Jack and Meg White, collectively known as the White Stripes, peer tentatively out of the doorway of their dressing room at the MTV Movie Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. In the hallway stands Sharon Osbourne, and she is perturbed. It seems that Eminem’s bodyguards deigned to ask her to remove her brood from the hallway so that the scrawny white rapper could pass by. “Crack a smile, little boy,” she cackles as Eminem and his muscular entourage walk past. “Keep your head down. Don’t look at me.”
Jack and Meg shake their heads in disbelief.
“We’ve slipped into some other dimension,” mutters Meg.
“I can’t even fathom why they asked us to perform here,” says Jack.
Today, the White Stripes have reached a pinnacle of popularity far beyond their biggest dreams — or nightmares. For the past five years, Jack (on guitar) and Meg (on drums) have been bashing out raw, bluesy garage rock in their home studio in Detroit, recording three albums for independent labels and demonstrating how big a sound just two people can make. As the rock pendulum swings away from new metal, it seems to be heading straight for the White Stripes and a handful of other retrominded rock bands that they’ve been lumped in with, including the Strokes, the Hives and the Vines.
“I just laughed,” Jack says about first hearing his song “Fell in Love With a Girl” on the radio. “I mean, it would be Staind, P.O.D., then us and then Incubus. Half of your brain is going, ‘What is going on? Why are we even involved with this? This is pointless.’ The other half is full of people going, ‘No, this is new, a quote revolution in music unquote, and something is going to change now, because of you guys and the Strokes and the Hives, and music is going to come back to more realism.'”
Of all these bands, the White Stripes are the most original, which makes their success even more surprising. Their music is raw and meaty, ranging from bottle-neck-blues dirges to childlike ballads to squealing Zeppelin-esque guitar stomps. It is shot through with a sense of history: of records that Jack White pledges his allegiance to, most of them by Delta bluesmen. And it is highly improvisatory: No two White Stripes shows are the same. There is no set list. Jack White simply plays what he feels. If he isn’t feeling “Fell in Love With a Girl” within the first two bars, he’ll switch right away into a new song, and who gives a shit about the pop fans.
At the MTV Movie Awards, for the first time in their history, the White Stripes are being treated like rock stars. And they hate it: They are at heart indie rockers and Detroit scenesters, more focused on credibility than fame. After the Eminem incident, Jack and Meg briefly run into the party-hard singer Andrew W.K., who steps up to the couple and admits that he actually isn’t from Detroit proper.