September 19, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part VII: Strike three, Boston, yer outta there!!

The roller-coaster hit a trough this morning as I headed north on 95 past Baltimore on the way to Boston.  I'd been cranky and argumentative in internet conversations the previous evening, but became truly ugly as soon as the car got into rush hour traffic.  Things came out of my mouth directed at other drivers that could've made a sailor not just blush but cower.  I know how easily I become ugly like this, it's a trait that runs through both sides of my family and it used to be much more constant in me.  Discovering both Buddhism and Stoic philosophy several years ago helped me to learn to watch for it, but ten hours of sleep in four days could lower anyone's resistance to irritation and I'd also woken up this morning with the early symptoms of a cold.  So while that couldn't excuse the stuff that kept going through my head, it at least explained why it was happening.  Seeing myself become this way reminded me all over again why I identify so strongly with the song I'd requested from Jack that first night in San Francisco.  While the song is not specifically about these things, the title alone always reminds me of the pettiness, selfishness, rage, jealousy, and condescension I struggle with so frequently, much of it driven by a shadow need for recognition and attention that I've only recently truly acknowledged.   I queued up the White Stripes' Get Behind Me Satan and set I'm As Ugly As I Seem on repeat from the Delaware border all the way into New Jersey, letting the softness of that voice and guitar soothe me as much as possible (live version from the Stripes' appearance on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic, since the album version doesn't seem to have been slapped up on YouTube)-

"I'm as ugly as I seem, worse than all your dreams could make me out to be..." While listening to that song and the rest of that album did calm my road rage, it also caused me to begin wallowing in self-loathing as a response to the anger.  When I look at myself in that state, all I can see is a bitter, vicious hag and who could love themself in such a form?  But it was too early in the day for wallowing and tears, my makeup had to last all the way through that night, so Satan and Ugly were replaced with Lazaretto and Black Bat Licorice in an attempt to perk up both my mood and energy.

One of the main things I've learned from Buddhism is the concept of right thought, part of the Eightfold Path, which is not about controlling emotions and thoughts but about catching ourselves before we react habitually in unconstructive ways, taking the time to look at the situation we're in to see if it warrants such a reaction or if the reaction is really being driven by other things going on in our own mind.  Stoic philosophy takes a similar tack.  I think most people think of stoicism as being a grit your teeth, grin'n'bear it sort of attitude, but the philosophy is similar to Buddhism in that it requires you to look at your actions and reactions and think about them.  One of my favorite quotes from Marcus Aurelius is one I should have tattooed inside my eyelids, so that all I'd have to do when I needed to be reminded of it would be to close my eyes-- 

Do not disturb yourself by picturing your life as a whole; do not assemble in your mind the many and varied troubles which have come to you in the past and will come again in the future, but ask yourself with regard to every present difficulty: 'What is there in this that is unbearable and beyond endurance?' You would be ashamed to confess it! And then remind yourself that it is not the future or what has passed that afflicts you, but always the present, and the power of this is much diminished if you take it in isolation and call your mind to task if it thinks that it cannot stand up to it when taken on its own.

I have no problem with being angry, anger can be constructive.  But the sort of irrational rage I let loose in the car this morning is not.  I can accept it in myself to a small degree, but I have to constantly watch and be ready to reel it in when it goes too far.

Self-loathing is just another habitual negative response that's no more constructive than those directed outwardly.  Another tenet of Buddhism is compassion, not just for others but for ourselves.  We have to be just as understanding and patient of our own weaknesses as we should be of those of other people. Such weaknesses are something to work on, not something to condemn.  We need to work on them because these emotions are all very productive, they breed tremendous amounts of negativity. But they're not constructive, you can't learn anything from them.  Unless you can catch yourself, step back from them, and observe them.

Whoa, wait a minute... What's going on here?  For a moment there I almost forgot that I'm supposed to be an obsessed Jack White fan-girl, er, I mean junkie.  Who do I think I am getting all verbose about philosophies and stuff?  Gotta get back to the program! 

And snideness is yet one more unconstructive reflex.  Oops.  So anyway, I was heading north on 95 to Boston today to meet up with Sharon and see Jack fucking White perform at the Bleacher Theater at Fenway Park.  Made it through the morass of interchanges that are the NJ/NYC area to find myself admiring one beautiful Art Deco bridge after another along Connecticut route 15 and then the hints of color in early-changing leaves along I-90 in Massachusetts.  And there was a whole 'nother cast of characters joining Sharon and I today, people we'd not seen since Jack's Blunderbuss tour two years ago. So I had much to look forward to.

One of the coolest things about the Lazaretto tour is how Jack's mapped it out to coincide with his recent dive into baseball.  From attending games to taking batting practice to visiting museums of the sport, to throwing out the first pitch at a Tigers game in Detroit, it's obvious that he's gone deep into the history and minutiae of baseball the way he seems to with everything that interests him.  So it had to be a huge deal to him to perform at Fenway Park in Boston, one of the few historic ballparks left.  When I scored my ticket, I half jokingly said to anyone who would listen that, at the end of Seven Nation Army, I wanted Jack to jump off the stage of Bleacher Theater, lob a left-handed homer with the Kay (he didn't have to make it over Fenway's scoreboard, dubbed the Green Monster, though it'd be an extra thrill if he did), then run the bases.  I would scream my throat raw if he did something like that. But it was not to be.  I should have been tipped off early that the night would not be at all what I anticipated when Sharon and I grabbed a pair of hot dogs on the concourse.  Most bland dog I've ever eaten.  The minor league ballpark in Frederick, Maryland has better hot dogs than Fenway.  

