Can Jack White Change His Stripes?

By Brian Hiatt

Jack White believes in making things difficult for himself. The artistic reasons behind this ethos are clear (“You have to have a problem/ If you want to invent a contraption,” he once sang), the psychological origins of it less so. Catholicism? There is a picture, somewhere, of a little Jack White, at that point still Jack Gillis, meeting Pope John Paul II. White certainly has a self-flagellatory bent: “I’m bleeding before the Lord,” he sings on “Seven Nation Army.” Is it related to being the seventh of seven sons, and 10th child overall, with parents who were a little too worn out from parenting to set too many restrictions for their youngest kid? Probably. He considered, as a teenager, both the military and the priesthood, and ended up starting a company where employees wear uniforms – which no one seems to mind much, other than dry-cleaning fees.
Last year, White purchased a musical manuscript written by Al Capone in Alcatraz (in the 1920s, even gangsters could read and write music) for a song called “Humoresque”: “You thrill and fill this heart of mine/With gladness like a soothing symphony.” Capone, it seems, played tenor banjo in a prison band with Machine Gun Kelly on drums. The song, a take on a Dvorák work, turns out to have been recollected, not composed, by Capone, but White still ended up recording it as the closing track on his new album. He’s moved by the idea that a famous murderer had a weakness for such “a gentle, beautiful song.” “It shows you, like, what we were talking about earlier,” he adds. “Human beings are complicated creatures with lots of emotions going on.”
White is hardly the first successful white bluesman, and his thoughts on the idea of cultural appropriation are careful and nuanced. “There’s definitely a family of musicians,” he says, “and when you play with people of different cultures, nobody cares what anyone’s skin is. Are there people who have taken advantage of other people’s culture and made money off it? Oh, yeah. Black people invented everything. They invented jazz, blues, rock & roll, hip-hop, on and on and on. Every cool thing in music comes from them. And from the American South, their spread went global, which is absolutely one of the most incredible Cinderella stories of all time – this music being played on front porches in the Delta went global. Incredible. It makes you want to cry, it’s so beautiful. And were there portions of people who wouldn’t buy a Little Richard record but would buy the Pat Boone version? Of course.” What really bugs him, though, is fake Jamaican patois. “The rhythm I’ll let you get away with,” he says, “but the fake accent? I can’t stomach it.”
He recently saw a Bruno Mars live clip that made him think. “He said something a lot of artists say: ‘I hope you guys are having fun tonight.’ It’s the simplest thing in the world! I’ve never said that and I don’t know how to say that and I don’t know what that would mean.” He blinks. “Is that really why we’re here?”

Instead, White thinks it’s all about “the truth . . . trying to get somewhere real,” he says, stretching in his chair. “Your ideas were pure and you were trying to sculpt sound, trying to make something beautiful.”

Read the entire Rolling Stone article HERE

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