John Anthony Gillis never liked Detroit much.
Long ago, this uptight quiet Catholic boy settled into living in his hometown of Detroit with his bartender girlfriend Megan White while working as a furniture upholsterer. He never liked being made fun of, particularly the fact that Megan and he looked more like siblings than lovers. As though there were something wrong with that. Perhaps to annoy these friends, they eventually got married. Acknowledging the similarities, or perhaps to further rile his friends up, Mr. Gillis even took on Megan’s surname. They even started a cute little band together, taking apart all the elements that made the Michigan garage rock scene of the late 1990s (a interesting scene sadly eclipsed in buzz by the Providence and Athens scenes at the time) what it was: stripped-down, yet compellingly raw. Mr. Gillis lied about his influences, pointing at greats like Son House and Blind Willie, even though the early evidence indicated something closer to The Dirtbombs and Rocket 455 than any real blues rock (though the latter was there).
Something happened along the way, however. Everyone in Detroit knew there was some relationship between John and Megan, but the scene cared little for it, this being Detroit after all. But, as with most young relationships, it did not end well: they divorced in 2000. They stayed close, however, and Mr. Gillis kept his married name, because Jack White sounded much cooler than John Gillis, especially when his band’s name was The White Stripes. However, when they released an album that may very well have been shaped by that divorce, White Blood Cells, people started paying attention to them, and strangers started asking questions about them, about his name. Rather than accept the fact that he was a bit of a weirdo, he lied again by saying that they were siblings. He didn’t really care that he made things more complicated than they should, because all he cared about was getting out of Detroit, and The White Stripes was his ticket. Eventually, his lies were called out, but rather than acknowledging them like a responsible person and moving on, the boy took offense and raged, fearing that he would lose his chance at leaving what he thought to be a shitty town.
Those lies spread as Mr. White shunned the very scene that gave birth to his band, and when others like The Von Bondies’ Jason Stollsteimer called him out on it, the boy attacked them, literally and verbally. He must have felt glad that it happened, for it gave him the excuse he needed to cut ties with the city, eventually causing Detroit’s music scene to be another victim of the Great White Collapse that decimated the American underground. Now he claims Nashville as his real home, something similar to North Carolinian maverick Ryan Adams but without all the weirdness associated with him (despite the fact that Mr. Adams is nowhere near as weird as he is). He lied again about the reasons for the eventual break-up of The White Stripes, putting up a smokescreen to his hatred of Detroit: with ex-wife Meg’s marriage to MC5 scion Jackson Smith, he realized that his “sister” did not hate Detroit like he did.
But Mr. White could not just leave Detroit alone, for he knew it would come back to haunt him. So the boy decided to kick out a jam or two up there, hoping it would leave him alone. To continue spiting Detroit, he wrote a jokey country ditty based on an infamous canon from the Sarah Silverman of classical music, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, called “Leck mich im Arsch.” He then had Nashville band JEFF the Brotherhood play the piece. Then he sent it to the one Detroit act that he knew, very clearly, would rile everyone up, to provide vocals. And we’re not talking about Eminem here. We’re talking about Insane Clown Posse. He didn’t do it because he likes ICP that much.
Jack White did it because he hates Detroit.