Over the last couple weeks, Rolling Stone has teased out its cover story on Jack White shamelessly. Multiple news stories emerged on the RS site, touting “scandalous” quotes from White’s interview. Perhaps you saw the tidbit in which he bemoans Meg White’s hermit tendencies and lack of encouragement (“She’s one of those people who won’t high-five me when I get the touchdown”), or his claims that The Black Keys ripped him off, though his feelings on the latter are nothing new following ugly emails that leaked last year. Over the weekend White condemned what he feels is “tabloid journalism,” posting an apology letter on his website. In his explanation, White chides the non-apologies made by artists to cover their asses after they’ve swiftly stuck a foot in their mouth — while simultaneously apologizing to every artist whose name has passed through his own lips alongside his foot.
“Because the conversations I’ve had that have been made public and recontextualized are difficult to clarify without making it seem even more petty and strange, this is an apology to anyone I’ve offended with my comments about my creativity, their creativity, and the music business in general,” White wrote. “I wish for a long, fruitful, healthy family of creative people to continue to grow around me and the musicians I work with, the city of Nashville, America and the world of listeners that this music can reach.”
Jack White is not wrong about certain realities of the online journalism industry circa 2014, specifically when he notes that “we live in a sound bite, sensationalized age.” From a print music magazine prospective, snagging the press-wary White and penning a revealing story for the cover is a coup. From a music news website perspective, generating multiple original stories out of a print piece — all of which point back to different links on the Rolling Stone website and were subsequently sourced by major music sites — is a coup.
The latter fact is not ideal for contextualization of what I imagine was an extensive conversation between him and the cover story’s writer, Jonah Weiner, and in this respect, I see what White’s getting at, to some extent. But to claim that he was misunderstood in that his comments were part of some larger beast we have no way of understanding — because they’re private or because they are “‘behind the curtain’ show business conversations” — is a weak excuse that has little, if anything, to do with the media looking for clickbait.
Frankly, Jack White should know better. He’s been in the public eye talking (or oftentimes not talking) to the music press — the same group that has, for the most part, offered up overwhelming praise of his art for more than a decade. He must expect that he’ll be asked questions about his contemporaries and/or collaborators, and he clearly understands that if a question makes him feel uncomfortable, he can sidestep the conversation in creative ways (which he does in the piece when he says he will not comment on his marriage with Meg White).
When White does speak, it’s on him to properly contextualize his words. It’s not like the things he’s quoted as saying are in any way ambiguous, or have been misconstrued — instead, he seems to imply that he chose himself only to volunteer minimal information, in which case, the way his comments have been taken is, again, on him. “In an attempt to not give the music magazine Rolling Stone a ‘no comment,’ because I thought they would use that to convey some sort of pettiness on my part, I decided to try to explain a tiny portion of what they were asking,” he wrote.
It appears that White expressed genuine frustrations to Rolling Stone: that his artistic relationship with Meg White is less than ideal, and — in an accurate metaphor — that The White Stripes were to The Black Keys what Amy Winehouse was to Adele (i.e., the genesis of a recent trend that borrows from a long musical tradition). To backtrack on genuine admissions, and to apologize to all involved musicians with insincere language like, “I hope their [The Black Keys’] record stays in the top ten for many months,” is disingenuous. Give us the contextualization, diss Rolling Stone‘s online presentation of your quotes — but don’t put a Band-Aid on it and pretend that despite what you’ve said, all artists are pals. To quote The Black Keys’ Pat Carney, “I actually feel embarrassed for him.”
(Full disclosure: I have written previously for Rolling Stone.)