Jack White's Ghost Sonata
This week we take on the White Stripes Get Behind Me Satan, which is both a shocking musical departure for the band and a stunningly confessional breakup album. Pardon our literalist interpretations were just following Jack Whites lead!
KATE: Stripes. Talk to me.
JAAN: This record is dealing with a real situation this is a breakup suite, and I think its as real as rap. This is a pissed-off guy; his woman left him.
K: Yeah, theres a secret hip-hop feeling in the lyrical delivery its word-spitting and internal rhyme all over the place. And how hip-hop is this: He rhymes Rita with Reseda.
J: Hes gonna be moving to Compton any day now!
K: Actually I Googled it and I think he says Mesita, but Reseda sounds cooler its either hip-hop or Cole Porter! Anyway, you can hear that he really was the only white kid at an all-black high school supposedly.
J: You can never tell theres so much mythology with this band. Now that hes had a movie-star girlfriend, and he conjures up the specter of Rita Hayworth is she the stand-in for Renée Zellweger? And the song The Nurse
K: Right Renée Zellweger starred in Nurse Betty the girl who couldnt tell the difference between TV and real life.
J: This is a roman à clef. In that song, the nurse poisons him The poison is delivered by trust. Excuse me, but this is a breakup record. Its a concept album about breaking up. Its also the shifting finger of blame theres not one point of view in all his songs. Hes trying to figure out where he went wrong, or where she went wrong. And the whole thing about the ghost [on Little Ghost]. Its just like the Zombies Shes Not There. Hes in love with an apparition, an image on a screen.
K: There are a lot of ghost images on this record and even fingers. Remember when he broke his finger in the car wreck with her? In White Moon, he goes, A mirage, this garage/And a photo montage/And a finger massage from the host/Good lord, good lord/The one I adore/And I cannot afford is a ghost.
J: This is a guy who feels like he was turned inside-out. Maybe thats why its so sparse. Its much more minimalist: Theres no electric guitars, its all piano and marimbas and weird rhythm instruments and acoustic guitar its just as bare as the way he feels.
K: And there are no hooks, no choruses you can sing along to, and none of the pleasure of pop songwriting is there at all.
J: Maybe its like Becks Sea Change. Get behind me Satan maybe its the temptation to go back to her. Is she the devil, is she the nurse, is she the movie star? Did he get married so quickly because she just got married so quickly?
K: He just got married?
J: Yeah, he married Karen Elson, that model in the Blue Orchid video.
K: Hes obsessed with redheads . . . Rita Hayworth, and the girl in Fell in Love With a Girl . . . and his girlfriend from the Von Bondies was a redhead. But why did he have to marry a model? He acts so iconoclastic, but then he fulfills all these rock-star stereotypes.
J: He really does.
K: My favorite song is Forever for Her (Is Over for Me). Its the one really heart-on-his-sleeve romantic song, and its got that Cole Porter reference. There are two different songs here that reference Lets Do It. Hes like, lets do it, just get on a plane!
J: Get up and forget about the rest of it, forget about our celebrity and just be normal people and be in love.
K: He says, Everybodys reaction is changing you/But their love is only a fraction of what I can give to you.
J: He was supposed to call this album Lets Play the Victim. So maybe thats what hes doing.
K: My problem with the record is that all the fun of songcraft isnt there.
J: I totally agree that theres no fun here. This is a very serious record.
K: Maybe hes saying, Fuck it, I dont have to be perfect and brilliant every time.
J: But its not bad! The musicianship is great! The anxiousness is amplified in the atonal things; the band deconstructs right in the middle of something rather melodic
K: Thats the problem!
J: Well, yeah, its true its imperfect, its messy, just like emotions.
K: And theres very little sexuality.
J: Theres nothing sexy about this.
K: So, do you think this is one weird moment in their career, or the beginning of the end?
J: I think this is just a moment. You have to go through something to get to the other side. This albums subtitle, to me, is How To Dismantle an Atomic Bond. Okay, so its not fun I dont have to be entertained in a rollicking way all the time. I think hes got a plan, and this is him exercising some different muscles right now and exorcising her.
K: I dont have to be entertained all the time, but I always count on them to make substantial, weighty albums that hang together and feel like the work of a year. But I feel he put all his creative mojo and love into the Loretta Lynn record, maybe because it wasnt his, and it was easier to focus on another person. But back to Rita Hayworth his muse, his stand-in lover
J: Yes, when he has that dialogue with [Hayworth] in Take Take Take. Its that whole cannibalization of celebrity, where he keeps asking her for one more thing . . . an autograph, a photograph I hate to bug you maam. Is that how he sees himself in relationship to his Renée Zellweger? Or is this about [him] as the victim of celebrity?
K: I think he has an outsider, Midwesterners fascination and obsession with celebrity and Hollywood which is evidenced in the fact that he was in a couple different movies.
J: Its an exploration into the dark heart of celebrity culture. Yet he didnt come out the other side. And thats okay unless youre gonna complain about it. Accept your inclinations, accept the fact that you are famous and you hobnob with famous people dont deconstruct celebrity if youre going to stay in celebrityhood. He protests too much.
K: Thats what Courtney Love does.
J: Yeah, it is, hes totally fascinated by that, but he holds himself away from it he gives very few interviews. He does have that love-hate relationship with it. Its not just Im a victim; hes pissed as hell this didnt work out. Little Ghost is probably the most hurtful When I held her I was really holding air . . . Hes trying to hurt her. This is revenge served cold. And the Rita part is I think Ritas a stand-in for Renée.
K: Or is Renée a stand-in for Rita?
J: Absolutely its his romance with celebrity. I think hes still in that maze. Hes a rat in a maze and hes not out yet.
K: This is such a classic country song title Im Lonely (But I Aint That Lonely Yet).
J: Theres that one line you can barely hear I turned my stereo up and I realized, hes not lonely enough yet to kill himself in the river. You realize how bad off he is, but he pulls himself back from the brink. And as the last track on the album, thats the ray of hope.
THE WHITE STRIPES | Get Behind Me Satan (V2)
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