Who May Enter?
In the Blue-eyed Blues Pantheon, you’ll find arrayed along its marble floors many bleached-white gods of stone. Some come from the intermediate brightness of the Silver Age, as Stevie Ray Vaughan, who stands tall in a gold-lined niche beside George Thorogood. Others more praised, those of the Golden Age, stand bathed in the rays of Sol, whose glory descends from the temple’s high-vaulted oculus—leaving just three to blaze like a Spartan helmet: Beck, Page and Clapton. Still others hail from the dimming beauty of the Bronze Age, but such gods stand as defenders of the cult. High and shadowed in a column-lined portico, Dan Auerbach and Jack White watch, ever-vigilant, allowing and disallowing those who may enter.
A band approaches. “Who are you?” thunders Jack. Aaron Mort, the band’s lead singer, withers, his eyes to his feet: “We’re, uh, The Stone Foxes.” Auerbach sniffs, trains his gaze slowly. “The Stone Foxes?” he says, with stolid power. Mort nods nervously. “What songs have you?” fires Jack. “You can’t enter without songs.” “We have songs,” says Mort, “and we just finished our third album, Small Fires. It’s really good! You’ll like it.” Dan and Jack look at each other. There’s a dreadful silence. “Fine,” Jack says. “Prove your worthiness. As defenders of this pantheon, we are the keepers of blue-eyed blues. Impress us, and you may enter—for all eternity.”
Mort widens his eyes, huffs. “Well,” he says, “I guess we should start with track one.” He hits play on his iPod, beginning opener “Everybody Knows”—its bad-boy emotion pinging through the dim portico. Prickly guitars bump and sneer along a rolling tempo. A hell-bent harmonica squeals. The song finishes. Dan and Jack, already stone, somehow seem stonier—their eyes fixed with indifference. “Well?” Mort says. Another silence. Jack finally expends the effort to change his glance: “Well what?” he says. “Do you like it?” says Mort. Dan looks at Jack. They inhale, noses upturned. Jack juts his lower jaw: “Continue.”
“How ’bout something poppier?” says Mort. “You might like this a little more.” He skips to track three, “So Much Better,” which floats to a tension-and-release chorus and worn-in arpeggios. Mort’s vocal is sincere, more subdued. The music keeps playing. “‘So Much Better?’” Dan asks. Mort processes a bit. “Yeah, ‘So Much Better’—that’s what it’s called.” Dan looks askance, clinches his teeth: “No… ‘Somewhat Better’—that’s the name of your song. ‘Somewhat Better.’” Jack smiles: “Good one, Dan.” Mort puffs his cheeks, then grits his teeth. “God,” he says under his breath. Jack pipes in: “Which one?”
Dan raises his voice: “One more song, and that’s it.” “Yes,” adds Jack. “We’ve no time for this. Either we’re moved and you may enter, or you’re from this moment banned—permitting only that you and your group may return with new, and hopefully better, material in the future. Agreed?” Mort looks at Dan and Jack, their bronze cuirasses puffed and gleaming in the light. “Agreed,” Mort says. “One more song.” He fumbles with his iPod, second-guessing which song would be most appropriate. “Oh, boy,” he says under his breath—deciding finally to close his eyes and choose at random. He touches the screen, then opens his eyes. “Small Fires” plays.
But for the music itself can be heard a silence reserved only for the Tomb of Hadrian. Mort feels helpless—a Christian to the lions. As the song proceeds, Dan and Jack slowly fix their gaze to the horizon. Their stare is Olympian. Mort waits, his mouth shut like a jail, for something, anything—an expression of approval. Then the song ends, and the silence is broken: “‘Small Fires,’ indeed,” Jack says. “Small when they should be big.”