An incident with the tour photographer on the concourse after we'd finished our dogs left me again feeling embarrassed that I'd barged in on Sharon's thing. She's been to twice as many shows on this tour as I have, in part because she has a job that allows her to coordinate business travel with show dates.  Not everyone has such a convenient situation. But she's also admitted to putting herself into debt with all this travel and is incredibly single-minded about doing what it takes to get up there on the rail, so while I'm ridiculously envious of her I also admire her dedication.  We've been great partners at the shows we've been to together, accomplices with a common goal.  We've had tons of fun in line and very emotional experiences together in front of (and on) the stage.  But as I see her being acknowledged by Jack's crew, demon jealously keeps rearing up and making me make comments I shouldn't to try to feel that my dedication lives up to hers.  It's that need for recognition and attention that I mentioned above. But where anger-driven feelings make me picture myself as a vicious hag, these feelings of jealousy cause me to see myself as a petulant little child. I can't deny that the silly little fan-girl in me is pining for Jack to to see and acknowledge my devotion.  The rational side of me understands that's never going to happen. Not only is it never going to happen, it doesn't need to happen.  Life will go on and be just as fulfilling without it.  I've been in one-sided relationships before, in which the other person expected me to share their interests but didn't share mine and in which it felt I was loved for how I made that person feel rather than for myself.  I swore I'd never be in a relationship like that again and, in fact, that's part of what led to my recent Facebook friend list clean-up--  I don't even want "friend"ships in which I comment on other people's posts and they never comment on mine.  And yet here I am with Jack, in the most one-sided sort of relationship anyone could ever hope to have. Incidents like the one this evening, the ones that have left me feeling embarrassed for my attempts to connect, make me wonder why I bother.  But who am I fooling?  I know exactly why I keep reaching out, babbling incessantly in the Third Man Vault, on message boards, here in a public blog, needing to be right in front of him at shows to be seen as well as to see--  Because the fan-girl addict will never give up wanting to be acknowledged.  She and the rational side battle over this, but the rational side often ends up indulging her because it realizes that we've rarely in our life been so swept up and moved by anything as powerfully as by Jack's music. When a tour's going on... forget about it. The rational side may as well go take a nap. 

And I know that I'm not alone in this craving. The majority of fellow fans I've spoken to want to meet him, even if it's just for an autograph or hand-shake.  There are always people at shows hovering by the tour bus, waiting for an opportunity.  What's behind this craving?  I tend to shy away from hanging by the tour bus, I've had that experience before with rock stars I admired and it was anti-climactic, so I have trouble understanding why such brief and often hectic encounters are so important to people. And I'm honestly not even sure that I want to actually meet Jack. As I said, I've had that opportunity with other people like him and it's never once turned out the way I imagined it might.  A couple of the experiences have been decidedly negative.  I got to know one of my dearest friends when she stumbled across my blog and contacted me with a story of how she and her grandson had written to Jack and received a letter from him in reply.  She's shown me this letter and it's a beautiful thing.  It's brief, but he made the effort to touch on every subject they'd written to him about.  While I'd be amazed if he would remember writing that letter, to me something like that is a much more meaningful connection than the five-second hand-shake, "Your music means so much to me", "Thank you very much" encounter by the tour bus.  For some people, though, that five seconds is all they need to be thrilled right down to their socks.  

And what I'm talking about here really applies to any musician, actor, athlete, or celebrity that people revere.  Why do we all need this so much?  Is it an altruistic impulse, do we want to be able to give these people the gratification of knowing that what they do is meaningful (might have to question that in the case of some celebrities) and touches people ?  Or is it a more selfish desire to have our own existence elevated by their acknowledgement? I've seen people in the Third Man Vault chatroom who've gotten a response from Jack in chat gush after he'd left that, verbatim, "I'm so excited, Jack White knows I exist!"  Is the motivation for this need some combination of the altruistic and selfish?  Is it an individual thing, varying from person to person?  Interesting stuff to think about.

Getting back to the show...  I was initially very upset about my seat in Bleacher Theater, all the way over at the end of the first row far from the side of the stage, and concerned about being on a step with nothing in front of me to hold onto for balance as I danced and jumped about.  Not to mention being all alone and far from my friends, who were all one section over and spread around.  Ended up rocking my ass off anyway, despite only being able to see drummer Daru Jones from the back and bass player Dominic Davis barely at all.  And I watched Jack all night trying to engage the group of people directly in front of him, a bunch who sat for much of the show, who kept leaving to get beers, and some of whom several times stood up and turned their backs to him while talking to their friends.  I kept wanting to run down the row and shake those people, to make them turn around and realize what they were missing. I don't know what else he was seeing in the crowd, but that group definitely caught his attention.  At least once, he stepped to the front of the stage and stared fixedly at them, much like he stared down the camera man at Merriweather Post Pavilion two nights before. And I know from Cleveland just how penetrating yet impenetrable that stare is, but it seemed lost on that group (I later found out they were apparently some of the owners of the Red Sox and their wives).  And it seemed that they weren't the only part of the audience with better things to do, because he didn't even bother to invite the crowd to sing on any of the songs that are perpetual crowd sing-alongs-- Not on Hotel Yorba, not on Hello Operator or Steady As She Goes, not even the line in Seven Nation Army about the Queen of England and all the hounds of Hell. But the most unbelievable thing, for me at least, was when it came time for the Seven Nation Army chant.  This is the chant that can be sung even by people who have no clue who Jack White is because they've heard it in stadiums and via television broadcasts of sporting events for the last several years.  But could Boston pull it off in their own venerated sports stadium with Jack and his Kay guitar there on the stage right in front of them?  Fuck no.  I heard two repetitions of it and then it died away.  Jack stood in front of his amps with his guitar, waiting for the response that most audiences wait all through the show to be able give to him, and Boston couldn't muster it.  He didn't even bother to clap and gesture for the crowd to join him as he usually does, didn't bother to spur them on, just finished the song, then thanked the crowd, stressing over and over that through the night it had been "Just you and me!  Just you and me!!" I couldn't tell whether there was sarcasm in his tone or if he was trying more obliquely to let them know that they'd not held up their end of the arrangement or if, bizarrely, he'd felt a connection despite the lack of one that I'd observed.

Through it all, even though I'm not sure he or the band saw me at all, I danced and sang and jumped and cheered as usual (and only fell off of my precarious spot on the ledge a few times), feeling like a wallflower at the prom, dancing by herself and watching the Prom King have a lousy experience with the cool kids, just knowing I could show him a great time if only he'd come over and ask me to dance.  But alas, it wasn't to be.  I continued dancing by myself and he continued to be stuck with the kids who were too cool to clap.  During the break between sets, I suddenly heard a voice over my shoulder say "We've been watching you and you know how to enjoy a show!  We want to dance with you!!"  I turned around to find two young girls whose seats were two rows up and across the aisle who'd hopped down and squeezed in next to me.  I said that if security would let them stay, it was cool with me. One of them was convinced that we'd be able to get down into the empty VIP section in front of the stage when the show continued, and I didn't bother to tell her I doubted it highly. Sure enough and sadly, security chased them back to their seats when Jack and the band came back for the second set.  I would have enjoyed their company.

