The White Stripes and Creative Evolution.

On Wednesday, the music world was dealt a harsh blow. In case you live in a cave somewhere and haven’t heard, the White Stripes announced that they were disbanding after more than thirteen years and would no longer be making music together or playing live together. Here is part of a statement they issued on their website:

The reason is not due to artistic differences or lack of wanting to continue, nor any health issues as both Meg and Jack are feeling fine and in good health. It is for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way.

Both Meg and Jack hope this decision isn’t met with sorrow by their fans but that it is seen as a positive move done out of respect for the art and music that the band has created. It is also done with the utmost respect to those fans who’ve shared in those creations, with their feelings considered greatly.

As a fan of the White Stripes’ music, I feel grieved knowing that there will never be another new White Stripes album or another opportunity for me to see them perform together. But as a person who takes creative work very seriously, I totally understand their reasoning and think that they made a really considerate and mature decision in breaking up.

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Maybe it’s just me, but I suspect that humans are predisposed toward evolution, especially evolution of their autonomous personhood. It may be less overt in some people, but I feel that there’s an underlying desire in most humans to grow and do things that they’ve never done before and to take on new responsibilities and to push the boundaries of what they thought they were capable of. This desire seems to be especially heightened in people who commit themselves to creative work (i.e. art, music, writing, or anything that depends less on formulas than on innovation and imagination), and I have such a deep admiration for the creative minds of the earth because they can recognize and embrace this inherent desire to evolve, and use it to create something beautiful that will resonate with people and potentially outlast their physical existence. It’s just amazing, isn’t it?

That being said, I always have a hard time talking to my friends about a new album put out by a band that has previously recorded music that they loved. They usually say something along the lines of “Have you heard (band)’s new album? It’s so weird, it doesn’t sound anything like their last album! Why can’t they just replicate and re-replicate the sound that made me like them to begin with?!” Okay, maybe that last statement was more an inference than anything else, but you catch my drift. I’ve thought often about why the evolution of a band’s sound is so off-putting to the bulk of their fans, and I think it probably has a lot to do with comfort and expectation. We can latch onto a band’s sound and use that to define them, and then we expect them to always sound that way because definitions don’t change. There’s comfort in the familiarity of what a particular band is meant, to you, to sound like, so when they change it up a bit it can throw a person into a tailspin.

Which brings me back to the White Stripes. I think there is more to Jack White and more to Meg White than what defines them collectively as the White Stripes. And I think maybe they’ve realized that where they each want to go creatively is beyond the bounds of what the White Stripes can do. They’ve made incredibly innovative music within their genre, but maybe there comes a point where they’ve gone as far as they can go without turning into something else completely. Musicians go through sonic transformations all the time as a matter of course (Madonna, anyone?), but I think when the transformation is too much of a departure, it kind of takes away from the good music that they’ve made before, kind of cheapens it. I think ‘tis a far, far better thing for the White Stripes to disband now and preserve the magic of their music for the rest of time, than to keep churning out what is expected to be “White Stripes music” without any heart until their entire catalog of songs loses their meaning completely. As the White Stripes themselves said: The White Stripes do not belong to Meg and Jack anymore. The White Stripes belong to you now and you can do with it whatever you want. The beauty of art and music is that it can last forever if people want it to.” Isn’t that an incredible sentiment? The White Stripes are not just Jack and Meg, but rather a collective consciousness of all the people who love and support their music. I think it shows such care and affection not only for their fans, but also for the music they’ve created together over the course of more than thirteen years, to want to preserve the integrity of their music and not just keep doing it to make money, or to keep their fans happy, or even just for the hell of it. And that, in my opinion, is the sign of a true artist.

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