Wednesday, December 2, 2009

When Dave Met Jack

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. And a little bit after that, God created rivalries.

Since the beginning of time, our world has been subjected to rivalries of every different kind, with one side pitted against the other. Even the Lord himself, "Big Guns Upstairs", is in a constant battle with Satan. It never ends. It is one of the unique aspects of this planet, this universe, and simply life in general. Regardless of time, location, or population, there has always been struggles between two sides, competition between two adversaries, and comparisons between two entities. Rivalries are as old as the stars.

Some rivalries stretch back to the beginning of mankind (Cain vs Abel). Some set the table for the make-up of early civilizations (Gengis Kahn vs Asia). Some shaped the structure of the modern Western World (USA vs Soviet Union). And even some are unfolding today, right in front of our very own eyes (Tiger Woods vs Us Weekly).

Rivalries can be legendary (Caesar vs Brutus), fictional (Captain Ahab vs Moby Dick), or completely authentic and so, so, super-duper real (LC vs Heidi). They can be epic (Ali vs Frazier) and they can be lopsided (Britney Spears vs Common Sense). They can be incredibly lame (‘N Sync vs Backstreet Boys) or they can transcend time (Good vs Evil).

Rivalries can leave you smiling (Jessica Biel vs Jessica Alba) and heartbroken (Lennon vs McCartney). They can be in good taste (Larry Bird vs Magic Johnson) and they can end violently (Biggie vs Tupac). And every now and then, rivalries can be great (Seinfeld vs Newman).

But even with all the rivalries that have come and gone and that are shoved upon us in this day and age, one has seemingly gone unnoticed. Despite similarities between the two sides and an abundance of common interests, it has simply been averted. For whatever reason, one match-up in the music world has never been given the justice it truly deserves: Dave Grohl vs Jack White.

Let me be honest up front. I have no idea what the relationship is between Grohl and White. For all I know, they could be best friends, or they could hate each others’ guts. Maybe they just had a man-hug once at an MTV Music Awards after-party or something. The point is, I don’t have a clue. But for me, that is not what this rivalry is about. Instead, it’s about two talented and accomplished musicians that have grown-up in the same time period and the same profession with stunningly similar credentials and track records, and yet, have never really been compared. It’s about two artists who seem to be in some secret competition of who can perform with and start the most bands. This rivalry is about the progression of two of the greatest musicians of their respective generation.

Dave Grohl broke on to the popular music scene as the drummer for Nirvana on their cosmic-altering album, Nevermind, and is probably better known today as the front-man for the Foo Fighters. Jack White, on the other hand, rose to fame as the leader of The White Stripes. But that snapshot does not even begin to do justice to the careers of each of these men.

Grohl first got into music at the age of 12 when he basically taught himself to play guitar. Once he began playing in different bands during high school, he taught himself to play drums by using pillows, because his house was too small to be banging on a drum set. He dropped out of high school as a junior at the age of 17 to join a band called Scream as their lead drummer. During one of Scream’s concerts in 1990, a member of the Melvins (a band Grohl had befriended) brought his friends Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain to see the band. Months later, when Scream broke up, Grohl joined Novoselic and Cobain as the main drummer for their band, Nirvana, and the rest, as they say, is history. Replacing Nirvana’s drummer from their first album, Grohl became part of a band that would take the music world by storm less than two years later.

The widely known impact of Nirvana on grunge music, and really music in general, had an obvious affect on Grohl’s career. He was the drummer of the hottest band on the planet, and would eventually play a bigger role on the songwriting and direction of the band during the recording of their In Utero album and spot on MTV Unplugged. In fact, Dave was really coming into his musical prime at the time of Kurt Cobain’s shocking death in April of 1994. With the fate of Nirvana sealed, Grohl ventured into the next phase of his life. He recorded a demo of his solo works, singing every note and playing every instrument, save for one guitar part of one song. He also began playing for other bands, including a stint as the drummer for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Petty even offered Grohl the position as the band’s main drummer, but Grohl turned it down. Dave also played with Pearl Jam and was considered for the position of their drummer, but he felt that his future lay elsewhere.

