Suszynski: How much do you care? |

Suszynski: How much do you care?

The first time I heard Jack White was when he was still with The White Stripes. I listened to “White Blood Cells” on my hand-held CD player that I won for a coloring contest at my dad’s Halloween work party. Most people have heard of the song “Seven Nation Army,” which made the band wildly popular. Although perhaps one of my favorite songs of his is actually on the same album: “Ball and Biscuit.” White played this song on “Saturday Night Live” last weekend but typical of his style, he brilliantly wove two other songs into one awesomely loud performance.

After Morgan Wallen got himself uninvited to play the Oct. 10 SNL because he was partying without a mask on, White stepped up. He began with a song he produced with Beyoncé titled “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” which appeared on her album “Lemonade.” The song has samples of “When the Levee Breaks” written by Jimmy PageRobert PlantJohn Paul Jones and John Bonham.

Perhaps the more interesting move was White’s incorporation of “Jesus is Coming Soon” by Blind Willie Johnson. Released in 1928, 10 years after the Spanish Flu, it eerily echoes life today: “Well, the nobles said to the people, ‘You better close your public schools.’ ‘Until the events of death has ending, you better close your churches, too.’”

Two years after White released “Consolers of the Lonely” with The Raconteurs (my favorite album of all time) and I was thoroughly hooked on his music, a special book was published: “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan. “Goon Squad” ties together, through a series of short stories and one PowerPoint chapter, the lives of many people dedicated to the mess and magic of music. The book is a little bit punk, a little Kurt Vonnegut, and certainly ridiculous. This is also why I love Jack White.

In the second chapter of the book, Bennie, one of the main characters is listening to the radio: “Bennie alternated between the Sleepers and the Dead Kennedys, San Francisco bands he’d grown up with. He listened for muddiness, the sense of actual musicians playing actual instruments in an actual room.”

In an interesting interview with Conan O’Brien in 2013, White returns to a few important themes, one being authenticity. He says that he challenges himself to play the music right, to not use digitization to perfect musical errors. About 30 minutes into White’s interview with O’Brien, White asks, “It’s probably something that has always bugged me since I was a kid and will always bug me later on is how much do you care about what other people think?” The act of creating music authentically allows one to confront criticism from a point of humility. 

Not worrying about what other people think is a daily practice. Recently, I have lost sight of how important it is. When I watched White on SNL, I was reminded that part of not caring is being true to your own creations.

In the chapter “Great Rock and Roll Pauses by Alison Blake,” the narrator, Alison, makes a PowerPoint in the form of a story that details why her brother is so obsessed with mapping the pauses in his favorite songs. I think the PowerPoint is intended for her dad because he can’t wrap his head around his son’s obsession. At one point the mom lays it out for her husband: “The pause makes you think the song will end. And then the song isn’t really over, so you’re relieved. But then the song does actually end, because every song ends, obviously, and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. FOR. REAL.”

The process of overcoming criticism or not worrying about people’s perception of you is like listening to a great album. One song ends, another begins. Those long or short pauses within the song, the ones that allow us to breathe for a second, those pauses are the things that never end. We have to stay true to our pauses.  

“If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s going to break” Led Zeppelin sings.

“Thrown down to the wolves, made feral for nothing. Quarantined on the Isle Of Man. And I’m trying to escape any way that I can,” White wails in his second song on SNL “Lazaretto.” Neither of these songs has meaningful pauses. But White was playing an actual Eddie Van Halen Wolfgang guitar in an actual room making actual explosive riffs.

In the end of “Goon Squad,” a character that seemed to have nothing together in the beginning, gets up on a stage for thousands of people: “And it may be that a crowd at a particular moment of history creates the object to justify its gathering … Or it may be that two generations of war and surveillance had left people craving the embodiment of their own unease in the form of a lone, unsteady man on a slide guitar.”

I’m not saying that everyone’s embodiment of 2020 is Jack White playing an EVH Wolfgang in a plaid suit, but there is something to say about his dedication to the sound. And the sound doesn’t necessarily have to be your sound, or the next guy’s sound; but if we pause for a second, and pay attention to our own craft, the noise may be less reverb and more clear.

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