ARTIST: Jack White
Jack White is no novice to composing, recording, and producing music. He claims to have recorded to over 40 musical compositions within the last 15 years. White’s creative philosophy is similar to the theory of the Transcendentalist “Transparent Eyeball.” He absorbs inspiration from his surroundings, whether it’s working with other bands, collaborating on film soundtracks, or making chairs with hidden poetic inscriptions, bringing art to every facet of his life. He wrote on tour while debuting his solo album because he wanted his new album to rise from the creative energy of Blunderbuss. He told Rolling Stone, “We're a band right now, let's record right now.’ I didn't wanna come back and reintroduce ourselves to each other.” His latest production, Lazaretto, was made off the adrenaline of his previous tour. He stole the album title from a book about the Black Plague, and, fittingly so, Lazaretto’s material is nothing if not dark. White’s sound on the album sways between The White Stripes and The Raconteures influences, while incorporating a new folksy, roots rock vibe.
White’s artistic prowess expands to the far reaches of the creative spectrum. From upholstering furniture to writing plays and collaborating on albums, White doesn’t limit his imagination in the slightest. Utilizing every available resource and surface, White has transcribed poetry on his furniture, and incorporates screenplays he wrote in his teens into his current works some 20 years later. He has a cyclical style of working, not linear, daring himself to manage the constant flow of art and music. When looking back at screenplays from his youth he mentioned his propensity to, “pull from here and take it somewhere totally new, so I'm actually collaborating with myself from the past on a song.”
With this flexible, creative style, White has been able to make breakthroughs in his systematic creation of musical structures. Rarely speaking about the concrete, White gives a conceptual explanation of his most important musical realization:
White is constantly learning and evolving from his work; he’s made countless songs, albums and band’s since the late nineties, inventing and recycling sounds and lessons he collected over the years. He demonstrates an obsession for creating layered meanings and interpretations in Lazaretto. During the album’s creation, he told NPR, he was fueled by coffee, and would use the grounds to make little sculptural mounds while he was writing. He makes it a habit to constantly re-appropriate what he encounters to make his art.
A big lesson I learned in the White Stripes: Meg's kick drum was the bass guitar. Take a song like “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads. Bum bum bum bum bum bum buh-buh-bum… that could just as easily be a drum beat. When I realized that was going on in the White Stripes, that relieved a lot of structural worry for me as a songwriter.
His music, when made subject to postmodern deconstructionism, plays “language games” with the listeners. His lyrics, though not the most logical, are based off of events of synchronicity, irony, and happenstance. They have multiple meanings and multiple bases of origination, which can achieve different conclusions depending on the interpreter. Eighteenth century literary theorist Paul De Man deems these “local difficulties of interpretation,” (ix de Man, “Allegories of Reading) which allow multiple meaning to be derived from the same word or phrase. De Man decided to call these variances “language games,” and White encounters these games frequently in Lazaretto.
If you just give me a couple of slivers of wood and some metal shavings, I will be forced to create something in this room, under this condition.
That “someone” whom White references made a peripheral connection to the coffee ground art, attesting to the multiplicity of interpretation. White brings up again and again his interest in the coincidence. “That Black Bat Licorice” is a prime example; the initial command in the song to “Behave yourself” would remind a listener of an authority figure, but this memory could range from positive to negative depending on the experience connected with the phrase. The next line, “My feet are burning like a Roman hypocaust/ But the Romans are gone, they changed their name because they lost” would resonate with listeners differently depending on their familiarity and relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. Though de Man’s theory of language games pertains specifically to words, the examples and references White infuses in Lazaretto obey the same rules. For White, language games arise from the coincidences and patterns that fuel his lyrics and content. “Difficulties of interpretation” are encountered within the songs because their references are non-specific, and their meanings vary depending on the experiences of the listener.
Someone sent me this beautiful thing that someone had found in an interview, that one of the West Memphis Three — those people that got put into jail unjustly — in jail, he was making drawings with Q-tips and coffee grounds. I couldn't believe it, man! You'd say, "Oh that's where you got that idea.” Well, I'm not gonna argue with you now. I'd never heard of that, but that's an unbelievable coincidence. I couldn't believe that. That's one of the biggest coincidences I've ever had in my life. I really like that lyric now, even more.
Apophenia, the “unmotivated seeing of connections," is the brain’s tendency to find patterns that White brings up. Robbin Miranda, Ph.D., currently a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Neuroscience at Georgetown, made the discovery a few years ago that these patterns present themselves in music, as well as language. Jack White would find this study a ironic coincidence, I believe. In addition to experimenting with language games and musical structure, White creates some beautiful poetry and dark rock n’ roll. His ability to play with language as well as music is innovative and creative, lending him to be one of the most influential musical artists of this time.
That, shockingly, is the seed of a lot of romantic ideas for a lot of people on a day-to-day basis, even for a lot of artists, you know? That it was meant to be. Actually, it's our brain focusing on patterns, trying to discover patterns all the time. It's a little bit sad to say that, so I hate even saying that out loud because it kind of kills a lot of romance about things.
“I wanna cut out my tongue and let you hold onto it for me/ Cause without my skull to amplify my sounds it might get boring.”