August 1, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 1: Pittsburgh to Detroit

The road from Pittsburgh was all rain, shale rock, arctic bog, Queen Anne's lace, and herons on the wing.  I was following Jack White, even though he was probably either still in Pittsburgh or on the road behind me because I'd left almost immediately after the show there.

Road-trips are, of course, a great time to think things out, either obsessively or with a greater clarity than usual, depending on one's frame of mind. Thinking about the show last night in Pittsburgh led to exploring my relationship with Jack and his music in a way that's been creeping around in my mind, noticed but willfully ignored until it surged forward along this drive.  

My relationship with him has recently become a complicated one.   His current tour began at the end of May, a week and a half before his new album Lazaretto was released.  The first show was in Tulsa, the "campfire in the desert of [his] mind", site of one of the most wonderful of his shows I've experienced yet (to give that statement some context, last night in Pittsburgh was show number 22 1/4 in just over four years).  I had sworn after seeing him in Tulsa on his last tour that, come hell or high water, I would be there again the next time he was.  So what did he and his business managers go and do? They scheduled this Tulsa show on a day when I was going to be stuck in Las Vegas on the annual business trip from Hell, a trip there was no way in Hell my boss would let me take a day away from.  From the night of that show, when I cried a little bit before falling off to sleep in Las Vegas, my relationship with Jack changed.  For the first time, I felt an aching sadness from the things he did.  

And then Lazaretto was released.  I've already written in detail about how that record affected me, how certain songs hit way too close to home even as my response to the album confused me by swinging back and forth over the course of a couple of days.  Through all of that, I was hearing from friends who were going to the shows that I was missing because of work and my guts began to tie up in knots.  With the first of my own shows not coming up until the end of July, the excitement I've felt in the past over seeing Jack was replaced by anxiety and a terribly ugly jealousy of my friends.  My friend Sam was at a show during which he sat down on the edge of the stage and then rolled off into the crowd, letting people reach out to support him and grab at his hair and she was one of the many who made physical contact with him.  Two others, Sharon and Eleanor, began a run of shows in mid-July that had them right up at the front of the stage for several nights in a row, holding up signs for Jack and having him come over and acknowledge them as he was playing.  Normally I try to be rational about that sort of experience-- What does it really mean when someone like Jack acknowledges your existence? Nothing, really, because you exist as a fully developed human being whether he is aware of you or not.  But at other times I can't deny the thrill that comes from even the most brief interaction with him, whether it's two sentences of conversation in the Vault chatroom or two seconds of eye contact and, if you're lucky, a wink from him from the stage.  So with my emotions already in upheaval over missing shows and from my response to the album, I found myself not wanting to hear about their experiences lest I turn bitter and begin making diminishing comments about them.  I wanted to be happy and excited for these friends, but kept getting caught up in my own self-centered and self-pitying concerns and that in turn made me loathe myself, which led to more self-pity. It turned into a pretty ridiculous cycle.  At a time when I should have been feeling euphoric anticipation, I instead felt like I wanted to throw up and then crawl into a hole.  

Then my own turn finally came.  I met up with Sam, Sharon, Eleanor, and our friend Helen in Pittsburgh for Jack's first show there in several years.  We camped out for hours at the venue so that we'd be first in line, sitting through rain, chilly wind, and then swampy heat and a nerve-wracking line experience in order to get our chosen spots at the front of the stage.  

My memories of the show itself have already become indistinct, but I very vividly recall my reaction to it.  It started out as usual, with an explosion of sound and motion that swept me up immediately.  And yet, as it progressed I started to feel as if I were just going through the motions.  I felt a growing disconnection to what was happening on the stage.  When Jack slowed the pace of the show for the lovely acoustic You've Got Her In Your Pocket, all the emotional upheaval that had been building the last several weeks suddenly came to a head and I began to cry.  When he followed that one up with Alone In My Home, the song on Lazaretto that'd been a punch to my heart, I had to put my head down on the rail and just shut everything out for a moment.


I was almost completely still and insular for the next handful of songs.  When the pale blue velvet curtains were pulled shut after the first set, I almost didn't even applaud and, again, kept having to put my head down to hide the fact that I was crying.  But when the curtains flew open again to a fresh explosion of Blue Orchid, something snapped and it was as if all the confusion and upheaval I'd experienced leading up to and during this show was drop-kicked away over the mountains surrounding Pittsburgh.  I don't know what happened, but I suddenly connected with every song that followed, especially a letter-perfect and incendiary Black Bat Licorice, exactly as I should have, giving myself over with complete abandon.  When the skies began to pour down just as he sang of not being afraid of standing out in the rain at the beginning of Would You Fight For My Love?, it was a joyous thing, instead of something I'd been wishing for to camouflage my tears.

So here's what I thought about after the show on the drive that night from Pittsburgh to Detroit--  I've not had many relationships in my almost half a century of life.  Men have not gravitated towards me, and the few who have were mis-matched, people that I should have had brief flings with and then moved on from.  But they were the only ones so I held onto what little I got from them, believing at the time that it was worthwhile and that I had to make the most of it.  At this particular period in my life, what I choose to make the most out of is what I get from Jack and his music, in lieu of other relationships that I don't seem destined to have.  I've seen other women joke on the internet about him being their "imaginary boyfriend" (Juliette Lewis among them) and I have to admit that what he does in a way does fulfill that sort of role.  His music, watching him perform, reading and hearing the things he talks about in interviews, all summon up emotions that some of us out there wish we could get from the men around us but can't, either because the men aren't Jack or because they just don't exist at all.  (Though the recent essay Jack My Heartby William Giraldi in American Oxford, certainly indicates that men can also have this sort of relationship with Jack White)  Some people might read that and think that it's a sad thing, but it's just what is.   Life is a combination of circumstances and the choices we make.  We can control our choices, but we have limited control, if any at all, over circumstance so we have to get the most out of the situations we find ourselves in.  So I, and others, make the most out of the intellectual and emotional stimulation that we get from Jack's music and ideas.  

So my recent emotions in regards to him have ranged from that aching sadness to intensely ugly, wanting-to-scratch-eyes-out jealousy, bemusement, worry and anxiety, even a little bit of alarm.  Also, though, sometimes at the forefront and sometimes as an under-current to the ugliness and anxiety, there's still been the euphoria, the adoration, and the infatuation.  I've joked so many times about being a junkie for him and his music, addicted to the thrill of him, but it suddenly doesn't feel like a joke anymore.  It's real.  And yet I wouldn't give it up for anything right now, it's become too fulfilling.  So I'm just gonna stay strapped into this roller-coaster ride for now, thank you very much, it's nowhere near the end and I have to see where it leads. You can be sad for me if you want, I'm too busy to care.



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