That's My Jam: See What I Did There?

Every generation or so, a musician comes along that sort of shows up everywhere and unavoidably becomes part of the musical landscape for a given period. Sometimes the results help move music forward (Billy Preston's time with the Beatles, Bob Dylan's collaborations with Hendrix, Todd Rundgren's production work, or the dominance in recent years of hip hop producers like Timbaland, Kanye, or Diddy come to mind,) -- while other figures only end up being that name that shows up everywhere, even though their overall contribution isn't really all that great.

For example, for a certain period of time starting in the late 60's -- guys like Jackson Browne and Kenny Loggins were somehow a part of every album that got released. Sure they made the right kinds of friends in the industry, but aside from a few hit songs and movie soundtracks, it's hard to say that we all owe a huge debt of thanks to Jackson Browne for friggin anything.

Yet there he was, hanging around with Crosby Stills and Nash and helping to make sure that The Eagles would never, ever go away.
Or to put it another way -- For a period of about 30 years, Jackson Browne was essentially the white Will-I-am.
The reason I bring this trend up is that in my opinion -- Jack White is one of those guys. Although I was never really much of a White Stripes fan, it's hard to ignore just how prolific the guy is when it comes to cultivating celebrity friends and urging projects along. Like his music or not, you get the distinct impression that he's the guy that you sort of half-heartedly talk to at the bar or a party about things that "Would be really cool if someone just did them,"
Only to have him call you on the phone the next morning asking when you're coming over so you can get started.
It's sort of like my theory that Hollywood is currently filled with loads of talentless actors and actresses who keep getting work because they're fun to be around while you're working. As much as I had hope for him when he was the firebrand standout in John Favreau's Swingers -- Vince Vaughn has spent nearly everyday since then literally crushing my hope in his potential as a talent by putting out lame romantic comedy after lame romantic comedy after lame Christmas family movie every year.
And yet he continues to get marquee work.
The reason I think is that directors and actors enjoy his company. He's fun to have around on a set.

My suspicion is that Jack White is a lot like that. He's the guy with all the momentum, the one who's brimming with ideas that gets everybody into the room and then lights the fuse on the dynamite. Some things he does seem to work, some fail miserably, but he just keeps going and going regardless -- making the most of his opportunities in quantity if not quality.

That's not to say that he isn't good at what he does -- but more specifically that he's not really my cup of tea. Sure my tastes are a little wacky -- but I always thought The White Stripes were kind of annoying. In fact, when I first heard them I almost instantly lumped them (rightly or wrongly) in with a host of other bands at the time that I hoped would hurry up and go away like The Strokes, The Hives, and The Arctic Monkeys.

Those bands for the most part faded into obscurity, but Jack White stayed. And like some Lou Reed hellspawn barnacle he began to clamp on to anything he could, putting his stamp on songs in all sorts of genres and styles. Somewhere along that line (in January 2009, according to Wikipedia) that led to an impromptu jam session that would later solidify into a lineup known as The Dead Weather.

To say that I'm a fan of the band would be an overstatement, but a while back I caught sight of a video of theirs on Deus Ex Malcontent that I absolutely fell in love with -- almost as much for the visuals as for the groove of the song. Turns out the video was directed by Johnathan Glazer, the guy behind the much overlooked British film Sexy Beast.
Put simply, the song is pretty cool -- but the video is awesome.
It's one of those cases where I honestly can't tell you if I would like the tune without the video. Perhaps it's because as a kid who loved playing cops and robbers and rebels versus stormtroopers in the backyard, half the fun was making the sound effects and body gyrations that came from getting hit the way people did in the movies -- an enjoyment that eventually led to a fascination with the idea of squibs, the little blood pack things they use to simulate bullet strikes on actors in action films.
Seriously, how cool would it be to go at it like they are in the clip?
Kinda hot, if you ask me.
All that being said -- it's not like one fake bullet riddled video clip was enough to bring me over to the church of all things Jack White. The rest of the album (at least for me) was largely meh, which considering how much I like this tune came across as a huge disappointment. As a result I doubt I'll ever be one of those guys who camps out for days and spends half my life savings to see this guy play live -- but if all his momentum and effort can result in a good tune every couple of years, then by all means I think he should stick to his guns.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's discovered artists whom they don't find personally all that interesting despite the fact that the whole world seems to consider them some sort of genius. You know the situation -- you casually tell someone that you aren't really into Phish, and they suddenly act like you just slapped their mama right in front of them?
Who are some of yours?

