Sunday, June 12, 2005

The dust blows forward and back, while Jack White just blows...

Don Van Vliet with John Peel in the early '70s

Mos Def may claim to be popular music's boogieman, but no number of Bad Brains-biting beats can spook the youth of any generation the way Don Van Vliet can. Since shedding his Captain Beefheart moniker and disappearing into the dust of the Mojave Desert twenty-five years ago, Van Vliet has been the monster in the closet of many great songwriters, from PJ Harvey to Joan Osborne and from Tom Waits to Stephen Malkmus.

And now it appears as though Jack White has been spending too much time imagining himself as something more rustic, more raw, more unhinged, more martian than simply the palest dude on MTV.

Promotional shot for the White Stipes' new album, "Get Behind Me Satan"

Maybe he thinks tarting up a dusty straw doll like Loretta Lynn gives him some credibility, but this is bloody ridiculous. Perhaps Jack thinks that he's taken Van Vliet's throne as the supreme primitive in modern music. Yes, it's true that Van Vliet couldn't play any instruments, so the White Stripes do bear a certain technical resemblance. But Captain Beefheart was also certifiable and carried his worldly possessions in plastic shopping bags. There's a difference between not being able to play (which Jack demonstrates on about 18 different instruments on his unfocused bore of a new album) and the utter obliviation of musical convention.

To this day, no one has managed to do that with the gusto with which Don Van Vliet did.

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