White Wash

The White Stripes create mystique the old-fashioned way: lying and keeping mum

There are three standard reasons a rock act would refuse to do interviews:

1. The Freddie Mercury Royal Snub. This occurs after an artist gives unlimited access to a press community that still winds up vehemently hating him. Before the King of Queen stopped doing interviews, he granted an exclusive to Tony Stewart of NME, only to have a clipping service present him with an article titled "Is This Man a Prat?"

2. The Knack Knuke Back Decree. You sense the press hates you, and you figure denying them any new quotes will make the fans respect you for taking a stand. This is a disastrous strategy, on a par with pulling your crotch while telling the Gambino family, "Here's your protection money."

The White Stripes: They don't need no stinkin' press coverage.
Patrick Pantano
The White Stripes: They don't need no stinkin' press coverage.
Among the issues in question are Meg's skills behind the skins.
Justin Guavin
Among the issues in question are Meg's skills behind the skins.

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3. The Village People Piss-off Policy. Also known as Spice Girl Spite-all. For a group on a continual downward slide, denying interviews is the last vestige of divadom that can be exercised. As late as 1997, the VPs were still demanding to be faxed a set of questions before agreeing to anything, as if the world were at a standstill wondering what a fifth-generation Indian chief's favorite color was.

Of course, boycotting the press only serves to infuriate and inspire them to make up even more exploitative stories that your no-access policy won't allow you to refute. That's why anyone looking to get one over on the gullible gutter press has been monitoring the moves of Detroit duo the White Stripes for the past two years. Seemingly out of nowhere, the guitar-and-drum twosome of Jack and Meg White burst onto the scene with an infectious, minimalist mélange of blues, folk and bubblegum riffs that's capturing the mainstream audience's imagination in a way that even surpasses press darlings such as the Strokes and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

The Stripes' most recent album, White Blood Cells, is sitting comfortably in Billboard's Top 100; "I Fell in Love With a Girl" is an MTV hit (with Jack's Lego likeness no doubt giving Michael Jackson future face-altering ideas) and the song "Hotel Yorba" is being classified as a modern rock track, of all things. The White Stripes' love of itinerant bluesmen like Blind Willie McTell seems more genuine than ironic, and unlike the Strokes, the White Stripes have made it to England and back without anyone mentioning '80s alt-pop duo Timbuk 3.

It was the British press' zealous praise that really started the buzz that the White Stripes had something to offer besides candy-cane fashion (Jack and Meg dress only in red and white). And it was the press' lax fact-checking that helped spread rumors about the pair's much-discussed personal lives. Even after several major publications, including Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Magnet and Highlights, reported that Jack and Meg were not really bro-and-sis but rather a divorced couple who couldn't decide which red and white clothes to part with, the duping persists.

And the alleged siblings continue to keep mum, except on their official Web page (www.whitestripes.com), where Mum is front and center, packing lunches and encouraging her raw rock brood. "Our mother said that she saw us on David Letterman's show, and she was pleased," writes Jack, while noting with disturbing Oedipal glee that, "Our father said he fell asleep and missed it, and was not pleased."

Now that the White Stripes have disseminated enough phony fodder to keep the press busy for months, they've stopped doing interviews. The pair even employs a publicist whose sole job is to not return phone calls. But rock 'n' roll is a liar's game, and ever since Little Anthony hunched down in the trenches at sock hops so that the Imperials would tower over him, double-dealing has been a rock tradition. Let's follow Jack and Meg's trail of deception, using their song titles as possible clues, to see if we can figure out where the red and white smoke screen begins and ends.

"We're Going to Be Friends": In lying about their onetime marriage, the White Stripes are simply following pop music's oldest custom — never let 'em see your nuptials. It used to be that even a glint of a wedding band spelled disaster for a rock star's popularity. Exempt from such teen condemnation was John "sorry girls, he's married" Lennon (who, if truth be told, was trying to maintain the integrity of rock 'n' roll by keeping son Julian under wraps for nine months). Fans forgave John's fib because the Beatles were making great music. When Bobby Sherman, Davy Jones and Peter Noone pulled the same shit, teens dropped them like a soiled Stridex pad.

"Sister, Do You Know My Name?": From ABBA to X, millions of estranged couples have played together in rock bands, but the annals include only one brother-and-sister rock team. (And don't mention Donny and a-little-bit-country Marie. Those two were refugee solo acts who became co-dependents when the Osmond Brothers' records stopped selling.) The White Stripes' brother-and-sister ruse positions them as the next Carpenters, a band everyone hated at the time but now pretends to love, since there's no threat of them making any more records. Clearly the field is wide open for a new sibling act: Post-puberty will continue to ruin the Hanson brothers' boyish good looks, and the only formidable competition will be the Bacon Brothers.

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