Meg White Is One Of Rock’s Great Drummers
There’s no real way to define a truly great rock drummer. Power and poise, for one. Timing is another. Working on behalf of the song, and not yourself, is a cardinal ability. Oh, and you also have to look cool as f*ck. For all those reasons and more, Meg White is an iconic rock drummer.
Why does this even need to be stated, you ask? Rock bros. Almost from the first show The White Stripes ever played, questions circulated about Meg White’s ability. The naivety of her playing loaned itself perfectly to criticism in an environment which, if we’re truly honest, was deeply masculine and deeply toxic.
The subject exploded online this week, with Lachlan Markay sticking his head above the parapet. Describing the “tragedy” of the White Stripes, he said “Meg White is terrible and no band is better for having shitty percussion.”
Now, we’re not going to link out to poor Lachlan, who quickly turned his account private amid the internet pile-on. But we will say this: that take is terrible and no take is better for having shitty logic behind it.
The reason The White Stripes prevailed where so many of their garage rock peers have been forgotten is because of Meg White. So many of their contemporaries were essentially barroom bands, following a formula – Meg didn’t do that. Her playing left Jack White totally free, able to push himself into a space where those songs (and his guitar playing) were able to flow freely. The results were electrifying. Truly, no one knew where The White Stripes would turn next during those quicksilver live performances. It was as though they teetered on a cliff face, with one step between stability and tragedy.
We’re not about to say that Meg White had classic rock chops, because she didn’t play like that. But – and here is the key part – any number of drummers across the globe can point to their classic rock chops… and nobody can truly play like Meg White.
It’s her primitivism – if you can even call such human nature technical skill such a reductive term – that lies at the core of the band. Much of Jack White’s solo career is worthy, but it also dips into trad territory. The White Stripes could be a wild, thrilling, truly unhinged experience, and that’s predominantly due to the spaces Meg White opened up.
In the blowback against that viral dismissal, it was heartening to see so many fans come to Meg’s support. Questlove – an impeccably gifted drummer who has also worked to expand the lexicon of percussion – compared this view to an Instagram filter, “choking the life out of music.” He wrote: “Actually what is wrong w music is people choking the life out of music like an Instagram filter—-trying to reach a high of music perfection that doesn’t even serve the song (or music).”
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruban Neilson added: “my two cents are firstly: impeccable taste and cool. secondly: elastic and intuitive sense of time. she felt what the audience wanted and played it. very very rare in even the best drummers.”
Tim Burgess swept away criticisms of Meg White by commenting: “If you have doubts about Meg White’s drumming, you don’t know about music. That’s that. Next?”
Even Karen Elson – Jack White’s ex-wife – swept into the discourse, borrowing some words from Will Smith in the process. “Not only is Meg White a fantastic drummer, Jack also said the White Stripes would be nothing without her. To the journalist who dissed her, keep my ex husband’s ex wife name out of your f*cking mouth. (Please and Thank You)”.
And so it goes. Perhaps the most heartening aspect of it all is that Meg White… simply doesn’t care. Since The White Stripes brought the curtain down on their time together in 2011 she hasn’t spoken to the press. This quiet dismissal is entirely in her character – she never sought stardom, she always worked in service of the song. And that’s what truly great drummers do.
Words: Robin Murray