This is the most subdued performance of Hardest Button that I've experienced yet, fourth song to the end of the show.  Fiddle player Lillie Mae Rische is more animated than Jack is.

Compare that to this bit of the ending of Lazaretto, four songs from the beginning of the show--

The difference in his energy is notable and, again, weird to me.  Jack's typically the opposite, amping up himself and the crowd more in the second half of the show than the first. And yet despite the weirdness of the crowd response and its seeming effect on his energy, this was not a bad show. And I certainly hope that the musicians on stage got something out of it. Just like at Cleveland, the negative aspects were balanced by many high moments--

Each of the band members emerged one at a time from a door in the Green Monster and headed from there to the stage, with Jack making his entrance last.  It was a brilliant idea. Wish this person had caught his entire jog across the field, with the pouring of about half his bottle of champagne onto the grass.

One of my favorite moments was a version of Black Bat Licorice that could've been re-titled Black Bat Gibberish, and I do not mean the word gibberish in any derogatory way.  Jack started inserting mostly unintelligible verses in between the regular ones, causing me to throw up my hands as I tried to sing along and yet giggle at the same time. It reminded me very much of the second show at Roseland Ballroom back on the Blunderbuss tour, at which he pretty much completely lost the lyrics of the first song and flubbed another one shortly into the set, but then later in the evening made up an astoundingly beautiful song on the spot.  And, dammit, I love this song in any form, it's one that just speaks to me.  Loved the slight twist to the final line-- "Whatever you feed me, I'll feed you right back. But it will do me no good."

Did I say something about snideness being unconstructive...?  Just never you mind, I hope Jack never removes his King of Snark crown. He uses it so delightfully to make a point.

But despite these moments, there was still that seeming lack of connection with the crowd. My buddy Steve, seeing him for the second time this tour, said he thought Jack was just tired.  But Sharon and I have seen him at so many shows and this felt different. I mean, the man played on a sprained ankle with more energy than he displayed at some points in this show.  Was he, like me, just exhausted?  Or was he getting a vibe from the crowd similar to the one I picked up?  Hell, for all I know, he had the flu that night. But when Sharon and I found each other after the show, we looked at each other and said "What just happened?"  One of us said almost immediately that it was like Radio City Music Hall and the Detroit Fox all over again.  After the backlash from Radio City, it's possibly not likely that Jack would ever cut a show short again (though he's ballsy enough that you never know). And his tour manager mentioned in the pre-show announcement that this show at Fenway was being recorded, so we wondered if that was why he pushed through, only giving up at the very end when he didn't bother to encourage the audience to participate in Seven Nation Army. It was an experience I never would have thought I'd have at one of his shows.

All show photos by David James Swanson

Yes, there were moments when this show felt more like other recent ones, with that infectious smile.

And there I am, next to Lillie Mae Rische's right shoulder
Interestingly, there's this video of Seven Nation Army that makes it sound as if the upper reaches of the audience were much more responsive than the folks down front. There's the chant, however faint. Like Radio City and the Detroit Fox show, perspective on this one might depend on where you were in the crowd and what you have to compare the experience to.  So now I really don't know what to make of the night.

To be continued in Miami.  And this is where it began- Introduction.

September 16, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White Junkie, part VI: To paraphrase the Beastie Boys, "NO SLEEP SINCE FARM AID!!!"

