April 30, 2010

DC to Memphis Road Trip: Day 5, Getting behind Satan

Today's objectives were to get to Nashville for a stop at Third Man Records and then to get as close to the border of Virginia as possible.  Driving was hard, considering I was doing it on about three hours of sleep.  Spent much of the day feeling that I'd been rode hard and put up wet, yet still in good spirits.

I saw more cops in three hours on the stretch of I-40 between Memphis and Nashville than I've seen on the roads of Maryland over the last year.  Fortunately, the speed limit is 70mph, so I was only barely illegal.  Not so lucky were the dozens of bugs now smeared across my windshield.  Insects and the fuzz, that's how I'll always remember I-40...

Third Man is Jack White's little house of music.  For those not in the know, he does pretty much everything there that's involved in making records except actually press vinyl, but there just happens to be a place down the street that can handle that for him.  There's even a tiny little storefront to showcase and sell his wares, and that was my destination.

The couple of staff members who assisted me in the shop were so very friendly and helpful, Jack should be proud of 'em.  Though that seems to just be the way people are in Tennessee, which could be part of the reason he chose to re-locate here.  Pretty much everyone I've dealt with in this state has been pleasant and polite and conversational.  The folks at Arnold's Country Kitchen, just round the block from TMR, practically pulled up a chair at the table for me.  I'd read about Arnold's at roadfood.com and the high ratings at that review are no lie.  The food was so good it'd make you want to smack your mama for making you think she could cook.  Thank whatever's above that my appetite returned as of this morning.  It would have been a sad thing to not be able to finish the mouth-watering roast beef with au jus, greens, mac'n'cheese, and two kinds of corn bread that they served up to me.  Instead, I was so happy I could have hugged the chef.

And that was pretty much my visit to Nashville in a nutshell.  Though leave it to me to find the historic city cemetery en route to Third Man...

Part of the reason I was so tired today was that I played fan-girl after last night's concert and hung around for a while with my show buddies at the tour buses, waiting for The Dead Weather to come out and sign autographs.  I had mixed feelings about doing this.  I've done it before, eons ago, and found that getting a signature and babbling something that my idol has heard thousands of times already really wasn't that meaningful to me.  But I was caught up in the moment and tagged along.  By the time an hour had gone by, though, I came to my senses and headed off.  What was the point?  Perhaps I'm cynical, but I don't see how any connection can be made in those brief, chaotic moments with dozens of other people all vying for a piece of the musician in question.  And I'm of the mind that connections are important.  I'd rather have nothing but the experience of the music than to have some rushed, illegible scribble on a piece of paper that means little more than that I stood in front of a distracted rock star for 5 seconds. 

And what can it mean for them?  I'm sure that the adoration is gratifying, but there have got to be times when it becomes too much.  Remembering last night during this morning's drive, it was pretty much impossible not to think of Take, Take, Take, from the White Stripes' album, Get Behind Me Satan.  Another example of Jack's skill at story-telling, it's a tune that also delivers a gentle yet firm message to his fans.  It's very obvious that he understands what it's like to be a fan, yet also just as clear that he expects his own admirers to behave better than that.

I was sitting there in a comfortable chair
And that was all that I needed
Then my friend offered me a drink for us to share
And that was all that I needed
Well, then I felt at ease
But then I'm not too hard to please
I guess you couldn't call me greedy
Then I was shocked to look up
And see Rita Hayworth there in a place so seedy
She walked into the bar with her long, red, curly hair
And that was all that I needed
And I said to my friend, "Good God, we're lucky men just to even see her"
Take, take, take
Take, take, take
Take, take, take
And I could not resist, I just had to get close to her
And that was all that I needed
I walked and loomed around her table for a while
And that was all that I needed
Then I said, "I hate to bug you, ma'am, but can I have your autograph?"
And that was all that I needed
She pressed her lips against a white piece of paper
And that was all that I needed
Then I saw what she wrote, my heart is in my mouth
And that was all that I needed
Then she handed it to me, and I think that she could see
That that was all that I needed
I started to walk away but then I remembered 'Hey, I forgot to get a picture'
So I asked her one more time, "Could I have another favor?"
That was all that I needed
She was kind and posed with me
Then I knew my friends would see my celebrity meeting
Take, take, take
Take, take, take
Take, take, take
She turned and said to me, "I need to go to sleep,"
And it seemed so mean
It was almost as if she could not appreciate how cool I was being
She said, "Good night" and walked away
And I didn't know what to say
I just couldn't believe it
Well, it's just not fair
I wanted to get a piece of hair
That was all that I needed
Or maybe a kiss on the cheek
I wouldn't wash it for a week
That would be all that I needed
But she didn't even care
That I was even there
What a horrible feeling

Satan was the second Stripes cd that I bought and probably had much to do with why it took me so long to connect with this band.  The songs are piano-heavy and lyrically dense.  Even Jack apparently didn't realize how little guitar was on the album until he was mixing it.  And he dives deeper into metaphor in this collection of songs than on other Stripes records.  But as obscure as parts of it are, it's also a plaintive album.  Written as Jack was coming to grips with the fame resulting from Elephant, it reflects a search for truths both personal and general.  He's talked about how he doesn't like to write about his own issues, that other people's problems are more interesting than his own, but the consistency of the theme throughout Satan makes it hard to believe that these lyrics aren't authentically heartfelt.  It seemed appropriate since I'd been thinking of Take..., so the cd played repeatedly over the miles as I drove between Nashville and Knoxville and my mind was somehow able to sink in to it and finally get something from these songs.

Like Elephant, GBMS begins with a song that pairs frustration with an infectious musical hook--

You need to do something
To keep the truth from showing up...

Truth and trust, loss and loneliness, come up in every song on this album.  From the regretful plea of Forever For Her (Is Over For Me), to pining for a love that doesn't exist in Little Ghost, to the wistfulness of I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet), this makes for some melancholy listening.  And the one full-on blues number, Instinct Blues, with its nervous string-picking and the complaint of "...why don't you?" just adds tension to an already pensive situation. 

The idea of "verbal dexterity" in Jack's lyrics came up after I posted Carolina Drama on Day 3 of this trip. Denial Twist is one of the lightest moments on this album, though it's still about issues of trust.  But the metaphors are witty and the imagery adroit, and together serve to make this tune a lot of fun--  

One of the most metaphorically inscrutable songs that Jack's ever written is the moody White Moon. Having no clue to any of the meanings in this bizarre assortment of imagery, I pretty much ignored this tune until it was featured in the recent Stripes documentary, Under Great White Northern Lights. The inclusion of this performance in the film explains nothing about the lyrics, but there's no denying that it makes an enigmatic song doubly intriguing--

So while White Moon remains a mystery, the rest of this album has finally made an impression on me and I'm glad for that.  Nothing like hours on the road to help one achieve a long overdue breakthrough.

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