(a poem for Jack White, written circa 2010, w/ minor 2013 additions & edits, in honor of his recently and rightly acclaimed first solo album)
I watch you on tv.
I watch in both awe and frustration,
Envy, really – barely disguised.
I want what you’ve got —
or more precisely,
what I too have, but can’t get at.
It pisses me off
the way you make it look so easy.
I’m Salieri to your Amadeus.
I’m older than you.
Wiser? Only you can say.
Or maybe it’s something in the way
you’re free, you let your heart rule the day.
Who cares if it’s wise?
As long as it laughs or cries.
All my creative conditions are right:
my house by the water
(but nothing drifts toward me).
The pearl-necked Les Paul.
The melancholy and confusion,
the struggles and extremes–
sacred life of sons and stalking death of fathers.
But my metaphors are laughable,
more convention than invention,
by a Boho dressed for a game of polo
–a whole boring disguise–
and thus they go unrecognized.
I have no vintage 1/4 inch tape,
but I could get one if I needed it–
plus I’ve got digital everything,
not that it matters a whit. (Thanks, Dave.)
So why can’t I find that perfect riff,
that minor ninth plus a perfect fifth,
that clean dark tone that cuts to the bone?
Instead I sound like an old trashcan
flung down crumbling stairs of stone–
noise, garbage, pretentious and powerless,
mumbled gumbo of mumbo jumbo–
set to a 4/4 beat.
Jackie Not-So-Blue, how can you sound so good
with such a piece o’ shit guitar —
straight out of St. Vincent’s basement?
(DePaul’s, not the hot, smart musician chick.)
So sweet, with nothing but three chords
and the truth?
So hot, even formerly with a drummer that —
as you yourself must privately admit–
sounded like she was nine years old,
working in a cheap boardwalk recording booth?
Why can’t I do this?
I think I hear, faintly, the same secrets that you hear
in Son House, Screamin’ Jay, or that ol’ Howlin’ Wolf.
I too have tuned my ear
to the dissonance of city streets,
to the songs of sprites in quiet woods,
to falling bombs and failed dot-coms,
the daily news noise that begs a response.
I heard it years before you did.
But now my own drone will bore you,
I try but I don’t hear how you hear.
You see the forest;
I’m stuck in a tree.
Maybe I hear in living color,
but you — you paint with sound and fury.
And fury can’t be faked.
And Macbeth was wrong, it sometimes signifies something.
I think we both understand
the language that propels the stars,
the song you must have come out of the womb singing.
I just can’t translate that obscure dialect,
with this mealy mouth,
or type with these scarred and clumsy hands.
I too went to art school,
like some of the best of those in your field.
But some things apparently
can’t be taught.
The hard truth I see:
Wanting isn’t having.
No matter how much
I want to go get it,
nevertheless, it’s got to be a gift,
gratefully and consciously received and used.
What is it?
I only know it when I see it.
I cannot figure how to be it.
I’m reminded of God (no not That one, the other one, from England)
and his song about the “it”–
how “it’s in the way that you use it”.
And of that cliche: “it’s a gift”.
Not false, but clearly not nearly enough.
Did I have the gift and bury it,
or did I just wish for the strength to carry it?
Can I unlock some dormant “sound and fury” gene,
the one that combines
rhythm and rhyme?
Can I give voice to the occasional fever dream,
and that hunger, intuition,
that lies behind the words you so beautifully scream?
I always forget:
It’s a gift we give back
or else we lose it.
(Maybe some hoard it,
Grasp it too tightly,
Ride it to death,
Or chase it away with hits of crystal meth.)
Meanwhile, you don’t tell, you only show
how we earn it, let it grow,
let it breathe or it will die.
I woke up today
with someone else’s song in my head.
I can’t hear my own,
with all this bitter ringing in my ears.
Shut up, you beautiful boy,
so I can think.
- Jack White Destroys His Guitar at the Grammys (mtvhive.com)
- Billboard re White’s big Grammy sales boost, with his numbers besting all nominees or winners in chart-climbing