In my 15 years as a licensed driver, I’ve cranked enough music on the road to discover these two truths:
1. Blaring any death metal while driving through a rich neighborhood produces some of the best snooty glares ever.
2. No other drummer can rattle a rear view mirror quite like Meg White.
Over the course of their eight-year career (1999-2007, although they didn’t announce their breakup until 2011), The White Stripes released six albums, and in the process turned the rock world on its ear. Their self-titled debut, believe it or not, turns twenty on June 15, and it remains just as boisterous as it was upon its release. While many will point to singer/guitarist Jack White as the main factor for this energy, Meg’s drumming cannot and should not be ignored. Actually, Meg’s drumming is impossible to ignore, especially if you’re driving and trying to glance at what’s behind you in your vibrating mirror.
Perhaps that might be one of the traits that truly defines her legacy. A lot has been said about Meg’s drumming over the years and whether it’s brilliant or awful or something else. This piece isn’t going to delve into that for a myriad of reasons, one of which is because that topic has been done to death, but mainly because, frankly, it doesn’t matter. Why? Because when you can produce a noise that garners so much attention and debate, the technique behind it almost becomes irrelevant.
There’s a line of thinking in the world of professional wrestling where regardless if your character is “good” or “bad,” if the crowd elicits some sort of reaction to you, you must be doing something right. If a crowd greets you with a big ol’ “meh,” you’re in trouble. That can be applied to Meg White and her drumming. Some revere her, some dismiss her, but there is very little, if any, indifference around her.
Of course, in an irony of ironies, if there’s one thing Meg White seemingly wants more than anything, especially in the years since The White Stripes disbanded, it is to be left alone and not be talked about. While I certainly respect her desire for privacy, I just can’t avoid writing about her and it’s because of how symbolic her playing is when cutting through the literal and metaphorical noise. No other drummer has been able to do that in the past two decades, and it may not happen again. It’s telling that when Jack White started doing solo tours and playing his old material, he put together a fairly large band. But when they played White Stripes songs, it somehow didn’t match the power of Jack and Meg. Jack White is also a great drummer: he plays drums in the Dead Weather. And surely he could have played drums on the White Stripes’ recordings, but he didn’t. Meg has something that neither he, nor any other drummer, has.
Twenty years after the release of The White Stripes, one of the strongest debuts of the ‘90s and a mere peek at what was to come from this Detroit duo, we’re all still talking about their influence and what Meg White and her playing mean to the rock genre. Maybe in five years from now when The White Stripes are eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the impossible will happen and we’ll see Jack and Meg together on stage again to remind us why the noise they made together was so beloved. If that does happen, one thing is for certain: That moment will be impossible to ignore.
Erica Banas is rock/classic rock news blogger that loves the smell of old vinyl in the morning.