Home / White Stripes Nation Manifesto VII: “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”

White Stripes Nation Manifesto VII: “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”

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LegendaryMonkey: Well, my newly initiated candy cane dreamers, we have now jammed and rocked out with Our Heroes Jack and Meg through their first two albums. De Stijl, their sophomore recording, and the subject of our last few manifestos, saw the White Stripes gain some small measure of fame, and they were feeling the burn when they kicked out the jams on their third album, White Blood Cells.

And as we have learned so far, children, Jack and Meg are all about statements. Love ’em or hate ’em, the White Stripes have got something to say… and here in today’s offering, they’re talking about fame — something that would later become a recurring theme for the band (see also: “The Union Forever,” “Seven Nation Army,” and “Blue Orchid”).

“Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”
White Blood Cells, 2002

LM: “Dead Leaves” is a wistful song about sacrifice and regret and it kicks off an album that is all about love — both the ups and the downs of that heady emotion. And the music behind it mirrors that — the drums break out and fade back and the guitar rips and wails through this emotional wasteland. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all very low key, but it’s an avalanche of passion just waiting to burst — but being held back. Because, after all… the choice has already been made. Any man with a microphone can tell you what he loves the most. But he’s still gotta live with it.

GA: The squealing fuzz of Jack’s guitar would peg this as an example of “grunge rock.” But this is not the whining I’ma-blow-my-miserable-brains-out of Nirvana. No, “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” is the White Stripes deepest romantic statement, very distant emotionally from Kurt Cobain.

Rather, “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” is the best song Neil Young never wrote. Specifically, this is a direct spiritual descendent of “Cinnamon Girl.” I don’t want to get all crazy in the head and claim that Jack outdid the very best Neil Young song ever, but the two will go head to head.

Dead leaves and the dirty ground
when I know you’re not around
shiny tops and soda pops
when I hear your lips make a sound
when I hear your lips make a sound

I didn’t feel so bad till the sun went down
then I come home
no one to wrap my arms around

Well any man with a microphone
can tell you what he loves the most
and you know why you love at all
if you’re thinking of the holy ghost
if you’re thinking of the holy ghost

GA: I particularly appreciate how Jack underlines the spiritual nature of the romance with the religious connection in the closing line of lyrics.

LM: It’s a theme that is reinforced by the video, as well — we see a ghostly Meg, a past vision, moving out of the house whilst a lost and wandering Jack climbs over the rubble of a relationship. This video, as with all their others, is available on the Official White Stripes Website.

GA: It’s a take charge kind of love that will overcome resistance. The descending notes of Jack’s opening guitar statement will grind resistance into dirt, like so many whining Smiths fans and goths beneath our jackboots. Hell, yeah!

As a note of personal testimonial, my first exposure to the White Stripes was when they played this song on Saturday Night Live. That was probably the biggest stopped-dead-by-a-new-thang musical moment I’d had since first hearing “When Doves Cry” in 1984.

LM: For me, it was “Fell In Love With a Girl,” but I had the same stopped-dead, jaw-dropping OH MY GOD sort of reaction. It was only reinforced when I heard this song — which was the second I ever heard from Dear Leader and his filthy assistant.

“Dead Leaves,” like the opening songs on all the White Stripes albums, sets the stage for everything that comes after. From the first electric puff of sound, we know this album is about the spectrum of human relationships and that we’re going on a ride. And I might even make the leap and say that “Dead Leaves” encapsulates the White Stripes as a whole, that their entire being, their band-ness, if you will (observe as I create words and leap tall buildings in a single bound, chillun). If Elephant is the British album, and Get Behind Me Satan is experimental, and De Stijl is about the basics, then White Blood Cells is what being the White Stripes is all about. And “Dead Leaves” is the soul of the album.

Go back to the beginning of WHITE STRIPES NATION!

LegendaryMonkey Alisha Karabinus provides the inner voice of sweet reason for evolved primates at Sudden Nothing.

Al Barger plots the overthrow of the government and his continuing crusade for Moorish dignity at More Things.


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  • Neil Young is definitely a comparison I’ve never thought to draw. But now that you mention it: those high-pitched vocals, that crunchy melodic guitar… The more I think about it, Dead Leaves’ monster riff is almost a perkier kissing cousin to Hey Hey My My.

    Nice installment, this one definitely made me think about the Stripes in a new way.

  • Outstanding, Zach. El Presidente Jack White will no doubt consult regularly with Neil Young as an exalted senior adviser on affairs of guitar art.

  • Guitar art being super important, by the by.

    But you know, now we have to refer to Dear Leader as Three Quid, at least while he is away on affairs of state in the UK.