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5.4 Blues Music

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#1 twitch


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Posted 06 January 2005 - 09:21 PM

Jack: Older people started playing it for me. I always had older friends, people who were twice my age when I was a teenager. I was looking for something more mature and away from childish kind of... When I got out of high school, I went to college for one semester, and I was so upset that those kids acted exactly the same way that they did in high school. I thought there was going to be a new thing, where all of a sudden you wouldn't have to deal with that crap anymore, with peer pressure and people judging everyone. I was so upset that it was the same thing all over again. My way to deal with it was to try to relate to older people and get away from that. Their turning me on to the blues made me so happy. It happened when I was about 18, right when I was getting out of high school, and I just felt like I'd left so much behind after getting involved with that.

Jack: "Oh, it's the pinnacle of all music. I think everything from the 20th Century goes right back to that [the blues]. It's like the correlation we made with our second album, De Stijl [and the Dutch art movement of the same name]. It was about breaking down visuals into next-to-basic components. The bluesmen have always been doing that, stripping songwriting down to those three components I was talking about earlier: storytelling, melody, and rhythm. I hate the fact that the bluesman has been parodied -- "Oh, I woke up this morning and my baby's gone," Blues Brothers kind of thing -- when those guys are the gods of music. I mean, there should be statues of them everywhere."

Jack: "It's never been topped, and I don't think it ever will be. It sort of accidentally broke songwriting down to its three basic components: storytelling, melody, and rhythm. And that's the way I see it. It's so truthful, it can't be glamorized. If people really love music, they're going to start being drawn toward honesty, and if they're drawn to that, it's a direct line right back to Charley Patton and Son House. I'm very skeptical of musicians who say they love music and don't love the blues. It's like someone saying they don't like The Beatles: It makes you think they're in it for the wrong ideas."

Jack: "when I heard Son House and Robert Johnson, it blew my mind. It was something I'd been missing my whole life. That music made me discard everything else and just get down to the soul and honesty of the blues. At that point I was like, what have I been doing? Why have I not been paying attention to this music? It was that honesty, bare bones, to the minimum, truth. The more I thought about it, it was the pinnacle of songwriting. Easily accessible because of the repeating lines you could sing along to, very easy to play for the performer, extremely emotional at the same time. You could go to see a glam rock band and say, 'This is really exciting', but that's far from honesty. If a musician listens to Charley Patton and doesn't hear anything at all, I don't think they should call themselves musicians, because they're obviously just looking for fun and kicks and a good time out of it."

Jack: "The blues is from such a different time period and culture than where I'm from. Being a white kid from Detroit who was born in the '70s is a long way from being born black in Mississippi in the 20's. I'm always worried that playing the blues is going to be misconstrued as me trying to cultivate an image, or that it's going to come across fake. Jack: "The music in my head and on the radio would be missing a limb, a heart and a soul if the pinnacle of songwriting and storytelling had not come forth from the South," writes Jack White in the liner notes to the just-out "Heroes of the Blues." "I'm sorry I wasn't here to carry their guitars for them."

Jack: "If I was only playing music for myself, then I would be playing the blues." Music based on the delta-blues' tough, miserly uncompromising attitude. And maybe it is his love of the straightforwardness in the blues which makes irony non-existent in the duo's music; it is mostly straight, fairly clear-cut, without an underlying message.

Jack: "I was obsessed with blues music and trying to really find a way a white boy like me from Detroit who was born in the '70s could play it, because it felt so right to me in my bedroom. "The blues is the most important musical idea of the last century," he tells me one afternoon. We've been discussing resonance and blues chords and the arc of his life-and he seems genuinely excited by it all. "They should teach it in school. Country, and rock and roll, and punk, and everything else--it's all the blues. But the blues is the purest form of it. It's the pinnacle of a mountain that slopes down into other types of music."

Jack: "The moment when that progression (12 bar) was accomplished in the early part of the twentieth century was the most perfect moment in songwriting of all time. There's something about that that's so easily understandable, that repeating line. It translates to the next person so easily. Which is what song-writing is supposed to do: translating an idea, communicating an idea--through melody and storytelling and rhythm."

Jack: "Yeah. When I was a teenager I had a cassette tape of some Howlin' Wolf songs and Willie Dixon. But [the blues] really didn't snap with me until later on - somehow Robert Johnson really snapped something in my brain. I really felt like I had to find a way that I could play this music that felt so real and so cathartic for me, and figure out how I could attack that and share it with other people without getting this "white-boy blues" thing labeled on me. Once [Meg and I] started playing rock and roll together, we sort of figured out this way of boxing ourselves in, so tight and so limited that you weren't really thinking about the notions behind it, it just felt more emotional. The whole goal was to get down to wearing the uniform, as in school, where you're just forced to concentrate because you're not distracted by anything else."

Jack: “The Blues is holy, a perfect creation; it is everything that music should be. It contains so much that I almost don’t dare to mess with it. But I must. I heard Son House singing “Grinning in your face” and it was as if someone, with a single blow of the axe, had opened up the world to me. After that, my life received meaning. I can lie in bed in the middle of the night and feel an ice-cold wind flowing through my body, which makes me start to shake uncontrollably. Then I have to get up and hear Charley Patton or Robert Johnson. The American South should be regarded as holy land by everyone. Everything which is worth anything comes from there.”

Jack: “I want more of a challenge. I want to play non-typical blues within the rules of the blues and its codes. I am highly influenced by blues, as for me blues is synonymous with the truth, and a lot of my heroes are bluesman. But I don’t want to copy or imitate them, but I can sympathize with their attitude.”

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