres—on purpose, said Jack, who was worried about being pigeonholed as a blues band. Most of the songs on White Blood Cells were written on piano, then sped up and recorded with guitar.

White Blood Cells became a huge hit, selling more than 500,000 copies. The catchy, ultra-fast single "Fell In Love With A Girl" became a hit in England, and its video (featuring animation that used Legos to depict Jack and Meg) was played frequently on MTV and won three MTV Video Music Awards. Billboard's Chris Moore heralded the White Stripes as the leaders of a "Detroit rock revival," noting that Jack had produced a compilation of several Detroit bands, Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit, and often talked up other Detroit musicians in interviews.

Some critics complained about the band's carefully crafted image; half of Time's 2001 piece on the band was spent exposing the fact that the Whites were a divorced couple, not brother and sister. But most critics praised the band for making blues and simple rock sound new again. "The singer's manic intensity emerged gradually as he peppered the performance with deconstructed blues riffs and inspired solos," Jay DeFoore of the Hollywood Reporter wrote in his review of the band's sold-out April of 2002 show at New York's Bowery Ballroom. "With one broken string perpetually dangling from his guitar, Jack resembled a mad magician conjuring up spells from discarded songs of the past."

Like many other American alternative-rock bands, the White Stripes became widely popular in Europe first. On their 2002 European tour, they played on the British TV show Top of the Pops; their show in Stockholm, Sweden, sold out in 13 minutes, and they discovered that French crowds knew all their songs. Later in 2002, the White Stripes were an opening act on part of the Rolling Stones' tour. They even embraced the role of trend-setters by performing four shows with The Strokes, two in Detroit, two in New York. By then, the band had left their old independent label to sign with the larger V2 Records, which re-released all three of their albums. As part of their minimalist ethic, the White Stripes kept their shows spontaneous. "We never use a set list, and we never rehearse, really," Jack told Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone. "We just keep it as spontaneous as possible and keep it off the top of our heads. If it was structured, I would get bored with it."

Expectations were high as the White Stripes released their fourth album, Elephant, in spring of 2003. Recorded in London, reputedly at a cost of less than $10,000, Elephant proved to be very much in the vein of White Blood Cells, but more consistent: dirty guitars playing catchy riffs, mostly rock but still blues-influenced (as on the song "Ball and Biscuit"), with a few ballads mixed in and strong songwriting throughout. Meg even made a rare appearance as a vocalist on the ballad "In the Cold, Cold Night."

The album was a huge critical success, though many critics took swipes at the band's perceived pretentions before praising the music. Josh Tyrangiel of Time warned readers away from the liner notes of Elephant, in which Jack White wrote that the album was about the "death of the sweetheart," but he called the impassioned breakup song "There's No Home For You Here" and the single and lead-off track "Seven Nation Army" classics and the ballads "You've Got Her in Your Pocket" and "I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother's Heart" "soft, hymnal, and far sweeter than you would think White capable of." Lorraine Ali of Newsweek claimed the band had been "overrated" in the past, but deemed Elephant "a far better album" than White Blood Cells," praising Jack White's wordplay and describing his voice as "campy and high-strung one minute, smoke-wrecked and gruff the next." Entertainment Weekly's Rob Brunner groused that the "half talented" band had succeeded because Jack is a good salesman, that Meg had only recently reached "near adequacy" as a drummer, and that the red-and-white color scheme had gotten old. Yet Brunner gave the album a grade of B and called Jack "a top-notch frontman, a charismatic yowler with a seemingly endless supply of brilliantly simplistic guitar riffs that often find fresh musical twists on tired rock & roll cliches."

Elephant went platinum, selling more than 1.4 million copies in the United States and four million copies worldwide. One of the album's songs, "Seven Nation Army," became one of 2003's biggest rock singles. The album won a Grammy award for Best Alternative Music Album in 2004. After Elephant was released, Jack ended up in celebrity gossip columns, mostly thanks to his relationship with actress Renee Zellweger. The two had met in 2002 while filming the movie Cold Mountain in Romania. White played a small role in the film, a romantic drama set in the Civil War (released in December of 2003), and contributed songs in a 19th-century folk style to the soundtrack. White was showing Zellweger around Detroit in July of 2003 when he broke a finger in a small car accident; the injury forced the band to cancel a few months of tour appearances. (White and Zellweger eventually broke up, and she married country music star Kenny Chesney in May of 2005, from whom she filed for divorce a few months later.) White was also in the news because he got in a bar brawl with a fellow Detroit musician, Jason Stollsteimer, lead singer of the Von Bondies, in December of 2003, reportedly over comments Stollsteimer made in an interview downplaying White's role producing the Von Bondies' first album. White eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery and was fined and ordered to attend anger-management classes.

