Jack White's Women Problem

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Blunderbuss doubles down on the White Stripes' singer's long lyrical campaign against females he can't control.

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Women have long been up to no good in the eccentric world of Jack White's songs. But on Blunderbuss, his solo album out this week, they finally indulge in White's most famous bugaboo: cell phones. "Two black gadgets in her hand are all she thinks about," White spits about a female antagonist on "Freedom at 21," before getting Pat-Robertson-preachy: "No responsibility, no guilt or morals cloud her judgment."

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There are other strange transgressions by women against men on Blunderbuss. During the opener "Missing Pieces," a girl figuratively amputates White's limbs. Later, on "Sixteen Saltines," he cowers before a woman whose "spike heels make a hole in a lifeboat."

White as a lyricist has been obsessed with women for more than a decade now, perhaps to a greater extent than any other rock star in his generation. Certainly, he's got more girl problems than any of his blues-rock contemporaries. Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys will call women "psychotic" and lament exes, but it rarely gets personal the way it does with White. Spoon's Britt Daniel waxes flirtier and artsier. In fact, with his nasty barbs and self-pitying complaints, White's lyrics almost have more resemblance to early-2000s emo bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco.

But Blunderbuss, more than anything that's come before it, crystalizes White's longstanding issues with women. Maybe that's because it's his first-ever solo record, and maybe that's because it comes on the heels of his second divorce, from model Karen Elson. Either way, what it reveals is fascinating—though not pretty.

In one of his first ever on-the-record comments about gender, White told Josh Eells in the New York Times magazine recently that he doesn't want to define roles for the women he knows: "I've always felt it's ridiculous to say, of any of the females in my life: You're my friend, you're my wife, you're my girlfriend, you're my co-worker. 'This is your box, and you're not allowed to stray outside of it.'"

White's a famous control freak, and in his songs, women are constantly threatening his control, forcing him into playing the role of victim.

But as White avers in the same interview, he often stretches the truth with reporters, and his statement makes more sense in the context of his music when it's flipped: What White really seems to dislike is when women choose their own boxes. He's a famous control freak, and in his songs, women are constantly threatening his control, forcing him into playing the role of victim. His response? Vitriol.

His White Stripes tracks mostly break down into three loose categories: gallant nursery rhymes ("We Are Gonna Be Friends," "Hotel Yorba"), vague badassery (much of Elephant), and most commonly, passive-aggressive romantic retaliations (just look at the titles: "Why Can't You Be Nicer To Me?", "I'm Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman," "A Martyr For My Love For You"). Lyrically, White's need for control often takes the traditional trajectory of wanting women to be quiet and submissive. We can see this pattern emerging in Stripes lyrics early on. "Let me see your pretty little smile, put your troubles in a little pile / and I will sort them out for you / I'll fall in love with you / I think I'll marry you," White croons in "Apple Blossom" off 2000's De Stijl. On Get Behind Me Satan, he falls in love with a ghost and half-brags that he's literally the only man who can see her.* But even being too meek is also a sin in White's world. In a scene from the 2007 documentary Under Great White Northern Lights, Jack lashes out at Meg White backstage for speaking too quietly.

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Jessica Misener has written for The Huffington Post, The Awl, Spinner, The Hairpin, Under the Radar, and others.

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