I was in an attic bedroom in Worcestershire when I found out Kurt Cobain was dead. I was sat in the computer room at college when I found out Soundgarden had broken up. And the day Rage Against the Machine split I was on campus at university. This evening, sat on a red couch in our living room, I just found out that we’ve lost The White Stripes.
Unlike the first of those examples no one is dead, and unlike the third there’s no apparent acrimony between members, but it still stings to lose a band you love. The relationship with music is intensely personal. For me it’s interwoven with most activities of my day: I put a record on when I get up and shower, I listen to music whilst I’m out walking or on the train, we play music in the car, whilst on the internet, whilst cooking… it’s everywhere. And those bands you love become a part of your life in a way that perhaps only books and people can match. You feel a relationship with them as they accompany you about in the world, as you revise for an exam or wait in line at the bank, get up early for a long train journey, or drive to the coast on the weekend.
The White Stripes were special to me in one respect simply because they are bound up with so many memories. ‘The Air Near My Fingers’ pretty much soundtracked the earliest parts of my relationship with Elizabeth, and a signed copy of the same song’s musical notation hangs on our wall. We saw the White Stripes five times in total, four of those in two pairs of back-to-back nights at Alexandra Palace, and we always dressed for the occasion. They were a phenomenal live band, one of the best I’ve ever seen.
There have been a number of times over the last few years that I thought this day was coming. The fifth and final time we see The White Stripes was at the Wireless festival in June 2007. The sound was poor, Jack didn’t look happy wrestling against it, and the set suffered. We had tickets to see them again in 2008 when the entire tour was cancelled and the band took a break - something didn’t seem right.
I never fell in love with The Raconteurs or The Dead Weather. Despite two solid records from each, neither has caught fire for me the way that Jack’s collaboration with Meg did. Something about their pairing seemed natural, almost psychic, somehow inevitable - and the fruits of it were unlike anything that I’d heard when I discovered them in 2001.
I could fill a paragraph with the names of bands and musicians that The White Stripes have led me to over the last ten years, but suffice it to say that within my personal musical constellation they burned brightly and held a position of great influence. It saddens me to see them go, but the words of their parting statement are a balm of sorts.
The reason is not due to artistic differences or lack of wanting to continue, nor any health issues as both Meg and Jack are feeling fine and in good health. It is for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way.
There is comfort there, as well as an awareness of what will be going through fans' minds, and a reverence for the art that has always been central to their project.
And then there’s the last part:
The White Stripes do not belong to Meg and Jack anymore. The White Stripes belong to you now and you can do with it whatever you want. The beauty of art and music is that it can last forever if people want it to.
It’s exactly the sort of grand, generous, slightly-mischievous thing that readers of interviews with Jack White have grown accustomed to. So, if The White Stripes is now the inheritance of its many devoted fans, along with it comes the responsibility of its safe-keeping. Put on a black armband, burn a red candle, then get a white piece of paper and make something.