Friday, January 27, 2012

#21 Red Bowling Ball Ruth

I'm not gonna lie, I'd really like to be talking about De Stijl right now. The eclectic styles, delicately crafted lyrics and well defined pop melodies provide ample fodder for this blog while the first album almost spits in the face of this entire project. To recap: the first White Stripes album is a masterpiece but it is problematic to take apart song by song because it's more about the cumulative effect of all that motor-city bashing than the individual characteristics of each song that propels the album. Melodies often repeat themselves and songs seem insignificant on their own but when you add it all up you've got one hell of a debut. So what do we say about a song like Red Bowling Ball Ruth, a song that possesses all the sonic and structural hallmarks of the other debut tracks yet, for better or worse, is forced to stand alone as a B-Side. Does it collapse under closer scrutiny or is it allowed a deserved moment in the spotlight?

Originally I was going to answer quite simply that it was a minor track that we're fortunate to have but doesn't stand out or add any new dynamics to the bands catalogue. It's a great basher that deliciously implodes from its own recklessness, as so many of these early songs do, but how can it rise above similar entries in the discography? I was ready to write off this song but then I realised something: this song has fans. Lots of fans. When scanning The Little Room forum I kept seeing reference to how masterful this song is, that it is the essence of The White Stripes and is their most underrated classic. Somewhere within the cult of the White Stripes, within the cult of the early period had developed the cult of Red Bowling Ball Ruth. So I knew I had to really give this song another shot, because I must be missing something. So of course, I looked to the lyrics.

In the early days of the White Stripes, Ben Blackwell taped the live shows off the board and drove around with them blasting in his car. In other words he was the first White Stripes fan.
He once said in an interview that the first album was a revelation because he could hear all the 'Dylanesque' lyrics that were meant to accompany the music he'd been driving around to this whole time. This story alludes to what I find the funniest part of the first album. You often can't hear a fucking word being said even though the lyrics are actually very clever (Broken Bricks being the best example). On the other hand, to make the songs clearer would be to go against the sound that defines this music. It's sort of a weird paradox that exists in the early stages of the band. Thus, it only seems appropriate, that Red Bowling Ball Ruth begins with a hilariously ironic line when taken in context:

Well pay attention
Attention to my words.

I've tried Jack. That's easier said than done. In fact I just flat out gave up and the good folks at Google had to give me the lyrics for the purpose of this post so I could listen along to them. Honestly, they do very little for me. The cryptic style that Jack's stuck to for a lot of his career does him a lot of favours while most songs seem to have some general consistent theme that you can sort of analyse intellectually. I'm not saying I can "figure out" any of Jack's song but I can't even really find much discussion in these lyrics besides the cute first line. On top of this, if there's no narrative or thematic thread that is being followed then layering potent images on top each other can be more than enough to arouse an emotional response but I also find that lacking here. If someone can perhaps respond to my first issue, I'd love to take it up in the comments but the latter problem is purely subjective so I guess thats my problem. Essentially, both lyrically and musically this song fails to stand out for me. I love it because it is a White Stripes song and possesses all the traits that make them great, but I'd never choose it as a standard-bearer by any means.

So I think I have the disparity between this songs appreciation and my own indifference figured out. After going through every song on the album that bears many similarities with this one (both in this blog and in my general listening experience) I feel like this is a superfluous addition that doesn't add anything to great songs I feel represent this period with gusto. But to many people this song IS that period and I can easily see why this feels like the microcosm of 1999 White Stripes. Whether or not this is your favourite, you can't deny that you're hearing the White Stripes served straight up as they should be.

2 comments:

  1. First off, I have to say that I've missed your posts very much and I hope there will be more soon to follow.

    This tune is definitely a tricky one. Even a Google search leads to a variety of lyrical transcriptions. My own take on it is that it's one of those rare Jack songs in which the lyrics almost don't matter at all. What's powerful about it to me is the visceral reaction I have to that passionately screechy young voice, the propulsion of Meg's crashing cymbals, and the shake up of musical anticipation created by the stop'n'start tempos. The *feeling* of it is what creates the effect you stated so well-- that you're hearing the Stripes served straight up. I agree with you that it's definitely not album material, but as a cult favorite, it's just so damned much fun.

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  2. Literally just came out this week, but Jack released his first ever solo single "Love Interruption." Album coming in April. He's been in so many collaborative projects that "Blunderbuss" will be an awesome way to experience just Jack :) http://jackwhiteiii.com/

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