On April 23, Jack White released his first ever solo album, “Blunderbuss.” As I mentioned in my review of the record (which I admittedly will say should have been rated higher now that I’ve had two months more to listen to it), this record marks the first time where a career choice for White was out of his hands. His flagship band The White Stripes were over, and the members of his other two bands The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs were busy. So what choice does a songwriter and performer have but to go solo? Much like a shark, White is a creature that must move forward or die, or as he put it in the “Blunderbuss” track “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy,” “I can’t sit still, because I know that I will.”
Some reviews (not mine) of “Blunderbuss” pointed out the lyrical references to the dissolution of The White Stripes in “Poor Boy” where he mentions letting “the stripes unfurl,” but it’s more than just an allusion or two. The entire song is a direct message to his former wife and bandmate, Meg White.
When word of The White Stripes abrupt end came last year, I theorized that the reasoning behind their demise was solely in the hands of Meg White, who had previously derailed an earlier tour to what was described in the press as an “acute anxiety” problem. My theory was later proved true when Jack White confirmed in his New York Times profile, “Meg completely controlled The White Stripes. She’s the most stubborn person I’ve ever met, and you don’t even get to know the reasons…I’m lucky that girl ever got onstage, so I’ll take what I can get.” He also seemed to harbor a bitterness over her, legitimately bummed over having to pack it in, “I’d make a White Stripes record right now. I’d be in The White Stripes for the rest of my life. That band is the most challenging, important, fulfilling thing ever to happen to me. I wish it was still here. It’s something I really, really miss.”
On “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy,” the folky swinger from “Blunderbuss” that plays like something off the second half of “Led Zeppelin III,” Jack White goes line for line in a full-on address to Meg on her foolishness in not only killing a cash cow (“And you’ll be watching me girl, takin’ over the world/Let the stripes unfurl, gettin’ rich singin’ poor boy, poor boy”) but also ending an unbelievably fun institution in favor of a boring domestic life (“Well okay, so you fell asleep today/What’s funny to me though is that you did that yesterday…But I’ll be happy for you, ’cause you got nothin’ to do/And I’ll be singin’ the blues”).
Jack sings in the first verse “I’m the man with the name” (hers, as he took it when the two married in 1996). In this lyric, it’s almost as if he’s taking rightful ownership of it, as he is more or less the one who made it famous (granted, the surname White is extremely common, but the point stands). He also takes a moment to knock on Meg’s anxiety and supposed fear of the spotlight, “But don’t get out of your chair/Or put a bow in your hair/You might be makin’ ‘em stare/So leave the care to the poor boy, the poor boy.” This line is the most direct attack, where he effectively belittles her reservations about being a performer, to which he later adds “But while you’re laughin’ at me/Well I’ll be laughin’ at you.”
More so than anything though, the song is a confirmation of Jack’s dedication to music and that no one, not even his most valued collaborator will be “stoppin’ the train.” He sings, “Sometimes a cold shiver comes over me/And it turns me on when the song takes over me.” Jack White is declaring that there’s a passion in him that Meg doesn’t have. What’s interesting is that he’s not trying to say that he’s better than her because of it — he’s legitimately frustrated that he can’t arouse the same passion in her. He wants The White Stripes to continue so badly and this song can almost be construed as him goading Meg into bringing it back. Whether or not it will work, we’ll have to see, but it’s doubtful we will any time soon.
Jack White — “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy”