Anyone still grasping for an explanation to Shaun White's no-show performance at the Olympic halfpipe competition last month in Sochi might be able to glean some clues from his appearance, alongside his band Bad Things, Thursday night on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." White has taken many opportunities over the last year to insert Bad Things into conversations, leading some White Watchers to conclude that perhaps he's more interested these days in making music than he is in making gold medals.
What's interesting about White's increased focus on music is how differently he appears to be going about it compared with sports. Shaun White the snowboarder and Shaun White the skateboarder have invariably been, first and foremost, about Shaun White. After all, bucking the considerable cultural tide to the contrary in both sports, White is primarily a competitor. When White rides, he rides to win, and what's more self-centered than the pursuit of victory in an individual sport? So, it might be reasonable to conclude that Shaun White the guitarist would be all about rock stardom.
But as his performance on Fallon suggests, White isn't in this particular game for the same kind of glory we've come to expect from him.
It's not just that White isn't Bad Things' front man. That credit very clearly goes to singer David LeDuke, who capably handles the responsibility of making sure all eyes are on him. He's got the frenetic, knee-centric dance moves that allows White to fade into the background. From that unusual vantage point, White appears entirely content to pick away at the relatively simple lead lines from the band's single "Caught Inside."
White's performance is a tour de force of under-played axman moves, such as the bring-the-neck-to-12-o'clock-and-back-to-3-o'clock guitar rotation, the strum-the-power-chord-and-let-the-right-hand-float-up-on-the-reverb, and even a quick make-eye-contact-with-the-rhythm-guitarist-and-grin-like-you're-talking-telepathically. The whole thing is so subdued that when LeDuke inexplicably starts smearing blue paint all over his own face, you actually forget for a minute that Shaun White is even on stage. Bad Things accomplishes what White's skate and snow peers have so often wished they could: They made him disappear.
If you can peel your eyes away from LeDuke's impromptu Blue Man Group schtick, you'll recognize something else about White's performance: He genuinely appears to be having fun. That's not something many people have accused him of doing at the X Games over the past decade.
White is so bent on not calling attention to himself that he's the only member of the band without a microphone. While his snowboarding colleagues are double corking their way down the Vail superpipe at the U.S. Open this week, perhaps White just wants to hide behind his bright red forelock, pick some loud and clear pop melodies on his guitar, and fall back into a wall of sound. Maybe, at least for a little while, Shaun White wants to be a role player on a team and not the center of any action sports universe.
Let's just hope no one harshes the mellow of skateboarding and snowboarding's most competitive man by using the words "win" and "Grammy" in the same interview question.