Around this time, he began receiving interest in his demo, and decided to form a new band, known as the Foo Fighters. After releasing his solo album as the band’s first record, the Foo Fighters released The Colour and the Shape, an album that put them on the scene as a major rock band. The Foo Fighters have since gone on to have insane success with Grohl serving as the primary songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist. To date, five of their six studio albums have gone platinum, with their most recent likely to reach that level at some point in the future. So essentially, Grohl turned down Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers AND Pearl Jam, but still went on to form a platinum selling rock band. This would be like someone turning down dates with Jennifer Anniston and Sandra Bullock, only to end up dating Hayden Panettiere just as she was rising to fame. Yeah, that seems fair.

Jack White walked a similar line. He jumped into the role of musician even faster than Grohl, playing drums at age five. He later learned guitar before shirking school and entering into an upholstery apprenticeship at the age of 15. After running his own furniture business for a few years, White (known as Jack Gillis at the time) landed a spot as drummer for Goober & the Peas (great name), and began playing with other local bands in Detroit, Michigan as well. But White’s accent to music fame really began in 1997 when he formed The White Stripes with then wife and current ex-wife Meg White (they’re not siblings, I promise). When Jack married Meg in 1996, he took her last name, mainly because he’s just a weird dude. Despite getting divorced in 2000, Jack has since kept the last name of White, even after getting re-married and having children. The White Stripes survived the couple’s divorce, and the two remain best friends, often presenting themselves as brother and sister.

The White Stripes found commercial success in 2002 with White Blood Cells before really hitting it big the next year with Elephant. In total, The White Stripes have two platinum albums, and a third that could hit platinum in the future. But despite being a member of a platinum selling band, White apparently felt that he still had too much free time on his hands. He formed The Racounters in 2005, serving as lead songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist, while also playing keyboards and stylophone. The band started out touring with and opening for Bob Dylan (AKA – The Greatest American Hero) before releasing their first album, Broken Boy Soldiers, in 2006. The record hit #7 on US Billboard Charts and was nominated for a Grammy as Best Rock Album. The band’s second release, Consolers of the Lonely, also hit #7 on the US charts in 2008.

But even with all the success that Grohl and White had in each of their first two major bands, it didn’t seem to be enough for either of them. To be honest, complacency and patience are not virtues that these two men hold strong to. They’ve each started new bands within the past year, the third major group for each. White formed The Dead Weather in early 2009, and the band released their first album, Horehound, in July, with the record hitting #6 on US charts. Grohl has recently teamed up with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin to form the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, with their self-titled album reaching #12 on US charts after its mid-November release. Each man has strayed from their position as front-man and lead vocalist, with Grohl back at drums for the Vultures and White playing both drums and guitar for the Weather. But even with three major bands a piece, Grohl and White can’t seem to stop the music. In fact, the two have been with more bands than the girls from Rock of Love.

Grohl, aside from his early stints with Tom Petty and Pearl Jam, has worked with Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails, Tenacious D (he played drums on their first album), Queen, Mike Watt, Garbage, and the great Paul McCartney. Grohl even achieved one of the oddest accomplishments in all of music history (from October of ’02 to March of ’03) when he appeared in the #1 spot on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart (singles) for 17 of 18 straight weeks…with three different bands. Grohl replaced himself when the Foo Fighters “All My Life” replaced Nirvana’s “You Know You’re Right” (late release, band’s last recording) at the top of the charts, and then replaced himself again when “No One Knows” by Queens of the Stone Age (Grohl played drums on the song) pushed the Foo Fighters from the #1 position. Did you follow all of that?

