Morphing the Blues: The White Stripes and the Strange Relevance of Detroit
by Martin Roach
Chrome Dreams, 192 pp.
On page 150 of Sweethearts of the Blues, author Denise Sullivan clearly states there is very much that remains unknown about the White Stripes.
This may be the only fact she got correct.
There is so much unknown about the band that Sullivan should’ve told her wonderful publishers at Backbeat Books that she didn’t want to be responsible for a poorly researched, rushed-to-print, chronologically skewed book about a band that she’s not only never met or talked to, but also failed to talk about with anyone with any interesting input.
Instead, she has interviews with nine people. Nine people? You’re writing a book about a band that’s been around for close to seven years and you only talk to nine people?! Three of those nine were already interviewed in Brian McCollum’s far-superior oral history of the White Stripes from the Detroit Free Press, an article that Sullivan quotes from heavily. McCollum, by the way, talked to 16 people for his piece. While Sullivan touches on the complexity of the band, she fails to realize it’s a complexity beyond the grasp of her writing capability.
I’ll admit, Sullivan contacted me in hopes that I would talk to her for the book, but I declined. I was already embarrassed that I had talked to Martin Roach for his poor excuse for toilet paper, Morphing the Blues.
To let you know how clueless Roach was on the whole subject, he only talked to me on matters concerning Italy Records, the label I worked for that released the first two White Stripes singles. He apparently had no knowledge about my blood relation (Editor’s note: Blackwell is Jack White’s nephew) to the band and the fact that I was their unofficial historian/archivist. I really wished I had told him that Jack had seven toes, if only to see it in print. See, Roach failed to employ any fact-checkers, or even worse, a reliable transcription service.
On page 64 of Roach’s book, I am quoted talking about bands on Italy Records. While a quick trip to www.italyrecords.com would tell you every record they’ve released, Roach cuts corners and has Italy bands the Fells and the Soledad Brothers listed as the Cells and the Soda Devils, respectively.
If Sullivan’s book is rushed, consider Roach’s a work in progress. He leaves the band at their ever-crucial summer 2003 hiatus (due to injuries Jack sustained in a car accident), and fails to resolve the situation, instead using sensationalistic lines like “(Jack’s) last gig of the summer, probably of the year, and possibly … ever.” I hate to leave you hanging on, so I’ll fill you in … Jack gets better, the band keeps gigging.
Both books dedicate unusually large dollops to what amounts to cut and paste encyclopedia entries about the MC5, Delta Blues, the Stooges, Motown and the 1967 race riots. This Britannica cannibalizing ultimately gives the feeling that neither Sullivan nor Roach have ever set foot in Detroit, let alone understand any of its musical or cultural heritage.
Sullivan’s book is valuable for two things: 1) the rare Doug Coombe (misnamed, of course, as Coombes) photo of Jack playing a yellow Gibson SG in concert and 2) the quote from Jason Stollsteimer where he says that he and Jack agreed on the production of the Von Bondies debut album. Roach’s book is worth its weight in kindling.
In the end, it’s too early for anyone, much less these two-bit hacks, to be writing a book about the White Stripes.
E-mail Ben Blackwell at firstname.lastname@example.org.