Jack White, The Internet and Public Discourse

So I’m tooling around the net the other morning looking for Jack White tour dates (unfortunately finding none scheduled) and I ran across this interview with the man himself, posted a few months ago on spinner.com. There are a few things that struck me in this piece, most notably the discussion of the impact of the internet on public discourse. But before I get to that, on another note, there was this quote that particularly appealed to me:

“Someone just asked me if I’m ever going to make (a solo album), and I said, ‘Of course I’m gonna make one one day.’ I mean, I never really plan that far ahead. My calendar is always open. Everything I do is something that just got decided a week before. Yes, I could be making a solo record in a couple months, or I could be making White Stripes record or maybe even a third Dead Weather record, I don’t know. I don’t tell the music what to do, I don’t tell myself what to do. That would be an injustice to what I’ve dedicated my life to doing. That’s the funny thing, most people go to work and say, ‘I’m going to do this from 9 to 5 and these are my goals, these are my short-terms goals, these are my long-term goals.’ I’ve never had that.”

And I thought I was the only one. It is a little bit reassuring that the complete lack of planning ahead more than a month or so can lead to success. I’ve always been much the same way; the things I do just sort of come out of thin air as opportunity presents. And 9 to 5 is most definitely not the way I want to live my life. It’s just so damned limiting.

Anyway, back to my main points. The discussion about how the anonymity of the internet breeds a certain kind of cowardice, particularly in the people who troll comment boards and spew harsh, venomous opinions, hit me.  His point obviously being that the detatched nature of communication on the internet allows certain people to say things that they would never dream of if they had to attach their identities to it, or condemn with a severity they would never use if they were to actually speak to the person being villified to their face. Here’s a quote:

“…we were having a conversation with some journalist about the way the Internet breeds cowardice nowadays — how everyone has a fake name, no one shows their face, everyone is extremely judgmental, extremely harsh to each other, commenting and blogging all this stuff. The world is their oyster now, they can type whatever they want, and they don’t present themselves as a human being, they present themselves as an avatar and as a screen name, and that’s cowardly.”

While it’s hard to disagree with what White has to say on the matter, what I found particularly interesting was to scroll through the comments section following the article, just to see what kind of response would turn up from the very people at whom White took his shots. I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s a sampling of some of the comments, each posted under an indecipherable screen name : (By the way, I cleaned up some of the ever-present typos that show up in these kinds of comments. If you’re going to rip someone, at least do it competently.)

“Oh, spare me the ‘Jack White is a genius’ crap. White is a 3rd rate musician. His music is largely derivative and immensely irritating to boot.”

“Never heard of this self-promoting jerk and couldn’t care less about him.”

“White stripes are just awful. I’ve heard their stuff , it’s really crap, I swear.”

“This is one of the sloppiest, untalented, overrated bands I’ve ever heard. A couple of 15 year olds in a garage band sound better than this rubbish.”

“This guy’s guitar playing is almost as bad as his singing. His songs are lame, too. How in the world did he get famous, anyway?”

See what I mean? Now, I’m not unfamiliar with criticism, sometimes a bit harshly, but usually I base my opinions on something more than simple insults and vague notions on someone’s capabilities. Then, there’s this guy. He actually posted under a name, which is more commendable, but is it a real name? Who can tell?

“There has never, ever been someone who has managed to make it despite having such utterly mediocre skills as this guy…. he excels in 1 way, greatly, & that is shameless self promotion… yeah, who wouldn’t be a “tireless” worker if you’ve fleeced your way into the game…. not a good guitar player, not a good songwriter, not a good singer, but made it anyway…. Completely clueless people made this guy, nothing more… Serious guys with serious chops laugh at this guy.”

Really? No one ever has become successful in the music business with mediocre skills? Not that White’s skills are mediocre in the least. I completely disagree with the sentiments that his guitar playing and songwriting aren’t good. Both are distinctive, unique and exceptional, in my opinion. And I have a strong musical basis to back that up. But I guess I’m just clueless. And as for the self-promotion part, show me anyone in virtually any field who’s reached a level of success, and I’ll show you someone who is a self promoter, shameless or otherwise. You simply don’t get anywhere, particularly in a field of creative endeavor, without being so. But I suppose serious guys with serious chops are too busy laughing at those who do make it to promote themselves and their work.

