The Jack White Conundrum

Optional musical accompaniment can be found here.

Some questions are just really hard to answer. They’re just unanswerable because maybe the subject is a moving target or you yourself are a moving target as it pertains to the subject at hand. But either way, these questions are just harder to answer than something as rudimentary and anti-climactic as what’s the meaning of life. Because that’s simple. The meaning of life is to not worry about the meaning of life and just concentrate on life itself.

That’s philosophy. You’re welcome.

Now, here’s another question that I can’t answer: am I a fan of Jack White?

No matter how hard I try, I can’t answer it. I want to say yes. I really do. But the problem is that if I were to say yes, I can’t do so with any kind of conviction. It’d be a yes with a caveat. A more likely answer would be that I’m not really sure. However, I also don’t want to say that. That’s waffling and unless we’re talking about brunch, I want nothing to do with waffles. I like to do with absolutes and so when it comes to liking Jack White, I want to say that either yes, Im a Jack White fan or no, I’m not a Jack White fan, and then I want to provide reasons why. That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.

Right?

Right!

On Friday, White is releasing Fear Of The Dawn, the first of two albums he has coming out this year. Fear Of The Dawn is said to be the rock album, while the reportedly more mellow album, Entering Heaven Alive comes out in July. Both albums are coming out four years after his last album, the confounding, and mostly forgettable Boarding House Reach. In case you forgot, that’s the album where White raps. If you didn’t forget, you might wish that you had. It’s not that good.

But that was back in 2018, a weird and overall depressing time in our lives, and as a whole, we’ve all done a lot of living since then. We went through an effin’ global pandemic and come out feeling renewed and refreshed (maybe.) Well, at least White has. White reportedly spent his time during the pandemic taking a break from music and deep-diving into furniture making and dabbling in intermittent fasting. He also dyed his hair blue because sure, why not. Apparently, it has made him less recognizable at the Target he goes to, which I don’t entirely believe. If anything, I would chalk White not getting recognized as much to the incredible deals and well-placed end caps and mid-aisle displays. Who cares about some dude with blue hair when you could be perusing the latest Blu-Ray offerings or array of scented candles?

And be honest with yourself, Jack White. If someone is looking at you in a store, it’s because they are probably concerned you’re a vampire and are understandably worried. FYI. Jack, naming an album Fear Of The Dawn is only going to fuel speculation about you being a vampire more.

Prior to Boarding House Reach, White released Lazaretto. Lazaretto is a good album. On par with his other albums, especially 2012’s Blunderbuss. On both albums, there are some good rock songs, one or two great rock songs, and some meh songs. And in my mind, that last sentence kind of sums up how I continue to feel about White as a whole. White is a tough hang because White is an inconsistent hang. Jack White is maddeningly inconsistent and has been for a while now. I’m all for an artist keeping you on your toes but with White, the unpredictability is a bit much. I’m all for an artist experimenting. I think it’s good for them and usually good for the audience. But White seems to never stop experimenting. He’s a train that doesn’t stop when it approaches the station and requires you to try your best to jump on as it slows just enough for you to give it your best college try. Once in a while, sure. Sounds fun. But constantly? Hmmm.

There are multiple versions of Jack White existing at once.

There’s hard-rocking White and sure, I’m all in.

There’s weird-rocking White and yeah, maybe, if tickets were free.

There’s old-timey White with the deep Americana/seeped in Appalachia vibes and uh, probably not.

There’s mad scientist White and frankly, I don’t have time for that.

And so this brings me back to my initial question: am I Jack White fan or not?

Well, I love the song “Freedom at 21.”

It’s a Holy Shit! Song in my book and I still remember the first time I heard it. White performed it on The Colbert Report. “Freedom At 21” is a straight-up blistering rock song. It’s the good, down & dirty rock side of White shining brightest. But at the time, hearing it came as kind of a surprise because up to that point the only song I had heard from Blunderbuss was the first single, “Love Interruption,” which is a good song, but a song I considered to be more interesting, than good.

