September 19, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part 7: 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.


annie from stl said...

Really enjoying the full read through your blog, and it soooo makes me want to catch another show! Keep safe on the road and know we are out here, on the ups and downs of your roller coaster ride, living vicariously through you and digging the hell out of it!
Stay safe out there...

KaliDurga said...

Thank you, Annie, very glad you're enjoying it. My fingers are crossed for more shows for all of us.