Anyone who was lucky enough to witness a White Stripes show will tell you that when you’re in there, wherever it may be, you can’t think of anything else other than what it is unfurling on stage. Meg and Jack White simply whisked your cares away like enchanters yielding their instruments to break through the dull drudgery of the everyday to offer a whisp of drunken exultation.
This act was the purpose of the blues. And for all the indie and latter-day rock ‘n’ roll flourishes in their sound, the White Stripes were a blues band. And as Wynton Marsalis once said: “Everything comes out in the blues music: joy, pain, struggle. Blues is affirmation with absolute elegance. […] The paint and the struggle in the blues is that universal pain that comes from having your heartbroken.”
Since the days of Robert Johnson and all the other roving troubadours espousing the devil’s music, the blues may have bled out into all the modern forms we know, but that same essence will always be a universal ever-present, which is why Jack White opines: “I don’t like anything that starts with ‘re’ – like retro, reinvent, recreate – hate that. It’s always like living in the past—copying, emulating. With the White Stripes we were trying to trick people into not realising we were playing the blues.” And there was a single pastiche of the past about it.
Thus, it came as little surprise when Jack White explained his favourite song of all time in the documentary It Might Get Loud, that he delved into the timeless oeuvre of blues spiritualism and championed the Son House track ‘Grinnin’ in Your Face’ perhaps first recorded in April 1965, but nobody really knows. “By the time I was about 18, somebody played me Son House, that was it for me,” White poetically began.
Continuing: “This spoke to me in a thousand different ways. I didn’t know that you could do that—just singing and clapping. It meant everything. It meant everything about rock ‘n’ roll, everything about expression, creativity and art. One man against the world in one song. That’s my favourite song, it still is. It became my favourite song the first time I heard it and it still is. I heard everything disappearing, it didn’t matter that he was clapping off time, it didn’t matter that no instruments were being played, all that mattered was the attitude of the song.”
The sparse simplicity is pure punk individualism. In an era of great hardship, Son House lived by the blues playing pariah tenet of self-expression. As he hollers himself, “A true friend is hard to find.” There’s depth and poetry in that simplicity that makes it seem like much more than one man, his weathered voice and off-beat clapping, and it changed Jack White’s life forever.