“Love Interruption” didn’t get me to listen to Blunderbuss. “Freedom at 21” did. And when I did listen to the whole album, I…well, I don’t think I have ever listened to the whole album. I lost interest then and I continued to lose interest every single time I gave it a run. I would usually start to fade around “I’m Shakin’,” even though it’s a great tune and a killer version of a legendary song. The video is pretty dope too. But the song, despite being a good old barn-burner, is usually around when I tap out.

The video for “I’m Shakin'” is instructive though, as it highlights the duplicity of White both expertly and unfortunately. In it, he faces off against himself, with one Jack Whiter clad in black and the other dressed in white. In doing so, he almost forces you to pick a side. But, I don’t want to pick a side, especially when we’re talking about a solo artist. If you’re a Van Halen fan and want to choose a side, picking whether or not you’re Team Roth or Team Hagar, that’s fine and totally cool. But making a choice between Team Jack and Team White seems crazy to me. If you want to pick between White’s side projects, that’s something that makes more sense. Are you a Raconteurs person or a Dead Weather person? Personally, I’m more of a Raconteurs person, if only because I hate when non-drummers play drums, which White does in Dead Weather.

Plus “Steady As She Goes” is another song that will never get old.

The Raconteurs from top to bottom were a great rock band. The White Stripes were also a great rock band. There was very little mystery about either and that could make you wonder if perhaps the world is better off with Jack White in a band as opposed to being on his own? Unfortunately, we’ll never know the answer to that. White seems to have settled into Lone Wolf status with occasional forays into random wolf packs, packs he doesn’t stay in for long. Just ask the other dudes in the Raconteurs who are probably sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. Suckers. Jack White probably doesn’t even own a phone!

Jack White seems to exist in various states of being. There’s Rock ‘n Roll Jack White, there’s Blues Rock Jack White, there’s Old Timey Country Jack White, there’s Mad Scientist Jack White. I feel like I’m comfortable with my relationship with Rock ‘n Roll Jack White. It’s my favorite version of White. My feelings about Blues Rock Jack White seem murkier, although I’ll never forget to the guitar god documentary This Might Get Loud, in which White (presumably some combination of Rock ‘n Roll Jack White and Blues Rock Jack White) builds a guitar from some spare parts.

There’s no doubt that White is a craftsman. It’s one of the things I dig about him. And you know, I also kind of dig when he does get all bluesy, rough and tumble. He does it well and it doesn’t sound cheap or fake. It sounds real and genuine. I’m cool with it. Old-Timey Country Jack White is then a distant third, with Mad Scientist Jack White being my least favorite version of Jack White. That ranking is probably connected to my feelings about the other sides of White, feelings that are pretty strong and positive. Experimenting is cool, but as far Jack White does, it’s not as cool as Jack White playing killer rock ‘n roll or gnarly blues-rock.

So yeah, maybe I’m a Jack White fan, although again, there’s an asterisk because I can’t say I’m a fan of all the different Jack Whites operating within Jack White. That doesn’t really answer my question then. Nor does it put me in a different place than when I started writing this. I wanted a definitive answer!

But maybe, just maybe, liking Jack White isn’t a definitive thing and maybe he’s not the kind of musician that makes you definitively feel one way or the other. Perhaps a relationship with White is both an evolving one and a situational one. He isn’t Pearl Jam or a band like his best buddies the Black Keys, bands that have either maintained a certain sound or evolved in a more conventional way and along a more traditional trajectory. White keeps you guessing and because he does, he can never fully be relied on like you can rely on Pearl Jam to produce a quality rock record. The same can be said for the Black Keys. My Morning Jacket changes it up from time to time, but never so excessively where you forget who you are listening to. Those bands are easier to like than someone like Jack White and therefore, it’s almost easier to declare yourself a fan of theirs than it is to say you are or aren’t a fan of White’s.

So am I a fan of Jack White?

Hell if I know.

Which is the way I think it’s meant to be.



Categories: Music

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8 replies

  1. As far as being a fan of “someone”. I make this comparison. If I were to make a painting and one person reacted by saying,” I will give you 1 million dollars for it” and then another person saw it and pulled a gun on the painting and blew it to thousands of itty bitty pieces or finally someone looked at it and said, ” eh hum hmm.. ” I suppose the first to extremes is what I would aim for , rather than the final one which is a mediocre response. At least we are all thinking about it. Yeah I agree it is what it is…

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