Meg White

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Meg White
White performing in 2006.
White performing in 2006.
Background information
Birth nameMegan Martha White
Born (1974-12-10) December 10, 1974 (age 49)
Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Musician
  • singer
Instrument(s)
  • Drums
  • percussion
  • vocals
Years active1997–2011
Labels
Formerly ofThe White Stripes
Spouse(s)
  • (m. 1996; div. 2000)
  • Jackson Smith
    (m. 2009; div. 2013)

Megan Martha White (born December 10, 1974) is an American retired musician who served as the drummer and occasional singer of the rock duo the White Stripes. One of the key artists in the garage rock revival of the 2000s, she is noted for her "primal" style of playing and elusive media image. Her drumming initially polarized critics, but has retrospectively earned acclaim and continues to be discussed. She has won six Grammy Awards among other accolades, and Rolling Stone included her on their "100 Greatest Drummers of All Time" list.

White began playing the drums on Bastille Day in 1997, and formed the White Stripes with then-husband Jack White that same year. The band enjoyed success releasing two albums within the Detroit music scene, before achieving international fame with their 2001 breakthrough album White Blood Cells. In addition to drumming, White performed backing vocals on many of the band's tracks and sang lead on "In the Cold, Cold Night" and "Passive Manipulation". While on tour in support of their 2007 album Icky Thump, White suffered a bout of acute anxiety, and the remaining dates of the tour were canceled. After a hiatus from performing and recording, the group disbanded in 2011 and White retired.

White was married to Jack White from 1996 to 2000, however they portrayed themselves as siblings. From 2009 to 2013, she was married to guitarist Jackson Smith, the son of musicians Patti Smith and Fred "Sonic" Smith. She is known for keeping a low public profile, calling herself "very shy" and reclusive, and has not engaged with the media following her retirement.

Early life[edit]

Megan Martha White was born in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan,[1] on December 10, 1974 to parents Catherine and Walter Hackett White Jr. She has an older sister, Heather.[2] She was not "brought up in any religion".[3] She attended Grosse Pointe North High School and, according to one classmate, was "always the quiet, obviously artistic type, and she just kept very much to herself".[2]

While still in high school, White decided not to go to college and instead pursue a career as a chef.[2][4] She worked at Memphis Smoke, a restaurant in downtown Royal Oak, where she met budding musician Jack Gillis, a fellow high school senior from a Detroit neighborhood known as Mexicantown.[2][4] They formed a relationship and frequented the coffee shops, local music venues, and record stores of the area.[5]

Career[edit]

The White Stripes[edit]

On Bastille Day in 1997, Meg began learning to play the drums after attempting to do so on Jack's drumkit.[4][6][7] Jack said that "When she started to play drums with me, just on a lark, it felt liberating and refreshing. There was something in it that opened me up."[8] The two then formed the White Stripes, where they sticked to certain motifs: Jack and Meg presented themselves as siblings to an unknowing public,[9][10] and kept to a chromatic theme, dressing only in red, white, and black.[11][12]

They played their first gig at the Gold Dollar in Detroit,[13][14] and achieved popularity in Michigan's underground garage rock scene,[11][4][15] oprning for and playing with established local bands such as Bantam Rooster and the Dirtbombs, among others.[16][4] In 1998, they were approached by Dave Buick, the owner of Detroit-based independent record label Italy Records,[17] who offered to pay for their debut single. "Let's Shake Hands" was then released in February 1998.[18][19]

In 1999, the band signed with the California-based label Sympathy for the Record Industry, and released their self-titled debut album.[12] AllMusic said that Meg's drumming "balances out the fretwork and the fretting with methodical, spare, and booming cymbal, bass drum, and snare…"[20] Following their divorce in 2000,[21] Meg insisted that they keep the band going.[22] In 2001, their second album De Stijl was released.[23] Rolling Stone's Jenny Eliscu said that Meg's drumming "forces a smile because, like everything about the White Stripes, it proves that you don’t need bombast to make a blues explosion."[24]

The White Stripes performing at the Wireless Festival in 2007.

