You only need to hear a grotty White Stripes garage rock joint like Fell In Love With A Girl on the radio amidst the usual schlock from Creed and No Doubt to appreciate the surreal nature of their achievement.How the Detroit drum 'n' guitar duo of Jack White and Meg White ever became international pop phenoms defies rational explanation.
The lo-fi sound of their White Blood Cells (V2) disc isn't radically different from what Billy Childish has been banging out in England for decades without so much as a nod from the British music press, yet the White Stripes have been cover stars from the moment they crossed the pond.
They just had the right sound with the right look at the right time, and they were ready to capitalize on it.
"That whole question of "Why the White Stripes?' seems to be on everybody's mind," laughs Jack White from London, where he's shooting a video for the song Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground with Michel Gondry. "It's, like, "I just heard a song on the radio that I like for a change -- it doesn't make sense.... What's going on?'
"I'm not egotistical enough to run down a list of things that make us great, even if I knew what they were. Some sort of magical mistake has happened, and I'm just learning to enjoy it.
"Because we're on the radio, on the cover of magazines and playing the MTV Movie Awards, people are going to say we've sold out now, but I could care less. We've been hearing that since the first time 200 people showed up at a gig in Detroit.
"These are the songs we wanted to write, we made the music we wanted to record, and everything else happened after the fact."
Since advertising companies started calling the White Stripes to use their music in commercials for everything from "beer to cars and anything else in between you can imagine," says White, they've had to think more seriously about why they make music and how it's perceived. So far, White hasn't arrived at any profound conclusions about commercial uses of his, er, art.
"There's a feeling that you should take all the money and exposure you can get, because it might not be there next week. If you make, like, $200 a week and someone says, "How would you like to make $3 million this week?', who could turn that down?
"Maybe when I'm 50 years old and broke I'll wish some company would be totally using us. If I saw the Who selling sausages on TV tomorrow I wouldn't think any less of them."
The other by-product of the White Stripes' new-found celebrity status is the dirt-dishing in the gutter press. During the brief time White was in London recently to record the White Stripes' new Elephant disc at Toe Rag Studios, a day rarely went by without a laughable bit of speculation being printed about his personal life.
"We turned down all the interviews we were offered when we got to England, but we found that it didn't make any difference -- all the papers just went ahead and printed whatever they wanted. It's amazing how much stuff they've made up about us."
So you're not actually having a torrid affair with Winona Ryder, as has been reported?
"I found that hilarious, because I've never even met her. It must've made sense to someone, like, "Hmm... she's gone out with other musicians. Why not the guy in the White Stripes?' It'll make for good conversation if I ever run into her."firstname.lastname@example.org
THE WHITE STRIPES with WHIRLWIND HEAT at Kool Haus (1 Jarvis), Saturday (June 22). $21. 416-869-0789.