The Rock’s Backpages Rewind: Jack White Looks Back
On August 18, 2009, in Salt Lake City, I was privileged enough to sit down with Jack White — variously a White Stripe, a Raconteur, a Dead Weatherman (and arguably the most prodigiously gifted American musician to emerge in the last decade) — and walk back through his career from pre-Stripes Detroit to present-day Nashville. These are the outtakes from an interview that ran as the cover story in the 150th issue of Uncut magazine——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
RBP: In an interview about two years ago you looked back to childhood and conjectured as to why you didn't "swim with all the other fish" at school and elsewhere. You said you were looking for something deeper, maybe in religion. When did music become part of that search?
JW: Probably in early childhood I didn't know any different, and I think that's sometimes how I reflect on it now when people say the word "fun": "Did you guys have fun playing that show last night?" "Did you have fun recording the album?" And I always want to answer that question honestly because "fun" is such a strange word. Fun is like an amusement park or playing baseball or something. Is it fun to make music and record it? I don't really know if it's supposed to be. I know that when I was a little kid, there was that excitement about it. Every time I sat down to play, something new was happening, and it was about these little tiny accomplishments, like learning how to play a drum fill or play along with one of the records I liked. I don't think I ever thought of it back then as anything different from anything else, like going outside to play army men or something.
You talk in the film It Might Get Loud about the "punk ideal" as "our chance to put you down..." Did your early feelings of alienation take you in a punk direction?
When I saw the film, I wondered what I was even talking about during that part of the interview. I wasn't even sure I agreed with that or what context it was in. I know in a different sense that there's a spot where my voice and presence doesn't cloud the intention of what I'm saying as much as my opinions or ideas that are stated out loud are maybe treated with an air of believability or given the benefit of the doubt.
Growing up in Detroit — an inner city that had been left to rot — did you later feel anything in common with Eminem?
No, he's from the suburbs and I'm from the city too, but he's a lot like the kids I went to school with. He reminds me of them, which is... a turnoff!
Why did your family stick it out in the tough Mexicantown neighbourhood, do you think?
It's a good question. I don't know. I don't think my family are the kind of people who would run with the crowd. We don't have that kind of mentality. But at some point I think maybe it wasn't very healthy. Someone asked me whether they should send their kids to the high school I went to in Detroit and I was like, 'I don't know...' I said, 'It's great to have all this diversity and go through these struggles in these rough neighbourhoods, but at the same time I look back and I don't feel like...' I don't really know, I can't really decide whether it was good or bad. It's like saying I was in the Bataan death march in World War II and it made me a better person — I mean, it's still a horrible experience, you know?