The White Stripes rose to widespread recognition in 2001 with the release of their album White Blood Cells. She shared vocal duties with Jack on the tracks "Hotel Yorba" and "This Protector", and also on the Loretta Lynn cover "Rated X" which features as the B-side to "Hotel Yorba".[25] White Blood Cells would have a major label re-release with V2 Records in 2002, which brought them to the forefront of the garage rock revival and made them one of the most acclaimed bands of the year.[26][4][27] It was their last album to be released with the Sympathy for the Record Industry. Chris Deville of Stereogum praised Meg for bashing "the bejesus out of her drums" and called the pair "too compelling for the rest of the world to ignore."[28] The album included the groundbreaking single "Fell in Love with a Girl", which won them three awards at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards.[29]

The White Stripes released their fourth studio album, Elephant, through V2 Records and XL Recordings in 2003.[12] The album was acclaimed, and is often considered the band's best work.[30] Their continued success helped establish Meg and Jack as key figures of 2000s rock, and Elephant, along with White Blood Cells, were included on numerous editions of Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list.[31][32] Several writers for AllMusic coined Meg's drumming on Elephant as "hypnotic" and "explosively minimal", and Bram Teltelman of Billboard described it as "simple but effective".[33][34][35] Additionally, the track "In The Cold, Cold Night" features Meg singing lead for the first time.[36] Tom Breihan of Stereogum described her voice as "magnetic",[37] and Andrew Katchen with Billboard wrote that she sounded "delicate and sweet".[38] Wanda Jackson later covered the track as a tribute.[39][40] Elephant's first single, "Seven Nation Army", became the band's signature song and a sports anthem.[41] The album won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album and "Seven Nation Army" won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.[42]

In 2004, she starred in the band's first music film Under Blackpool Lights, which was shot entirely on super 8 film.[43][44] Jamie Russell of BBC described her as "orgasmically pounding the drums" and "exhilarating".[45] The band's fifth album Get Behind Me Satan saw the pair experimenting, with Meg using percussion bells, maracas and tambourines. She also performed lead vocals on "Passive Manipulation", for which Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone described her vocals as "chilling",[46] while Matthew Murphy of Pitchfork thought that the song "begs the gentle suggestion that Meg not be allowed to sing lead."[47] It won the band their second Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album.[48]

White performing in 2007.

The White Stripes released their sixth and final album, Icky Thump, in 2007. Winning the Grammys for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Rock Song,[49][50] the album was praised and saw the band returning to styles present on their first album.[51] White spoke on the bagpipe-heavy track "St. Andrew (This Battle Is in the Air)" and provided backing vocals for the tracks "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You're Told)" and "Rag and Bone".[52][53]

In the summer of 2007, before a show in Southaven, Mississippi, Ben Blackwell (Jack's nephew and the group's archivist) says that Meg approached him and said, "This is the last White Stripes show". He asked if she meant of the tour, but she responded, "No. I think this is the last show, period."[54][55] On September 11, 2007, the White Stripes announced via their website that they were canceling 18 tour dates due to Meg's acute anxiety.[56][57] The following day, the duo canceled the remainder of their 2007 UK tour dates as well.[58] Jack worked with other artists in the meantime, but Meg remained largely out of the public eye, though in June 2008, she appeared briefly onstage during an encore set of a Detroit show with one of Jack's bands, the Raconteurs.[59]

In an interview with Music Radar, Jack explained that Meg's acute anxiety had been due to the combination of a very short pre-tour rehearsal time—that was further reduced by the birth of his son—and a hectic, multi-continental touring schedule.[60] He said, "I just came from a Raconteurs tour and went right into that, so I was already full-speed. Meg had come from a dead-halt for a year and went right back into that madness."[60]

Jack revealed the band's plan to release a seventh album by the summer of 2009.[61][62] On February 20, 2009—and on the final episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien—the band made their first, and what would be their last, live appearance after the cancellation of their tours, performing the song "We're Going to Be Friends".[63][64][65] A documentary about their Canadian tour—titled The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights—premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 18, 2009.[66][67][68] Directed by Emmett Malloy, the film documents the band's summer 2007 tour across Canada and contains live concert and off-stage footage.[69][70] Bill Bradley for Vanity Fair opined that it was "impossible" not to see Meg as "road-weary and worn-out" at the end of the film.[71]

A second feature titled Under Nova Scotian Lights was prepared for the DVD release. On February 2, 2011, the band reported on their official website that they were disbanding. The statement emphasized that it was not due to health issues or artistic differences, but "mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band".[72] White has not been active in the industry since.[73]

Other activities[edit]

White appeared on the cover of Whirlwind Heat's single "Pink", in a Detroit Cobras music video "Cha Cha Twist" as Little Red Riding Hood. She has done some modeling for Marc Jacobs' 2006 Spring line.[74] Two of her pictures appeared in the March 2006 issue of ELLE. She was chosen by Bob Odenkirk to compose a drum theme for Dax Shepard's character in the 2006 film Let's Go to Prison; against Odenkirk's wishes however, the studio removed it from the film.[75][76]

