Jack White Broke My Heart
Nothing in music had made me so angry, passionate, stupid, hungry or amazed. I needed to see them live.
April 30, 2014 | Festival | May 2014
I was fifteen years old the first time Jack White broke my heart.
On a rainy December evening, I was sitting in Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, wearing what was probably a disgusting black hoodie due to my aversion to washing it in fear of it fading. I had sat through four trite and miserable bands (my personal opinion of the time) just so I could hear the headliner. This headliner was my personal savior from terrible pop punk, the love of my life, the light at the end of my high school hallways: The White Stripes.
It would be an understatement to say I liked The White Stripes. I worshipped them. I mean worshipped in a biblical sense. A shrine of peppermint striped candles, their first album, and photos of the band sat under my loft bed. Ceremoniously lighting it while Jack sang about doing the “astro” was a typical Tuesday evening. Halloween at age sixteen, I was in a black wig, red pants and a cowboy jacket: Jack White from the cover of Elephant. Upon discovering they would be the headliner in a festival of otherwise diluted peasants, I begged my parents for tickets and the authority to attend the concert alone.
Two months later, I’m in my seat directly facing the stage, and my heart is racing as the lights dim. The first audible notes of “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground” began. I recognized it. But then all of a sudden: nothing.
The sounds were strange, the stage was dark, and I was confused. Finally they appeared, but something was horribly wrong. I didn’t recognize any of the music, and Jack kept turning around to talk to Meg. They staggered through four more songs, Jack mumbled weirdness into the mic, and then, after half an hour, they left. That was it. It was over. The lights came up and amid other confused fans, I left, upset and heartbroken. I later found out from a family friend that worked the venue that Meg had been too drunk to play, Jack had been yelling at her, until both finally gave up and wandered offstage.
I decided that my relationship with them was doomed. Just a year before, at age fourteen, I had been in Ireland with my family while they were playing a show. I knew attending the show would be impossible, but the feeling that they were in the same city as me was exciting enough. However, my excitement plateaued the next day. By the back door to a huge music venue, we were catching a bus out of town. Out of the corner of my eye, there they were, in the flesh. I yelled something but was simultaneously being yanked onto the bus. I felt my heart break. It was the worst kind of so close yet so far.
Unfortunately, I was doomed to be dumped by them not one more time, but four.
At sixteen, I was able to snag free tickets to a record store show Jack was doing with his new band. If you know music, you know seeing an artist in their “side project” can be somewhat infuriating, especially when the side project is a terrible hybrid of manufactured punk and rock when the band you originally loved was punk garage heaven. I spent the record store show stuck behind a tall sweaty man with a ponytail and terrible sinuses. Jack stood in the back of the stage, at an angle that only allowed me to view his right bicep. It was a nice bicep, but I still left downtrodden and wishing for more. The concert had only been twenty minutes long.
I next bought tickets to their show when I was seventeen. Cancelled because Meg was having anxiety issues. To replace the tickets, the venue offered me tickets to see The Fray. I wept inside.
At age twenty, I thought this had to be it. I bought tickets to see them once more. You’re no longer a desperate teenager, I thought. The universe is kinder to adults. Alas, no. One week before the concert I got the news that the show was once again cancelled. No reason given this time. I can only blame Meg; I adore her, but the pattern had emerged, let’s not ignore it.
In the mean time, I had seen other bands I adored, people I worshipped almost as much as the dynamic red and white striped duo. But it was different. The White Stripes had saved me. I was dangerously approaching complete submission into terrible music, but they lifted me up. Nothing in music had made me so angry, passionate, stupid, hungry or amazed. I needed to see them live. It wasn’t something I could control; my stomach was never full and my brain was always occupied because the thought of those heavy drumbeats and guitar distortions rippling through me was too much.
One year later, a day after I ordered a copy of their live album Under Great White Northern Lights as a gift to myself for my twenty-first birthday, they announced they were breaking up. With me. They announced they were breaking up with me. Is that not what the Pitchfork headline read? Because that is how I remember it. While the past cancelled concerts and crappy performances were phone calls not returned and texts not answered, this was the break up.
So maybe it wasn’t aimed at me personally. Okay okay, it wasn’t. But somehow, I can’t help but reflect on my incredible bad luck with one of my favorite bands (a curse that has not carried over to any other parts of my life). Somehow, I can’t help but think I deserve something. Preferably something that is not free tickets to The Fray.
The good news is, I have a ticket to see Jack at Governor’s Ball this June.
The bad news is…I have a ticket to see Jack at the Governor’s Ball this June.
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