Detroit is fertile ground for the authentic. Home of all things neglected, ignored, abused and abandoned, the Motor City has also always managed to birth from its corrosion an occasionally desperate streak of creativity among those willing to withstand its demise—and create just about anything to get their minds off it.
John Lee Hooker slept there. His Hastings Street name-check in “Boogie Chillin” is proof of the rich blues scene that existed in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The Motown recording empire cast a spell on the British Invasion bands, who cast one back in turn, emerging wet and slimy from the Detroit River in the form of some of the most awesome and obscure British-influenced garage bands of the ‘60s. Following the 1967 race riots, the MC5 did their best to provide a glimmer to the war-scarred metro area, while the Stooges did possibly everything wrong—only to influence music for eternity.
Negative Approach, then the Laughing Hyenas. The Gories. The Hentchmen. Yes, even the Romantics. Quite a roll-call even for such an intense place—as though anyone who tunes a guitar in Detroit must pay a price with the devil for any gratification before getting yanked down to hell to serve the time. Only in the Motor City, you’re already serving the time. Is there any hope for the bastard child called Detroit?
Yep. There is one band to break the Detroit hex with a handful of singles and a couple of full-length discs: the White Stripes. Jack and Meg White had their first single out a mere three years ago; their newest disc, White Blood Cells, is causing quite a stir all across the board. The music captivates: Jack’s Neil Haggerty-meets-Robert Plant vocals, a sound that kicks it to more gears than one. It is garage rock with the average allotment of the blues, but listening to the album is like hearing 16 different thoughts. It escapes the usual pattern of writing songs about getting tail, cars, getting fucked up and then wanting to die because you’re all fucked up.
It’s that Detroit philosophy: No matter how cruddy things are or how heartbroken you are, there’s another one like you who feels the same way. S’pose Jack White has made a couple a thousand friends with some of his songs—the kid done connected with a whole new genre that’s been sitting, waiting by the phone. Grab an obscure riff, cover that unknown song, flash your blade. That may be the key to the White Stripes’ “success:” the intrigue of these kids playing guitar and batting drums, all in the name of the blues and rock and roll.
The press are hyped to the newest sensation and don’t even notice if Jack’s guitar is a Hagström or a Silvertone. That’s show biz. Hopefully the White Stripes won’t succumb to this world of attention by compromising and reducing themselves to a self-parody. Shoot, they’re from Detroit and I bet they’d be laughing at that last line. They’d better be.
White Stripes lay down the line at The Ritz this Monday, July 9 at 10 PM. $6 cover.