White made her film debut appearing with Jack White in Jim Jarmusch's 2003 film Coffee and Cigarettes.[77] They star in the segment "Jack Shows Meg His Tesla Coil", which expands on White Stripes motifs such as childhood innocence and Nikola Tesla.[78] The White Stripes guest starred on The Simpsons in an episode titled "Jazzy and the Pussycats", which first aired on September 17, 2006.[79] Meg had previously expressed interest in a Simpsons role in 2003, saying that "A guest appearance would be amazing. I wouldn't want to be in a Lisa episode. They're kind of boring. Maybe a Homer one would be better."[80][81] Meg appeared alongside Jack in the 2009 documentary film It Might Get Loud.[82]

Personal life[edit]

White and Jack White dated in the mid-1990s, and were married on September 21, 1996,[83] with Jack taking her last name, and divorced on March 24, 2000.[21] In May 2009, she married guitarist Jackson Smith–the son of musicians Patti Smith and Fred "Sonic" Smith–in a small ceremony in Jack White's backyard in Nashville, Tennessee, and divorced in July 2013.[84][85][86] She resides in Detroit.[87]

White suffers from acute anxiety, and has described herself as "very shy".[8][56][60][88][89] She told Rolling Stone in 2005 that "the more you talk, the less people listen".[90] Her strict maintenance of her privacy and giving few interviews has been the subject of significant commentary.[91][92] She said in 2006 that she "never really cared about all the things that other people cared about, you know? Like, people recognizing me on the street never interested me. I've always been kind of suspicious of the world, anyway, so it's pretty easy for me to live in my own little world."[93] She loves peppermint, and it inspired many of the White Stripes' artistic schemes.[94][95]

Artistry[edit]

Influences and style[edit]

White's musical influences are wide and varied, with Bob Dylan being her favorite artist and primary inspiration.[96] She has said of her influences: "I don't want to know about my biggest idols. I don't want to read their autobiographies, I don't want to find out what they're really like."[10]

White's pre-show warm up included "whiskey and Red Bull."[97] In reference to her "primal" approach to drumming,[16] she remarked, "That is my strength. A lot of drummers would feel weird about being that simplistic". She expanded by saying that "I appreciate other kinds of drummers who play differently, but it's not my style or what works for this band. I get [criticism] sometimes, and I go through periods where it really bothers me. But then I think about it, and I realize that this is what is really needed for this band. And I just try to have as much fun with it as possible".[97] On her style, Jack said "Meg is the best part of this band. It never would have worked with anybody else, because it would have been too complicated... It was my doorway to playing the blues."[8]

Equipment[edit]

White performing on her signature pair of peppermint-themed Ludwig Drums with Paiste cymbals in 2005.

Throughout her tenure with the White Stripes, White extensively used the Ludwig Classic Maple kit with Paiste cymbals.[98][99] From their early years to Get Behind Me Satan, the resonant heads of the toms and bass drum almost exclusively featured peppermint swirls.[100][101][102] The idea to do so came from Jack, when he and Meg "walked into a drugstore and saw this bag of peppermint candy and I said 'That should be painted on your bass drum because you've been drumming like a little kid".[103] The peppermint decor became signature in her kit, and appeared in several live shows and music videos such as "The Hardest Button to Button" and "Seven Nation Army".[104] She donated her last Ludwig kit to the 2009 Jim Shaw Rock 'N' Roll Benefit, an auction to raise money for the Detroit musician who was suffering from cancer.[105][104]

While recording From the Basement: The White Stripes, the design on the bass drum was switched to an image of her hand holding the apple from the Get Behind Me Satan cover. Beginning in 2006, White used a pair of Paiste 14" Signature Medium Hi-Hats, a 19" Signature Power Crash, and a 22" 2002 Ride.[100][106] On the Icky Thump tour, the bass drum head design was switched to a button inspired by the Pearlies clothing Jack and Meg wore for the album cover. She also used Remo and Ludwig drumheads, various percussion instruments and Vater drumsticks.

White's Pearl Export bass drum—complete with original peppermint-painted bass drum that she used with the band's first show—and the Pearly Queen outfit she wore in the photos for the Icky Thump album, were featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame "Women Who Rock" exhibition.[107]

Legacy[edit]

White is considered a key figure in the garage rock revival of the 2000s. Her minimalistic and simplistic drumming style initially divided audiences and critics, but she has since earned acclaim for her "primal" style.[108][109][110] She is one of the most discussed drummers in rock music, and her style continues to be evaluated after her retirement. On the enduring discussion of White's drumming, Chris Willman of Variety magazine wrote that "Years after she disappeared from the scene, either too shy or just too disinterested to continue a rock ‘n’ roll career, she seems to have been absorbed into rock orthodoxy as a great drummer by near-acclamation, and ironically stands as more of an icon than she ever did in her active years — although naysayers obviously persist."[111]