Left the house just after 8:30am for the drive to Raleigh, NC to meet Sharon and Helen for Farm Aid 2014.  The last time I headed south on 95, for a day-trip to Richmond, traffic slammed to a halt at Dumfries and crawled the rest of the way, turning a two hour trip into three.  I planned seven for this trip that Google said would take four and three-quarters. But traffic was great and within two hours I was well past Richmond. Along the way, around the time I passed Kings Dominion, I realized I was driving along with a small serene smile on my face.  This is freedom for me, this smooth, flowing locomotion, the rhythm of the road, feeling the vibration of the car and the subtlety of the movements necessary to maneuver it.  Surprisingly, even more freeing was the the idea that our plans were completely up in the air.  Normally I'd be in a tizzy over loosy-goosey plans, but fuck it, we were winging this, going by the seats of our pants and making it up as we went.  On my first road-trip to see Jack a little shy of four and a half years ago, I was on the road and fretting over finding a ticket for a show I was driving toward. This time I was trying to unload some tickets for a show I was driving toward and not concerned in the least whichever way it turned out. All part of the adventure, you know?
So as the car flowed swift and straight down the highway, my mind began to meander meditatively through thoughts of music and friendship.  These shows I go to bring the two together, after all, so it's not so unusual that both would be floating around in my brain at the same time.  I talked in the introduction to this multi-chapter tale about the friendships I've formed over the last few years through my discovery of Jack's music.  We all keep in touch as much as possible through the magic of the interwebs but since we're spread all over it's times like this, when he's on tour, that we're most easily able to come together and actually see each other.  And, again because of how we're spread out, I see different combinations of people from show to show, the groupings flow and fluctuate depending on proximity and people's ability to travel. That's what was on my mind while driving today, how the relationships between these people flow and fluctuate the same way we travel from show to show.  It's been interesting to watch over the last few years, as I've gotten to know more and more folks.  Some of them knew each other before I met them, and have been to other shows together without me.  We've met new people at new shows and they've been incorporated into the group to varying degrees.  New satellites, as it were, in the universe of compatriots with this addiction.  Others haven't been able to make it to shows on this tour yet and the trials of life have pulled them farther out to the edges of that universe where communication takes place less frequently.  I noticed a few weeks ago that my 'friend' list on Facebook had suddenly passed 80,  a heck of a milestone for someone who's been such a loner for all their life.  But I knew that number didn't represent real friends, that there was no way I'd really developed a true bond with every one of those people, so I cleaned house, unfriending more than half of that number.  The people left are the ones with whom I can pick up a conversation after we haven't talked in weeks, even a month or more, and they still make me feel like there's something between us, that even if we're not able to see each other there's still a connection worth holding onto.  And within that group that's left, it's fascinating to observe how new people fit, how alliances form, how people grow apart and yet hang together. These relationships are flexible and dynamic and I wonder what it is that has kept me bound to them these few years.  Is it just our mutual addiction that binds us, or have some of these bonds grown beyond that initial seed and flowered into something that would survive without it?  As someone who's had so few friends throughout her life, and even less that lasted this long, this is new territory for me to explore.
The thoughts about music had to do with conscience over unloading the tickets to today's show.  I'd initially been very excited about seeing both Neil Young and Willie Nelson, the show's main headliners.  I've been marginally familiar with both over the years, through the music my parents listened to, but never thought of listening to them on my own.  Then both of them went and got involved in projects with Third Man Records within the last year and made me realize I'd made a mistake in not giving them my attention sooner.  This show would be a terrific opportunity to experience them live, along with Jack, so how could I pass it up, even at $200 a ticket?  But as the show approached and we began making plans to meet for it, we suddenly realized we'd created a logistical dilemma.  Before the Farm Aid show had been announced, Sharon and I had already committed ourselves to two shows in Maryland and Ohio, and the three were scheduled three days in a row.  They weren't terribly far apart in distance, but far enough that it threw a monkey wrench into our usual modus operandi.  So we talked about bailing out and selling our tickets.  I looked at the secondary market and saw hundreds of tickets already available for Farm Aid. Could we even sell them?  And, heavens above, what was I doing thinking of skipping out on an opportunity to see not only Jack (forgive me, for I have sinned...), but two legendary artists that I'd recently been exposed to by him (probably an even bigger sin in his mind)?  So on the one hand, I was in a bit of a quandary.  On the other, my addiction, my need to see him up close when I see him, was pulling at its chains and snarling at me that these seats at Farm Aid weren't close and I would be a fool to risk losing my spot on the rail in Maryland by sticking around to see Willie and Neil.  By the day before the show no serious offers for our tickets had come to fruition, so it was decided that Sharon and I would go ahead and meet Helen in North Carolina, but then leave as soon as possible after Jack's set.  I felt guilt over letting the addiction get in the way of paying respect to two musicians that I really wanted to experience, whom I could potentially really dive into after seeing them live, but I shoved thoughts of both guilt and addiction aside and when Saturday morning arrived focused on nothing but the pleasure of being on the road, come what may.  Then, of course, along the road I got three text messages from people who were interested in our tickets.
There's not much to say about the show itself because Jack's set, the last before the four headliners, was only 45 minutes. But he obviously crafted his set for this show with more thought than he seemingly usually does, because he played an assortment of songs that would appeal to a somewhat mellow, somewhat folky/country-oriented crowd, contrasted with a handful of his very heavy-toned staples. Before his set began, the women next to us must have heard us talking about him because they asked what they should expect.  The main thing we told them was that he would be unlike anyone else playing that day.  I caught sight of them out of the corner of my eye a few times while he was on-stage and got the feeling that they were both impressed and taken aback at the same time.  They bopped along to songs like Hotel Yorba and You Know That I Know, then stood stock-still staring at the nearby Jumbotron screen during crushers like Cannon, Lazaretto, and Ball and Biscuit.  I could tell there were also a few more fans besides us in the rows ahead, but the biggest crowd response, unsurprisingly, was reserved for the sports-stadium chant, Seven Nation Army.

Photo courtesy of David James Swanson.  Sharon and I were convinced he saw us in this moment through the large gap in the crowd created by folks either sitting down or not in their seats at all for his set. The lawn was packed, but the pavilion...  not so much. 
Think people were waiting for the main headliners.
After his set, we spent some time walking the concourse of the amphitheater and catching up with Helen, then hit the road back up through North Carolina and Virginia to Maryland, caravan-style.  It was very weird to set up our chairs at the gates of a venue in the woods, with no seagulls, no homeless people, and no Sam, our buddy of the previous two trips.  But instead of Sam at this show, we had our buddy Dan, the man who literally got us up on-stage in Detroit.  And we were in Maryland, practically in my backyard, in my stomping grounds, half an hour from my home but in this situation I didn't see home beyond a quick stop for a shower.  We were in tour mode and the venue was to be our home for this day and night.  

At this point, I've come to the conclusion that there's no such thing as a bad Jack White show. But, honestly, this one was as memorable for the people as for the music.  We laughed so much together throughout the day that my face hurt by the time the show began.  And then we got a taste of what was in store when Jack's tour manager stepped out from behind the blue velvet curtains to deliver the post-show "no cell phones" injunction-- He was greeted with a roaring cheer that probably shook the venerable rafters of Merriweather Post.  If the tour manager got that response, what was Jack going to get?  D.C. and Baltimore love him and I was so gratified that my hometown(s) greeted him with the same warm, raucous welcome this night that they have in the past.  Jack was grinning ear-to-ear almost immediately, and while he gave us treats such as I Think I Smell A Rat and I Fought Piranhas, and teases of Another Way to Die and Bound to Pack It Up, this show was mostly notable just for the overwhelming overall energy of it.  EN-ER-GY.  The crowd poured it into him and he whipped it up and threw it back out to ripple through us in a crackling circuit.  Afterward, as those ripples slowly dissipated, Sharon and I again spent some time with our friends, comparing notes about the show and saying goodbyes, then left exhausted but so very high.

Photo again courtesy of David James Swanson, as are all show photos.  Staring down the camera man in front of him, not the crowd.
Would have loved to have seen what that looked like on the screens next to the stage.

