This week’s Free Ride* muses on the artistry of Meg White, who turns 37 today. The iconic drummer gained fame for her work with the Grammy-winning duo, the White Stripes. She gained as much notoriety for the mystery surrounding her relationship with the other half of the band, Jack White, since they were apparently married for four years, but often claimed they were siblings. A strange pair, indeed. But there’s nothing strange about The White Stripes’ music; it’s raw, minimalist, and primitive, blending punk, blues, country and folk into a guitar-drums garage band sound. Part of the simplicity of her playing is due to her only taking up the drums in the late 1990s, just a few short years before their first Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album (Elephant). Jack White speaks of the role Meg played in the sound that became so popular: She’s perfect; she’s the best part of the band, really. Her style is just so simplistic that I can work around it and work with it. . . If we had anybody else onstage it would just get ruined, I think.
There’s bound to be something liberating in having such a simple structure to work with, in a two-person band. But to reflect on the theme of freedom, I’ll turn not to the music, but to the lyrics of one of the rare White Stripes selections where Meg added some vocals. She sang on a handful of songs, and my favorite is their cover of an old Loretta Lynn number, Rated X.
well nobody knows where you’re going
but they sure know where you been
all they’re thinking of
is your experience in love
well their minds fill up with sin
the women all look at you like you’re bad
the men all hope you are
but if you go too far
you’re gonna wear the scar
of a women, rated x
Meg White certainly has had her share of being talked about. But she lives in a different era and a different world than Loretta. The scars she wears come from different cultural norms and expectations. The free spirit she demonstrated when sitting behind the drum set in those White Stripes concerts was restricted by ongoing battles with anxiety and panic attacks. Since the dissolution of the band, she has been spending her time working in photography and taxidermy. I hope there’s less panic in that line of work, and that she is truly feeling loose and free.