And for last, my personal favorite, from a screen name of Hugh Jassol, which is likely fake given the fact when you say it really fast, it sounds a lot like this guy’s personality must be, huge asshole. He had two:

“That ‘distinctive sound’ is the sound of minimal talent. Actually, it’s the sound of suck.”

“What passes for talent today is a joke. Jack White isn’t qualified to carry Jimmy Page’s guitar case. His one hit, ‘Seven Nation Army’ is just one crappy hook, over and over, with some shi##y guitar playing and his singing sounds like a guy with a really bad sinus infection. The only reason he’s making a living in music is because of people like you who have tin ears and no taste whatsoever.”

To the first comment, I say maybe Jack White has a point. Even if you don’t care for his music, how many people are going to meet White and say, “Hi, you’re music is the sound of suck.” Sure, there may be some, but probably not many. The second comment is the more interesting for a couple reasons. One, in the interview, White himself references Seven Nation Army, even saying, “nobody thought there was anything interesting about that song when we recorded it.” Hits are subjective, having more to do with the opinions of people outside the group than the artist’s desire for a particular song to be a hit. Of course, Huge Asshole, er, Hugh Jassol covers this by writing off the fans, as well, as people with tin ears and no taste.

However, he also references Jimmy Page, which brings up an interesting example of just how off base this guy is. Go rent the documentary “It Might Get Loud” on the history of the electric guitar. In it, Page, White and Edge from U2 form a triumverate of approaches toward the guitar. It’s well worth a watch, or two, or three. There are several sections during the film where the three sit around together and jam. During these, White comes off as far from unable to carry Page’s guitar case. They appear almost equals at times, with Page absorbing and learning from White just as much or more than the reverse. In fact, It’s Edge that comes off as the wanna-be poser, clearly out of place in the company and confused on how to play with the other two.

Which doesn’t really surprise me. I’ve never much cared for Edge. I mean really, Edge? I understand Slash. That guy just looks the part. Wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley. And his guitar style suits the name, as well. But what about this guy says “Edge”? Maybe its a marketing ploy, maybe he uses Edge shaving cream to keep his goatee trimmed up nicely, I don’t know. What I do know is that a guy who has a neatly trimmed goatee, wears wool hats and fancies himself a guitar hero when 95% of his sound is coming from the fancy electronics he owns is kind of a douchebag. So again, maybe Jack White has a point, to a degree. Would I say that to Edge (gag) if we ever met? Probably not, but people writing things they wouldn’t otherwise say isn’t an invention of the internet, nor is it new. From Theater and book critics in the late 19th century, to the letters to the editor that were so prevalent before the digital age, to pamphelteers of all causes, and even a convention such as the Dear John letter, people have been writing things they wouldn’t say to someone’s face for as long as there’s been a written word and paper to print it on. What the internet does do is provide a much greater platform from which to throw it out there.

And as for the “hiding behind a screen name” part, I’ve got an answer for that. Edge, if you’re out there somewhere reading this, and you have a problem with my calling you a no-talent douchebag who can barely strum a few chords, my name is Dan Meadows, I live in Chestertown, MD, my email address is linked to at the top of this page. Drop by any time, and I’ll be happy to discuss my misgivings about your musical stylings. So much for anonymity.

To sum up, everybody has opinions, some of them well-founded, some off-the-cuff, some just flat out nasty for whatever reason. Putting those opinions in writing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even on a platform as broad and diverse as the internet.  People have been doing it for as long as there has been communication. I’m reasonably certain there were Babylonians laying down some smack in cuneiform. But if you’re going to criticize, stand by those opinions, don’t hide behind a fake name and an IP address. And to do that, it usually helps to have a foundation for those arguments.

I’ll make one more, much briefer point about the White interview and its reference to sensationalism. To quote:

“…people take things out of proportion all the time. I’ll say something like, ‘I don’t play video games,’ and the headline would read, ‘Jack White Hates Video Games.'”

Okay, makes sense. But consider, a goodly portion of this article is a discussion on how the net allows a certain type of cowardice to develop, the harshness of tone that comes with that, and how that contrasts with the positive aspects of it. It was a lengthy and well-developed point of view on a contradictory, and complicated, circumstance. So what’s the article’s title? “Jack White Doesn’t Suffer Internet Cowards Gladly” or, perhaps put more simply, “Jack White Hates The Internet.” Interesting, no?

Published in: on November 9, 2010 at 4:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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