Monday, November 6, 2017

First on First - Jimmy the Exploder

jimmy the exploder

The White Stripes first album was released on the day of my 26th birthday, though I wouldn't know they existed until about 2 years later when I first saw the iconic video for "Fell in Love With a Girl" and instantly fell in love with a band. I think I bought all three albums they had out at the same time and just played the living fuck out of them. They were raw and unpretentious and deceptively simple. But if you paid attention, it was clear none of it was just tossed off. It was crafted by a genius, from the songs to the production to the visuals and the mythology. Were Jack and Meg really brother and sister? Were they previously married? Both!? It was easy to track down the truth online, but maybe it was better not to. And the colors. Always the same three colors, from that video I loved with the stop motion, abstract Lego mosaic duo playing to every album cover and every outfit: red, white and black. Always. Somehow those colors were enough just like a drum and guitar were enough. It's primal and primitive and childlike - but not childish. Innocent but not naive. And the first song on the first album is a concise representation of all this and more. "Jimmy the Exploder" not only captures the sound but also the general experimental aesthetic energy of the band and all they would go on to become.

Blown out and pounding this screaming garage beat has undeniable energy. It just instantly makes you want to jump around the monkeys on the bed, yelling "hoo hoo hoo!" It's before you know it, but not before taking somehow making you think of everything from Led Zeppelin and The Ramones to The Violent Femmes and Son House, all filtered through a couple of kids just messing around with toy instruments. Seriously, every time I heard this songs back then and still today, I'll notice some other little bit that obliterates the whole "it's so simple" veneer all over it. What's the song about? Well, Jack White says "I’d been writing all these childish songs, like ‘Jimmy the Exploder’ from our first album – this story I made up about this monkey who exploded things that weren’t the color red."

The rest of the album adds more layers to this but not more complexity. At the time the thankfully dropped term "blunk" for blues+punk was tossed around to describe the sound. While that's a stupid label for many reasons, not the least of which being that punk already contains blues in it, it was understandable that a new label was sought. But I think the mistake was that the sound itself was not necessarily what was new, but rather the approach. In that sense, the punk part was true and there's obviously a strong blues influence in everything Jack White has ever done. But, the essence of The White Stripes was always the sense of discovery. From Meg White's primal drumming to Jack White's insistence on using shitty guitars, it's like the music comes out through shear force of will and that struggle is what gives it urgency. It's as if each song on the album was caught by pure luck because they likely couldn't play it exactly the same again. The fact that they famously didn't use set-lists in concert only added to this. Having seen them in concert, I can attest that what they did was magical and every song was alive in a spontaneous way that I've never experienced at another show.

It would be an exaggeration to say that "Jimmy the Exploder" contains everything they would ever do in it's 2 and a half minutes. But the essence, the feeling, the possibilities are all there. It sets everything up, laying some of the cards on the table, and while their would be many other cards to come, they'd all be coming from this one very unique deck. As unexpected as each new deal might be, what would strike you more is how one simple deck could have so many amazing combinations.



  1. The White Stripes is currently one of my favorite bands. Seven Nations Army is still in my playlist and I think I listen to it almost every day.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.