White received several accolades with the White Stripes, which includes winning one Brit Award from six nominations[112][113][114][115][116] and winning six Grammy Awards from eleven nominations.[42][48][49] Rolling Stone included White on its 2016 list of the "100 Greatest Drummers of All Time".[117][118] NME included her on its 2018 list of "32 of the best drummers to grace rock 'n' roll."[119] She appeared on the Universal Music Group's 2022 list of "100 Best Drummers" and was called "rock music's most compelling stickswoman".[120] Robin Murray of Clash titled her "One of Rock's Greatest Drummers" in 2023.[121]

White's style of drumming continues to be discussed. Musicians such as Dave Grohl (left) and Nandi Bushell (right) have praised White.

Writers of Pitchfork in 2001 said that "Meg White's kit is bashed with such force you'd imagine her as some kind of incredible hulk, though in photos, she appears the prototypical indie girl-- waifish, with pigtails and a nasty smirk. Yet she whips all of her 98 pounds into a tornadic fury like E. Honda's hundred-hand slap."[122] After the White Stripes' breakthrough in 2001, UK newspaper The Times said that White "reduced the art of drumming to its primary components, bashing the snare and cymbal together on alternating beats with the bass drum in a way that recalled Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground."[15] In a 2002 The Washington Post article analyzing the band's style, writer Richard Harrington described White's drumming as "a surprisingly full sound, loud and raucous -- like the Carpenters on steroids".[103] Of a 2002 concert in Cleveland, Ohio, Chuck Klosterman said, "[Meg] never grimaced and didn't appear to sweat; yet somehow her drums sounded like a herd of Clydesdales falling out of the sky, one after another. Clearly this is a band at the apex of its power".[123] Jonny Walfisz of Euronews compared White to Ringo Starr of The Beatles, calling her a "sheer genius of a drummer".[124]

Contrastingly, in 2003 Associated Press called White's playing "maddeningly rudimentary",[125] and the satirical news site The Onion featured the 2007 headline "Meg White Drum Solo Maintains Steady Beat For 23 Minutes".[126] In response to negative comments, Jack White stated Meg's drumming to be the "best part of this band",[8] and called her a "strong female presence in rock and roll".[127] He called her detractors "sexist".[8]

Several musicians have praised White. Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and previously Nirvana stated in an interview that White is "one of my favorite fucking drummers of all time. Like, nobody fucking plays the drums like that."[128][129][130] Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine wrote in an Instagram post that White "has style and swag and personality and oomph and taste and awesomeness that's off the charts and a vibe that's untouchable".[131][132][133] Nandi Bushell cited White as one of her influences, and said that "I saw Meg playing the drums and thought she was the coolest person in the world. I still do." She wrote on Twitter that the White Stripes "moved me at 5 years old to want to play the drums and still move me today! My screams are for you Meg! You are and always will be my role model and hero!"[134][135]

In March 2023, National Review magazine published an article celebrating the 20 year anniversary of "Seven Nation Army".[136] In response to a tweet concerning the article on Twitter, journalist Lachlan Markay wrote "The tragedy of the White Stripes is how great they would've been with a half decent drummer. Yeah yeah I've heard all the "but it's a carefully crafted sound mannnn!" takes. I'm sorry Meg White was terrible and no band is better for having shitty percussion."[136][111][137][138] The tweet went viral, and Jack White, along with several musicians and critics, came to her defense.[139][140][141][142][143][144][145][146] Markay later apologized and deleted his comments.[147] He wrote that "It was an over-the-top take … I don’t know if Meg White herself saw that tweet. I hope not, because I imagine it wouldn’t feel great to see a stranger dumping on you like that, so to Meg White: I am sorry. Really. And to women in the music business generally, who I think are disproportionately subject to this sort of shit, I am sorry to have fed that as well."[147] As a result of the controversy, White trended in March 2023.[111][148][147]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
2003 Coffee and Cigarettes Herself[a] Anthology film [77]
2004 Under Blackpool Lights Herself Direct-to-video film [43]
2005 The Fearless Freaks Herself Documentary film [149]
2006 The Simpsons Herself (voice)[b] Episode: "Jazzy and the Pussycats" [80]
2009 It Might Get Loud Herself Documentary film [82]
Under Great White Northern Lights Herself Rockumentary film [71]

Discography[edit]

References[edit]

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Works cited[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ White plays a fictionalized version of herself.
  2. ^ White plays a fictionalized version of herself.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]