Why Jack White Is the Most Important Rock Star of the 21st Century


There's a great scene from Shine a Light, Martin Scorsese's documentary about the Rolling Stones' 2006 performance at New York's Beacon Theatre, in which Jack White joins the band to sing and play guitar on "Loving Cup," a bluesy track off 1972's Exile on Main St.

Midway through the song, White shares a mic with frontman Mick Jagger and, for a brief second, seems to get caught up in the moment, playing music with one of the most influential groups of the 20th century -- he can't hide his this-can't-be-happening smile.

When the song ends, however, it's Jagger who appears to be in awe of the Detroit-bred musician. And that's when it hits you: Jack White may be the most important rock star of the 21st century.

Why? He's saving real, raw guitar music from extinction.

"The main things to rebel against right now -- over-production, too much technology, overthinking," White said in Guitar World Magazine editor Brad Tolinski's 2012 book Light & Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page.

"It's a spoiled mentality; everything is too easy. If you want to record a song, you can buy Pro Tools and record 400 guitar tracks. That leads to overthinking, which kills any spontaneity and the humanity of the performance."

And then there's the antithesis of artificial rock: a song like "Seven Nation Army."


Released as the first single off the White Stripes' fourth record, Elephant, "Seven Nation Army" spent three weeks atop Billboard's Modern Rock chart before winning the Best Rock Song category at the Grammy Awards in 2004. According to White, Seven Nation Army is how he mispronounced Salvation Army as a kid. But an unlikely group of Belgian soccer fans turned "Seven Nation Army" into American folk.

According to reporting by sports news site Deadspin, supporters of Belgium's Club Brugge KV started chanting the song's melody -- "Oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, ohh, ohh" -- in Italy during a UEFA Champions League matchup against A.C. Milan in 2003. Club Brugge upset the home team 1-0 and "Seven Nation Army" became the club's unofficial anthem. Then it became every other professional team's anthem, surpassing Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2 (Hey Song)" as the sporting world's favorite pump-up track.

"As a songwriter, that's the greatest thing that can ever happen," White said in a recent interview with Conan O'Brien. "It becomes folk music because people take it over. I don't know that many songs where they're not saying words; they're chanting a melody. So as a songwriter, that's pretty unbelievable that that connected with people in that way."

White is also saving record stores.

His latest solo effort, Lazaretto, debuted atop the Billboard 200 and sold a record-breaking 40,000 vinyl copies in its first week. Robert Plant's so impressed that the former Led Zeppelin frontman is publicly campaigning to work with White. Yes, Robert Fucking Plant.

"I love Jack White's buccaneer spirit, and the way he dodges through the musical horizons," Plant admitted during a live Facebook Q&A earlier this month. "I'd be happy to make a single with him ... I'm going to Nashville on Sunday and can do it on Monday morning! I've got lunch with Alison Krauss at 2 p.m. and cocktails with Patty Griffin at 8 p.m."

Unfortunately, White's scheduled to be in Ohio that day. Only the most important rock star of the 21st century can afford to request a rain check for a Robert Plant jam session.

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