Ascending the curves of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the wee hours of the morning, amped on 10 hours worth of 5-hour energy, I had to keep reminding myself to slow down because Sharon was following.   Unfortunately, it was a small window of being amped, as the energy shots took two hours to kick in then began to wear off again after one, after which a weird out-of-body feeling and double-vision began to set in.  I hadn't slept in 44 hours at that point and, as we'd made no specific plan beyond getting from venue to venue, had no idea when I would get any again.  We pulled in for a gas stop at one point and I think we saw the same goggle-eyed expression on each other's face as we got out of our cars.  But we made it to Cleveland and tried to catch a few winks before many more folks showed up for the line along the dock outside of Jacobs Pavilion.  I think winks were all I got, though. There's a state you can get into that's not quite awake but not quite asleep, where you're not fully conscious but are still aware of sounds and movement going on around you.  That's the closest I got to sleep that morning. 
Photo courtesy of Sharon Harrow. That's me in the sleeping bag to the left of the blankets.
Early in the day, one of the security guys who was going to be working the front of the stage that night came over to check out the line, presumably to see what sort of people he'd be spending his evening with (Eddie, man, you're the greatest, wish you'd been closer when I needed you).  Like the two women at Farm Aid, he wasn't familiar with Jack and asked us what he should expect, so we told him a bit about Jack's music and the whole no setlist/every show is different thing, and he mentioned looking forward to seeing Jack's gear (I told him to be sure to check out the vintage acoustic Army-Navy guitar, created by Gibson for soldiers heading off to WW II.  Jack's is beat to hell and back, but it's wonderfully warm sounding and you can tell just by looking at it that it's got many stories in it).  He left after a while to see what was going on inside the venue, then came back later to let us know that the tech guys had asked if he'd seen a blonde woman with glasses and a dark-haired woman in the line.  He got a big chuckle out of them wanting to know if we were there.
Like Merriweather, Cleveland turned out to be a show as memorable, or more so, for the crowd as for the music, but for very different reasons.  One of the things that has impressed me again and again over the last four years is how cool the crowds are at Jack's shows.  Cleveland was my 30th of his shows and it was the first at which I experienced uncontrollable asshole-ishness.  I knew right off the bat that this crowd was going to be a problem because they were pushing up against us before the show even began. So I went into preemptive mode and began chatting up the folks immediately behind us, figuring that we'd form an alliance and look out for each other during the show.  One of them was a teenage boy there by himself, practically vibrating with excitement because it was his first Jack White show and he couldn't believe he was so close to the stage.  I was really looking forward to his response after everything was over.

But sure enough, as soon as Jack hit the stage assholes started shoving up between the two women behind me and pushing everyone around. The young kid who was seeing Jack for the first time disappeared entirely within a few songs. I was able to keep my space, but Sharon felt like she was back at Vancouver all over again, where the crowd was so rough she had her face smashed against the barrier.  This bunch wasn't quite that violent, but it was clear that there were many there who didn't give a rat's ass about the people around them.  

At one point during the second set, I motioned security over about a woman who'd squeezed up from the back and was shoving everyone around (she didn't get pulled out, only told to "settle down") and when I looked back up at the stage as the next song began, Jack was staring right at me. He kept eye contact for several seconds and I just stared right back.  I would hate to play cards against that man because he's got a stare as unreadable as an un-graffiti'd concrete wall.  I've no idea what he was thinking, but anyone who's been keeping up with my tales from this tour can probably guess the neurotic direction the roller-coaster took my thoughts in--  Had I annoyed him by causing a commotion? But I stifled my paranoia because other than that he was full of smiles throughout the show, grinning like a little kid over and over again (and combing back what's left of his hair over and over again).  So despite the crowd, it was a really terrific evening. More of a blur than usual since I spent so much of it fighting to keep people off of myself and Sharon (I've found in looking at that I completely missed Black Math, one of my favorites of his live, while I was struggling with the woman that security didn't remove), but it looked like Jack and the band were having a great time and their enthusiasm was infectious, so I had a great time, too. Will probably not ever go back to a show in Cleveland again, but otherwise a great time.  
After waiting for the parking lot to clear out, Sharon and I hit the road again, but this time in opposite directions.  I stopped at a Holiday Inn along the Ohio Turnpike, grabbed an order of spaghetti and meatballs to go from the Denny's next door, then back in my room I set my meal down on the desk, lay across the bed, and became unconscious for the next six hours.  Cold spaghetti and meatballs is a surprisingly tasty breakfast.

And here I am having flashbacks to the drive home from the Pittsburgh/Detroit trip, sitting in one of the same rest areas I stopped in along that drive, scribbling frantically before I lose all the words that came together in my head while driving.  But the skies are clear over Pennsylvania as I write this and parts of the turnpike are as well, so I've got to get on the road again soon.  To be continued tomorrow in Boston, with a much bigger bunch of friends...

For those folks just now tuning in, this is where it all began-- Introduction.

August 31, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part V: Showing 'em how it's done in Seattle

I was reminded that the first rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about Fight Club, so unfortunately I can't describe our adventures with the homeless folks of Seattle. We were in Seattle for the same reason we'd been in San Francisco two days before, to see Jack White. I'm going to preface this tale by thanking any and all gods that might exist that I have people to share these experiences with, people who understand the addiction, who don't think I've gone over some sort of edge, who don't think I'm stuck in some sort of fantasy life. I mean, for crying out loud, I function rationally enough that I'm able to work a full time job and support myself. I explore other interests, I try to learn about new and different things that do not involve Jack White, so why am I sometimes made to feel that I have to explain why this man's music and ideas are so important to me? If I hadn't managed to find other people who understand and share my addiction, that would have put me 'round the bend. Having to experience things like this and the feelings that are created by it alone is what forces people into fantasy obsessions. 

So, Seattle. This sums up our two days there pretty well-- 
Photo courtesy of Sharon Harrow

Seattle won the prize for weird, man. But it was a good weird, the sort that keeps you interested and on your toes. Our evenings there had us on our toes, too, quite literally, as the Jack White roller-coaster kept on a rollin', sprained ankle and all.

Watching him these two nights was intense just as it'd been the second night in San Fran because we were unconsciously watching for signs of pain, but Jack was again full of smiles. Whether it was painkillers or pleasure there's no telling, but he seemed to be getting something out of these shows.  One thought that crossed my mind was, with all Jack's talk over the years of having to overcome struggle, could there be some part of him that was perversely enjoying this injury? He's talked of having to create struggles for himself on stage, that often his band-mates don't even know about the obstacles he creates in his own mind. He's talked of fighting his guitars and equipment (most famously demonstrated in the infamous bleeding fingers guitar solo featured in the documentary, It Might Get Loud).  Could having to overcome this painful physical limitation be fulfilling for him in a way that self-imposed or mechanical limitations can't reach? 