[Listening to:  24-7 Spyz - "Room #9" ]


wigsf said…
I saw the White Stripes live before ever hearing them anywhere else. They sucked up the stage. They were nearly booed off stage. Jack White has never redeemed himself in my eyes, no matter how hard he tries. And "This Song Really Blows" or whatever the hell that Raconteurs song is called really does blow.

I think Dave Grohl is one of those guys who will work with anybody and somehow has never done a damn thing I'd wanna listen to once, let alone many many times. That's right. I dislike Nirvana. Never got why they're the shit. Don't like Queers of the Stone Age. Yeah, you read that right. Whatcha gonna do 'bout it?

On another topic, how the hell could you write a post that refers to Todd Rundgren and yet find a way to make me write a long post about things that suck. You get me thinking about one of the finest albums ever birthed on this planet, then you start blogging about Jack White.

Oh, to answer your question. Thom Yorke. Seriously, double you tea eff is up with people thinking Thom Yorke is anything but Johnny Rotten playing Prince Valium from Spaceballs.
Adam said…
Well, I'm not a real big fan of Jack White, but he certainly is a hard worker. I can think of at least 3 bands he's been in plus he does all that production work and stuff. And he can beat people senseless:

I also never cared for Jackson Browne (growing up, I only knew him for "Lawyers in Love" and that was because of MTV). That said, he wrote some pretty good songs for Nico (another overrated person who couldn't sing... kinda like a female Ian Curtis, maybe?)

I'm with wigsf as far as Dave Grohl and Queens of the Stone Age are concerned. I also remember people going ape-shit for ...and you will know us by the trail of dead (or whatever they're called) a few years back. I think they suck. But suck as in "not shitty, but really bland and unoriginal."

Ditto for the Beastie Boys and (sorry Dan) Living Colour. Those guys always struck me as a bunch of really talented musicians who just couldn't write a song.

I could probably do this all day long, but I'll spare you.

Oh yeah... I also think you're maybe giving Billy Preston too much credit. He may have helped keep the Beatles from killing each other, but the result was the worst album of their career!
JerseySjov said…
i'm pretty sure i'm the only middle-upper class northeasterner under the age of 30 who hates dave matthews band.
shaina said…
the beatles. stevie nicks. the rolling stones. U2. peter frampton. pharrell. ozzie. I should quit now...
wigsf said…
Thank Adam for agreeing on the whole AYWKUBTTOD being bland and unoriginal in everything but their name (pretty freaking cool band name, too bad it's wasted on those dimps).

And why did the Todd Rundgren pic change to a Jackson Browne pick.

By the way, I love JB's Rock me on the water, but the rest of that album is pretty iffy.
Hex said…
wigsf -- That's sort of my point. White keeps doing work, even though some of it falls utterly flat. As much as I don't like his output, there's something in his prolific efforts that's impressive.

Even though I'm generally blah about Foo Fighters and QOTSA (as I wrote about a few weeks back) -- I tend to envy the way Grohl seems to be able to make the most of his opportunity without always being in everyone's face about it the way Will-I-am or Jack White seem to be. He just gets to play, and occasionally come up with killer tunes (I get tired of Everlong, but The Pretender is a great song).

I wanted to talk more about Rundgren, but Jackson Browne's musical career pisses me off more, as Rundgren has actually done work I like.

As to your final point -- I think people in general are starting to see the shine come off of Radiohead and Yorke a bit. They've written some great songs and all, but not enough (at least to me) to be elevated to the royal level people have tossed at him.

Adam -- I'm so with you (and wigsf) about AYWKUBTTOD. Sound and fury signifying nothing.

I'm sure you can already guess that Ill disagree with you on Living Colour's songwriting ability -- but I tend to agree that they (despite their hopes) didn't really change the game with their music. Their fame was important in a lot of ways for widening horizons, but in the end they're just a really great band that didn't really get their due.

My point about Billy Preston wasn't so much about his affect on the Beatles, but how the sound they came up with spilled into other groups and (imho) brought more attention to that sort of fusion of styles.

Jersey -- The DMB are as bad as it gets. Lame music, annoying fans, the doorway for a lot of people into Jam Band-itis.. They're like a rash.

Shaina -- there are so many acts that made great music that got elevated either by fans or the industry into being icons when they never really deserved it. I love Pharrell's stuff, but to say that he's somehow altered the landscape of hip hop or alternative music is like saying Metallica invented heavy metal -- neither of which are even close to being true.

wigsf II -- the Rundgren pick changed (unfortunately) because the Jackson Browne pic was more relevant to the paragraph. I know he's your boy and all, but my JB venom is such that I felt it needed a visual.