Everything old is new again, at some point — and at this late date, it’s a fierce debate over how strong Meg White’s drumming chops were during her 1997-2011 tenure in the White Stripes. The fierceness, though, has mostly been on the side of White’s defenders, who shamed the antagonist who’d called her drumming a “tragedy” into initially hiding his Twitter account, then coming back online to offer the mea-culpiest mea culpa of all time.
The unlikeliness of this subject becoming a topic du jour 12 years after Meg White retired from music was compounded by the fact that it began as a tiff between conservative journalists who don’t even normally cover music. The gamut of those who eventually weighed in to defend her skills ranged from Questlove to another one of Jack White’s ex-wives, Karen Elson.
It began with a tweet from the venerable conservative magazine the National Review, of all outlets, tweeting a link to a piece celebrating “Seven Nation Army” as possibly “the greatest song of this century so far.” Taking that compliment to task was writer Lachlan Markay, whose Twitter bio mentions him formerly writing for alternative conservative outlets like the Washington Free Beacon and Heritage, as well as mainstream sites Axios and the Daily Beast. He went into full beast mode in suggesting “Army” could not be all that since it suffered from greatness-killing drumming.
Tweeted Markay, “The tragedy of the White Stripes is how great they would’ve been with a half decent drummer. Yeah yeah I’ve heard all the ‘but it’s a carefully crafted sound mannnn!’ takes. I’m sorry Meg White was terrible,” the punctuation-challenged journo continued, “and no band is better for having shitty percussion.”
Markay has more than 93,000 Twitter followers, so it attracted far more reaction than might be usual for someone else who is a “bad music take haver,” as Markey now describes himself in his bio.
The subject picked up steam as Questlove tweeted, “I try to leave ‘troll views’ alone but this right here is out of line af. 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). This is why I walk that Dilla path and play like a drunken sloppy af amateur because them flaws is the human element in music that is missing. Real film >>>>>>> IG filter photo.”
What could serve as the last word on the subject, but won’t, came from musician Karen Elson, who married Jack White after he and Meg White divorced. “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)
Wrote singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith, “Keith Moon was the right drummer for The Who but would’ve been wrong for The Beatles. Meg White was the right drummer for White Stripes but would’ve been wrong for Yes. She’s being inducted into RHOF for being the drummer an iconic band & that’s all that matters.”
(Sexsmith is jumping the gun a bit; the White Stripes are currently nominated for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, but voting is still taking place.)
Actual music journalists raced to her defense, as well, like Annie Zaleski, who wrote, “Onstage with the White Stripes, Meg White looked terminally nonchalant and chill while maintaining a steady backbeat and ensuring that the band’s songs never got off track. Calling what she did simple undermines the whole approach of her technique and execution.”
Markay took his Twitter account private as he came under attack by thousands of users, then returned to the site to offer a thread of apology that was exceeded in its length only by its self-abnegation.
“By now you’ve probably seen an ill-advised (and since-deleted) tweet I sent out yesterday about the White Stripes and Meg White. It was an over-the-top take on TWS and White as a drummer, and was, let’s face it, just truly awful in every way. Petty, obnoxious, just plain wrong. And not just b/c of the completely justified backlash, but b/c I actually don’t really believe it! I love TWS, percussion included. I don’t know if Meg White herself saw that tweet. I hope not, because I imagine it wouldn’t feel great to see a stranger dumping on you like that.
“To Meg White: I am sorry. Really,” he continued. “And to women in the music business generally, who I think are disproportionately subject to this sort of shit, I am sorry to have fed that as well. I’m really going to try to be more thoughtful in the future, both on here and off. I’ve been thinking to myself as all this—again, completely justified—hate comes in over the last 24 hours: why did I actually write that? It’s not what I really think, and I like to think I’m not the asshole it made me out to be, or at least I try not to be. I think the answer, in part, is that sort of vicious sniping is something that we—us online folks—tend to reward with eyes and clicks. And I think I got caught up in that implicit incentive structure with a needlessly inflammatory, downright mean, and most importantly false Take.”
Historically, “was Meg White a good/bad drummer” arguments have tended to follow the lines of debate about Ringo Starr and other drummers who performed at a less-than-Bill-Bruford level of technical proficiency, but with an extra layer of perceived or real sexism attached. Years after she disappeared from the scene, either too shy or just too disinterested to continue a rock ‘n’ roll career, in 2023 she seems to have been absorbed into rock orthodoxy as a great drummer by near-acclamation, and ironically stands as more of an icon than she ever did in her active years — although naysayers obviously persist.
All this discussion may serve as the aperitif for what White Stripes fans really want to discuss (besides their boyhood crushes on Meg): whether the two-person band being voted into rock’s Hall of Fame would actually result in a one-time reunion for the ceremony, given the drummer’s disinterest in asserting herself as a public personality for the last dozen years.
At least the National Review can take some pride in, having already established itself a few campaign cycles ago as a NeverTrumper-leaning publication, it can also be known now as an AlwaysMegger magazine.