Not to be outdone, White has stood toe to toe with music royalty, collaborating with The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Loretta Lynn, Alicia Keys, and Bob Dylan. White also starred in the documentary “It Might Get Loud” alongside Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Paige and U2’s The Edge, with the three discussing electric guitar and their unique approaches to playing it. Now, anyone over 45 might think that having Jack White discuss playing guitar with Paige and The Edge would be like me discussing great writing with Shakespeare and Hemingway, but they’d be wrong. White’s inclusion in the piece is really a testament to the skill and respect that the man has in the musical world. Rolling Stone ranked White #17 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, ahead of legends like George Harrison, The Edge, Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, Pete Townshend, and Eddie Van Halen. For what it’s worth, I count him as one of the two best guitarists of his generation, along with John Mayer. And, for what it’s worth, I think White is a lot less whiny.

The point is, it’s incredible the musical talent, range, and respect that Dave Grohl and Jack White have. Do you think Tom Petty would just let anybody into the Heartbreakers? Do you think The Edge and Jimmy Paige would even sit in the same room with White if they didn’t think he was on their level? The two artists each have Top-10 albums while playing prominent roles in three major bands a piece. They have also collaborated with or played a role in a combination of these historic bands and artists: The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, U2, Pearl Jam, Queen, Nirvana, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Paul McCartney, and Bob Dylan. Talk about “Murder’s Row.” If you didn’t know before, it should be pretty obvious to you now that the proof of Grohl and White’s music credentials are certainly in the pudding.

And yet, despite their unique ability to write and sing songs, produce music, play numerous instruments, work with the greatest musicians of our time, and form a successful band as easily as making a fruit salad, I feel they don’t receive the recognition they deserve. Despite having deep and obvious impact on the world of rock music, they aren’t spoken of enough in the same breath as the great musicians they have worked and performed with. And despite being only 40 (Grohl) and 34 (White), the two men have been able to accomplish more than you can shake a stick at. Plus, if men like Dylan, McCartney, and Paige have proven anything, it’s that great musicians age better than the rest of us, and Grohl and White seem primed to follow that path.

But what’s most surprising, out of anything they have accomplished separately, is that they have never been considered a great rivalry. Why hasn’t this been brought up before? Their talents are basically the same. Their abilities to get around (musically, of course) are basically the same. Their range as musicians are more or less the same…so why not make them a rivalry? They play very similar genres of music, walk in the same circles of musicians, and have experienced oddly similar paths to success, so to me the comparison makes perfect sense. The Yankees have the Red Sox. Leno has Letterman. Robert Pattison has Taylor Lautner. And Jack White has Dave Grohl.

To be honest, I can’t exactly say who is more accomplished or which of the two is the better musician. They stack up too well against each other. To me, it’s essentially impossible to tell who wins this rivalry. And really, that’s the best part about it.

Thanks for reading


Jason said...

This is great! I love Jack White and I love Dave Grohl and have often wondered what they thought of each other. My hope is that one day they will work together on something. What would THAT look like? The interesting thing to me too is that even though they have so many similarities as you pointed out, their music is strikingly different also, matching their personalities. Grohl makes the affable, friendly, big pop rock songs and White makes the wierder, edgier and more raw rock songs. Both awesome and both powerful in their own ways.

J. Williams said...

I agree. They both make rock music, but it's obviously different types of rock music. I also find it interesting that each of their bands sound different from the other one. I appreciate you reading the article and commenting on it, and I hope you liked it. Thanks again. -JW

aaronbannasch said...

Superb article you've written. I saw a short video on MTV2 where the Foo Fighters were commenting on a track from Icky Thump, but Grohl was silent about it; making their potential rivalry that much more mysterious. As for White and Mayer, both are great guitarists, but comparing them is like comparing Hendrix and Clapton.

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading this and I can't wait to hear what these guys put out next.

J. Williams said...

Thanks for the comment. And yes, comparing White and Mayer is quite a stretch, because they each have a distinct style. But to me, they are definitely in the top when it comes to the great young guitarists of today. And I appreciate you reading the article and I am glad that you found it interesting. I, like you, can't wait to see how the future unfolds with these two. Thanks again. -JW

Charissa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charissa said...

Great article... Maybe someday we can coax Paige, Dylan, McCartney, Grohl and White to form the world's first Super-Duper Group...I'd buy that ticket.