Whatever the case, these two shows were stellar. The second night was broadcast live and recorded from the broadcast, so I've got an audio souvenir of it. Actually, I've got audio souvenirs of three of the four shows on this trip, as both San Francisco shows were taped and shared. But the first night in Seattle, the night that contained one of the most beautiful moments I've experienced yet at one of Jack's shows, on a par with the heart-breaking You've Got Her In Your Pocket at Detroit's Fox Theater just last month, was apparently not recorded. There's no reminder of what we experienced that night beyond whatever notes I took and what my friends will be able to retain in their memories for us to talk about in months to come. And that is a damned shame. I don't know how Jack feels about recordings of his shows being shared on the internet, but these broadcasts and ROIOs are very precious to me. They're an archive of his art beyond what's pressed to vinyl, they capture the true brilliance of what he does-- His records showcase his impressive song-writing skills, but it's when he's on stage that we fans can experience the gyroscope of his brain spinning at full force. Of course nothing truly captures the breath-taking quality of actually being there with him in front of you, not even video, but audio and video recordings at least give an idea of how he's able to create an entirely different show every single night. From pulling the setlist out of his head as he goes along, to changing the arrangements of the same songs from one night to the next, to making up songs on the spot, it's through experiencing a multitude of shows, either in person or vicariously, that you come to really understand what he does.  These recordings help to enrich the appreciation of his art.  And for fans in some parts of the world, they're the only way to experience what Jack does live. So while I agree with his tour manager's nightly pre-show injunction that people keep their damned cell phones in their pockets, I'm still grateful to the few folks who slip in recording devices or sneak a bit of video (which apparently no one did in Seattle).  

It was one of those songs made up on the spot that blew us away the first night in Seattle. A little over halfway through the second set, Jack began an acoustic interlude with We're Going To Be Friends leading into Blunderbuss. He had Dominic Davis on aluminum standup bass, Fats Kaplin on mandolin, and Lillie Mae Rische on fiddle all step forward to play in a line next to him. At the end of Blunderbuss, he continued playing and began singing something that at first sounded like an old folk tune, then sounded like it might have been some obscure Bob Dylan number. We glanced at each other wondering if any of us recognized it, but none of us did. It went on for a while, this story that began with a man who did not need to be forgiven, a tale of wandering in a valley and spending time in prison, then ended with a woman who did not need to be forgiven. Through the whole thing, Jack stared calmly at the front of the stage, not looking around or up at the audience at all, seemingly completely focused on the words and melody. Dominic, Fats, and Lillie Mae smiled as they played along behind him, then towards the end drummer Daru Jones picked up a tambourine and Ikey Owens joined in softly on the keyboard and it was so incredibly lovely that I broke down and began crying. When Jack sang the final line of "She doesn't need to be forgiven" and then walked to the back of the stage to switch guitars and launch into a sludgy version of Cannon (the fifth of the night, which was incredible in its own right), I couldn't throw my fist into the air and bang my head the way I'd normally do for Cannon because I was completely overcome and wiping tears from my eyes. After the show and in line the next day, we talked about this song and tried again to wrack our brains to figure out where it was from. After a few days of this, I checked in with a reliable source and found out that it was indeed completely improvised and that, just like the rest of us, the band had not heard a note or word of it before that moment. 

There were many more standout moments from both nights-- An acoustic version of Screwdriver (most of it, at least), an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Top Yourself (it was acoustic, it was electric, it was acoustic again, it was the old version, a slow version, the new version...),  
All show photos courtesy of David James Swanson, from
...James Booker's Papa Was a Rascal (third time I've heard this from him now and I swear that, if he hadn't been born before Booker died, he might be Booker reincarnated) and the White Stripes' Little Room, which ended with him on his knees screaming into an echo mic and then whipping off a hellatious guitar solo for a song that's never contained guitar--

There was the moment before Three Women when he asked the crowd how they were doing and then turned around, crossed his legs, and leaned on the piano with a smirk on his face, just waiting it out to see how loud we could get in response.  Then a few songs later, during Steady As She Goes, he stepped behind Daru Jones on the drum platform, picked up Daru's glasses and put them on, then leaned over the drummer's shoulder until Daru noticed him and cracked up, while Jack continued playing, looking for all the world like Buddy Holly--

And for me, there was a moment at the beginning of Black Bat Licorice.  Jack had his back to the audience facing Daru when the first few notes played. I recognized the riff instantly, gave a whoop and yelled "Thank you!!"  Jack walked to the back of the stage and turned around and I could swear he looked directly at me, then made a sort of "come on" gesture.  For one thing, I wasn't completely sure he was looking at me, when he's at the back of the stage he could be looking at the person next you or behind you for all you can tell, and for another I wasn't sure what that gesture might've meant, so I just stared back and mouthed "What?" with a lift of my chin.  He gave one of his smirky smiles, I tilted my head trying to figure out what was going on, he smiled more, then stepped up to the mic and launched into a nearly perfect rendition of the song, while I sang along with every word.  Whether that moment at the beginning was meant for me or not, who the heck knows.  Right now, days later, it really doesn't matter, but right then and there it made me giddy. 

Now remember, all of this on these two nights was done by a man whose ankle looked like this after he'd sprained it just a few nights before--

At the end of the second night in Seattle, after Jack had blown our minds yet again with Death Letter, Sharon was screaming to the world in general "That is how it's done!! That is how you fucking do it!!!" And she was fucking right.

To be continued in September...

August 30, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part IV: Are we in San Francisco?

San Francisco. What can I say about you, San Francisco? My friend Sam kept asking "Are we in San Francisco?" Strange to go to a city and get to know it's homeless population rather than it's culture, history, food, and tourist attractions. But we weren't there for humanitarian purposes. No, we were there to see Jack White. But according to the barista I spoke with during one of my many visits to the nearby Starbuck's, the area around the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium contains the highest population of homeless in San Fran and we were there long enough to have a few interesting experiences with them. If you ever run into Alicia Please around Civic Park, be sure to buy her a cheesesteak and ask her to show you her roundhouse kick.