Jack and Meg appeared in the film Coffee and Cigarettes in 2004, an experimental collection of shorts directed by Jim Jarmusch in which the actors drank coffee, smoked cigarettes, and talked. (Jack and Meg talked about a Tesla coil, which is used in electronic equipment.) That same year, Jack produced an album for classic country-music star Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose, which went on to win a Grammy in 2005. Plus, Jack and Lynn shared a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration With Vocals for one of that album's songs.

Though critics often complained the White Stripes relied on gimmicks to get attention, the duo actually avoid typical music-business marketing strategies. The best example came in the summer of 2005. As their fifth album, Get Behind Me Satan, was about to debut, the White Stripes took off on a tour of Central and South America, followed by a tour of Eastern Europe, Greece, and Russia after its release. Brian Garrity of Billboard had to talk to Jack White about the album by phone while the band was in Chile. "I wanted to go to places where no one had ever seen us before, so we [could] get that feeling back of those live shows where we used to have to prove ourselves," White told Garrity.

While on the South American tour, on June 1, 2005, Jack married British model Karen Elson in Manaus, Brazil. The marriage reportedly took place on a canoe at the spot where the Amazon River meets two other rivers. Meg was the maid of honor, according to the White Stripes' website. "This was the first marriage for both newlyweds," the site claimed.

The band experimented with its sound on Get Behind Me Satan, recorded at a studio Jack White built in his home. He only played electric guitar on a few tracks; others featured piano or marimba instead. Jack White told Rolling Stone's Fricke that the album, and its title, represented "the end of any unhappiness I have…. Any troubles I have are well-represented: betrayal, loss, pain…."

Reviews were good to mixed. Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker praised Jack White's talent but expressed frustration that he continued to work within arbitrary rules of simplicity. Recording the album in less than three weeks, as the White Stripes often do, resulted in a collection of sloppy songs and made the album more "smart" than "fun," Frere-Jones complained. But Chuck Arnold of People gave the album 3 1/2 stars and called it "weird" but "fascinating," and Lorraine Ali of Newsweek called it "an explosive hybrid of under-the-radar Americana, scraggly hip-hugger rock and 21st-century innovation."

In fall of 2005, the White Stripes headed out on a tour of the United States, and Jack White was preparing to release an album with a new band, The Raconteurs, which includes his friend, Detroit rock musician Brendan Benson. In October of 2005, it was announced that the White Stripes would perform on Comedy Central's The Daily Show in December of that year. The duo was the first band to perform on that show.

Selected discography

White Stripes, Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1999; V2, 2002.

De Stijl, Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2000; V2, 2002.

White Blood Cells, Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001; V2, 2002.

Elephant, V2, 2003.

Get Behind Me Satan, V2, 2005.

Sources

Books

Handyside, Chris, Fell In Love With A Band: The Story of the White Stripes, St. Martin's Griffin, 2004.

Periodicals

Billboard, October 27, 2001, p. 1; April 27, 2002, p. 80; June 4, 2005, p. 22.

Detroit News, March 10, 2004.

Entertainment Weekly, April 4, 2003, p. 98.

Hollywood Reporter, April 8, 2002, p. 28; September 24, 2003, p. 19.

Maclean's, May 24-31, 2004.

Metro Times (Detroit, MI), May 26, 1999; May 29, 2001.

Newsweek, June 21, 2005, p. 50; June 27, 2005, p. 60.

New Yorker, June 13, 2005, p. 178.

People, June 20, 2005, p. 28; June 27, 2005, p. 41.

Rolling Stone, February 15, 2001, p. 65; April 11, 2002, p. 47; December 12, 2002, p. 88; September 8, 2005, pp. 66-72.

Time, June 16, 2001; April 14, 2003, p. 82.

USA Today, August 12, 2003, p. 3D.

Online

"News," The White Stripes, http://www.white stripes.com/news/news.html (August 21, 2005).

"The White Stripes, Biography," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p= amg&searchlink=WHITE|STRIPES& uid= MIW030509051902&sql=11:jpx1z81a1yvo~T1 (August 21, 2005).

"White Stripes, 'Daily,'" CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/10/07/showbuzz/index.html#2 (October 10, 2005).

ErickTrickey

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