Music History

Jack White: The Last True Rock Star?

When you try to name all the new superstar acts that have emerged in the world of rock since the start of the century, you quickly run out of candidates.  And I mean “superstar” in the old-school sense:  artists that can sell out arenas and move albums in the millions.  The list includes Coldplay, The Killers, Arcade Fire, Queens of the Stone Age, Kings of Leon, Linkin Park…well, that’s about it.  Everyone else in the arena-filler category was achieved their status in the 90s or earlier (Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, U2, Springsteen, Bon Jovi, etc., etc.)

There’s one name I didn’t mention:  Jack White.  He may be the last true rock star that we ever see–in the old-school sense of the term, anyway.  The Daily Beast takes a look.

Is Jack White our last true rock star? I mean, he certainly thinks of himself that way—but should we? 

I’ve been overdosing on White lately, which is why I ask. Earlier this week I got an advance copy of his new LP, Lazaretto; it hasn’t left my earbuds since. And on Tuesday night I went to see him live—my first time—at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles.

The show was good. The album is even better. But here’s the weird thing: when I write those words it feels like I’m doing more than just praising Jack White. It feels like I’m taking sides in a larger debate about The State of Music Today. That I’m pledging my allegiance to a certain musical ideal. That I am, in short, a rockist.

As you may already know, rockism refers to a common bias among music aficionados: guys, guitars, and solitary genius = good; manufactured pop “product” = bad. For a long time, rockism was the critical establishment’s default attitude. (Think of Lester Bangs in Almost Famous—immaculately portrayed by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman—waxing rhapsodic about Iggy Pop and The Guess Who.) But in recent years, rockism has become passé. Now it’s cool to be a so-called poptimist instead: to “be in touch with the taste of average music fans, to speak to the rush that comes from hearing a great single on the radio, or YouTube, and to value it no differently from a song with more ‘serious’ artistic intent.” Bruce Springsteen is all well and good, but Beyoncé is really where it’s at.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38129 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Jack White: The Last True Rock Star?

  • That was the question, then and now. Someone is always going to come along and take it to another level, including shock value


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