Oh yeah, there were a couple of very interesting shows, too, and time spent on the roller-coaster.  I found it very hard to write about these shows because I followed them up with two more in Seattle and by the time I flew home I felt as if I'd been to one great big 10+ hour long show instead of four individual ones, so reading this entry and the next might feel a bit like being on the roller-coaster yourself. But I'll do my best to make things clear.

 Jack apparently has a soft spot for San Fran, so he came out very exuberant and full of smiles the first night. And he had lots of surprises in store for us- The first was when he quieted the band and motioned to drummer Daru Jones to keep playing a simple steady beat, then grabbed the mic off its stand, whipped the cord to yank it loose, and stepped from the stage down onto the row of speakers in front of it to belt out Little Room, a simple-yet-profound song that pretty much sums up his philosophy.  It was something I would never have expected him to add to his solo sets, so it was a tremendous treat.  There were also great cover song surprises, such as Charley Patton's Pony Blues, Albert King's Born Under a Bad Sign, and Eddie Cochran's Jeanie Jeanie Jeanie.  And the thing I always hope for with Jack, his interesting streams of consciousness and ramblings-- My favorite of this night was when he was prompting us for the call and response portion of Steady As She Goes, when he asked "Would you help out a poor American who's down on his luck?"  I didn't recognize the quote right away, but Jack soon explained that it was from a Bugs Bunny cartoon, telling us how Bugs' cartoons aren't allowed to be shown anymore because they encourage people to hit each other too much, which he agrees with, but "God damn, Bugs Bunny's a brilliant motherfucker, don't you think?"  I do think, so he got a rousing cheer from me. 

My own personal surprise was that I had come to this show with a message for him. At the Detroit Masonic Temple, he'd said something at the end of Black Bat Licorice-- When he says "Whatever you feed me, I'll feed you right back...", he added a line about "when you call me ugly" (possibly a reference to the "sad Jack" meme that'd recently gotten way too much attention around the internet?). It put me in mind of the White Stripes song I'm As Ugly As I Seem, which has been one of my favorites since the beginning of my addiction. So the day before my trip, I picked up a yard of silky blue fabric and painted a banner that read "You're not ugly, Jack, but I'd love to hear Ugly As I Seem". The first time he slowed the pace of the show, I pulled it out and unfolded it, holding it in front of me on the other side of the barrier so he could see it when he looked in my direction. It didn't seem to attract his attention 
through the next song or two, so I draped the top of it over the barrier so that I could go back to clapping. But then, in a moment between songs when he was standing back from the mic, he stood still with one arm resting across his guitar and the other hand on his hip and stared at the spot right below me, apparently trying to see what it said. I picked it up and held it higher so he could read the full message. After contemplating it for a moment, he got a strange, unreadable expression on his face (captured here, I believe. Edit: In looking at that photo again, I realize he's holding the wrong guitar. But whether it's that moment or not, that's pretty much the same facial expression) then looked up, around and down. I stood there watching him and trying to figure out what his expression and head roll meant, if perhaps he was trying to slow the gyroscope inside his brain long enough to find the words to the song. Then he stepped to the mic and began Hypocritical Kiss. When he got to the second verse, I was tossed back onto the roller-coaster as he sang something along the lines of "I walk and talk and sing on stage for you, I do everything that I can for you". I must have misread the situation, but those lines and that inscrutable facial expression had me paranoid through the rest of the show and much of the next day, wondering if my request had somehow annoyed him.

The next-to-last surprise in store for us was when his guitar tech brought out his specially-tuned Kay guitar. The Kay is normally the signal that the show is almost over-- There are only a few songs Jack plays in the key it's tuned to and one of them is sports arena favorite and frequent show-closer Seven Nation Army. Instead, he flipped out every serious fan in the crowd by launching into Death Letter, the Son House cover that practically defined the White Stripes. We didn't get the whole song, but it was enough to blow many of the minds in the crowd.

But the final surprise of the show, the one that we didn't actually learn about until the next night, came before that and it was that Jack sprained his ankle during the show. In the middle of a blazing Ball'n'Biscuit solo, he stepped down onto the speakers in front of the stage, missed his footing, and fell backwards onto the stage. While still wailing away on the guitar, he pulled himself back up into a sitting position and brought the song to an end, then dropped the guitar, hauled himself up, and limped back across the stage as the curtains were drawn to end the main set. 

But then after the usual break, he came roaring back out into High Ball Stepper and played his usual full-length encore-that's-really-a-second-set. We walked out at the end wrung out and exhilarated and wondering how tomorrow would be different.

There was much roller coaster drama the next day. We were first in line, but the security crew at the venue that day decided it would be fun to tell us how people behind us would rush past when the barrier to the doors was removed.  And then there was a screw-up late in the afternoon that sent 50 or so people over to the Third Man Vault early entry line even though they didn't have early entry. Security tried their darndest to get those folks to move back to the regular line, but of course were ignored by most of them.  I was assured by a supervisor that they wouldn't get in ahead of the regular line (but, of course, they did). It all put us right onto the damned roller-coaster.  Sharon started saying "If Jack wills it, it will all work out". Pragmatist that I am, I changed it to "If we will it, it will all work out" and crossed my fingers.

And as if we weren't anxious enough, 20 minutes before doors opened we found out what'd happened the night before, when Third Man Records posted a photo of a bruise covering Jack's entire ankle and containing half the colors of the rainbow. 

It was an ugly sight, but the caption of the post assured fans that Jack intended to go on that night despite being advised to cancel the rest of the shows on the tour. 

So there was a slightly angst-ridden anticipation in the air as we stood on the rail (yes, we made it despite the security crew's threats and screw-ups) waiting for the second show to begin. Just like at the Detroit Fox Theater show, I hate to see Jack have to deal with things like negative emotions or physical discomfort. It's a natural human instinct to sympathetically want anyone we're dealing with to be happy and comfortable. And yet, in the case of someone like Jack, knowing how adverse conditions can stimulate him, I couldn't wait to see how he would deal with the pain of a sprained ankle. Would he, could he, refrain from jumping and throwing himself around the stage and instead perform standing still? Hah. That thought shouldn't have crossed a single mind in the crowd. There was less hopping up and down than the previous night and he seemed to catch himself a few times before stepping off the stage onto the speakers in front, but beyond that there was no sign of his usual whirlwind being slowed.

This is one of the things that makes Jack White so singular. Yes, there are certainly other musicians, actors, dancers, and athletes who would go on with the show when ill or injured. But Jack not only went on, he acted as if nothing had happened, never mentioning the sprain or giving any indication to the audience that he'd hurt himself or was in any sort of pain. I don't think it was entirely a matter of professionalism, either. I think it was in large part his compulsion to do what he does, and his constantly driving need to overcome struggle. He wanted to play this second show, he was happy in front of the crowd in this city both nights, he just plain wasn't going to let an injury keep him from it.  He not only went on with the show as full of smiles as he'd been the previous night, he gave us treats like the White Stripes' I Think I Smell a Rat and Jimi Hendrix's Manic Depression, and a very surprising hip-hop cover song, Dead Dogs Two, by cLOUDDEAD.

And just to show how completely he can re-work a cover song and make it his own, here's the original--

So the roller-coaster ride of this second night was not without it's high points. These were the first shows at which I really noticed how subtle and terrific Jack's interaction with his current band is. There were moments when it was also quite endearing, such as when he repeatedly and playfully backed up into fiddle player Lillie Mae Rische until she finally had to climb up onto one of the monitors to get away from him. And his childhood friend-become-bass player Dominic Davis has developed a set of signals with Jack that allow him to help direct song changes to the rest of the band so that Jack can continue singing and playing. At the beginning of the Ball'n'Biscuit solo the first night, when Jack was all the way up at the front of the stage, Dominic came forward to step on the appropriate pedal on Jack's board at the just the right moment in the song. And the end of Seven Nation Army has become a battle of sorts between Jack and drummer Daru Jones, with the two of them seeming to try to outdo each other in power and intensity until Jack finally stops and holds the guitar still, letting Daru unleash on the drums and obviously enjoying watching it just as much as the crowd does. Sometimes he'll grab a spare drumstick and begin bashing at a cymbal as Daru plays, or even use the Kay to bash away. On the second night in San Francisco, he climbed up behind Daru on the drum riser, grabbed a pair of sticks, then leaned down and reached around Daru's waist to beat at the snare drum in front of him, then reached over next to Daru to pound on the tom drum and cymbal, continuing on like this, shifting position around Daru until the two of them became like some kind of giddily grinning four-armed wild beast beating the hell out of the entire drumkit until they brought the song to a crazy crescendo. 

As can be heard there, he closed the show by telling the audience that San Francisco was the first city on the west coast to stand up and cheer for his music and then cried out "And you're still doing it!" And his voice choked up as he said that this wasn't lost on him. The combination of his appreciation for the audience's reaction both nights and the fulfillment of just accomplishing this show on a sprained ankle was a pretty heady thing for both him and us. 

To be continued in Seattle.

August 17, 2014

The difficulty of knowing when to give something your attention

I almost missed a tremendous experience this afternoon.  Wandering the contemporary wing of the Baltimore Museum of Art, I stepped into the room in which they set up revolving video installations. I'd heard the hummed tune coming from the room a few galleries away and was, as always, curious.  Coming around the corner inside the darkened black-walled room I found myself facing a screen projecting 15 pairs of lips humming the same song.  Contemplated it for a moment, then began to decide that there wasn't anything to get out of it and turned to go.  But then I stopped myself, partly because I'd wanted the opportunity to sit down for a bit and partly because I told myself I should give the thing another chance. Worst case scenario, I'd get a little rest and hear a soothing melody.

So instead of plopping down on one of the two benches, I stepped into the farthest back corner of the room and sat down on the floor against the wall facing the screen.  As I watched with eyes flickering from one set of lips to another, my ears began to pick out individual voices and variations of the song.  After a while, I closed my eyes to listen to let it relax me.  Within a few seconds, I realized that the sound had changed.  It had become one voice, one harmonious tone, like a symphony.  I opened my eyes and again, within a few seconds, without even realizing what I was doing, again began picking out unique tones as I watched, the individual voices within the harmony.  At that point, a big, silly, delighted grin spread over my face in the dimness of the room and I sat there alternating between open- and closed-eyed listening.  Various people came in and out of the room, doing what I'd initially begun to do-- Watching for a moment and then turning around to leave.  I noticed a few glance over at me in the times when I had my eyes open and wondered if my smile made them wonder whether they were missing something or if I was just goofy.  After the song had played a dozen or so times, a group had formed in the room and, listening to the whispers of a woman standing near me, it seemed some of them were more interested than others had been. I pushed myself up from the floor and, on my way out, leaned over to the woman who'd whispered and said "Close your eyes and see if you notice that the sound changes".  But I didn't stay to see if she tried it.

At the entrance, I stopped to read the interpretive placard on the wall.  It seems I had vaguely gotten what the work was about, through the metaphor of harmony.  "Getting" contemporary art doesn't happen often for me.  I'm sometimes moved by pieces I see and can find my own meanings in them, but am more frequently left unmoved and/or perplexed.  And moved or unmoved, I pretty much never feel that I "get" it, even with the help of interpretive signage.  So the fact that this piece clicked for me when I thought of it in musical terms means something to me.

This is a small portion of what I experienced--

The full video can be seen here, but unfortunately not in a perpetually repeating loop the way it was displayed at the BMA.

The lyrics of the song are quite lovely, too--

Your sweet expressions 
The smile you gave me 
The way you looked when we met 

Easy to remember 
But so hard to forget 

I hear you whisper 
"I'll always love you" 
I know it's over, and yet 

Easy to remember 
Oh so hard to forget 

So I must dream 
To have your hand caress me 
Fingers press me tight 

I'd rather dream 
Than have that lonely feeling 
Stealing through the night 

Each little moment 
Is clear before me 
And though it brings me regret 

It's easy to remember 
But so hard to forget 

The song was written by Rodgers and Hart and originally sung by Bing Crosby.  But, somehow, as poignant as the words are, that hummed version is so much more affecting than Bing's.