Jack White: So Much More than a Rock Star Now

We used to think of Jack White as just the male half of the White Stripes. The New Yorker, however, rightly points out that these days he’s so much more than just a guitarist.

Last summer, Jack White bought a house in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that he had seen only in photographs. He wasn’t planning to live in it, except perhaps occasionally on retreats—he lives in Nashville. He was drawn to its past. The house was designed by George Nelson, a figure in American modernism, who mostly designed furniture. “A George Nelson house, there’s not too many of those,” White said in a car on the way there.

White is forty-one, and since his adolescence, in Detroit, when he was an upholsterer’s apprentice, he has been avidly interested in modern design. He used to drive around the city looking for thrown-out furniture, and sometimes he found Nelson sofas and chairs and restored them. He saw himself more as a custodian of the Nelson house than as its owner. “I’m a believer in nobody owns anything,” he said. “If you could take care of it and pass it along, it’s good.” The car travelled through farm fields beneath a dome of blue sky. “Anyway, it’s a place I can go and write songs and shake up my environment,” he continued.

 White used to be exclusively a rock star—he was half of the White Stripes—but his interests are diverse, and he has lately stopped touring and writing to dispose of them. His company, Third Man Records, which is based in Nashville and Detroit, produces vinyl records and sells them from stores at its offices. Third Man’s catalogue includes roughly four hundred titles. Some are reissues (old blues songs, Detroit garage bands such as the Gories, and early Motown recordings), some are original records that White produced (Loretta Lynn, Neil Young, Wanda Jackson, and Karen Elson, White’s second wife, from whom he is now divorced), and some are recordings of concerts held at the Nashville offices (Willie Nelson, Pearl Jam, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Detroit hip-hop artist Black Milk). White’s “Lazaretto,” a Third Man record from 2014, sold forty thousand copies in one week, more than any other record since 1991, when Nielsen SoundScan began following vinyl sales.
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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.

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