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For the past week, as I’ve listened to Jack White’s very good and pleasingly strange new album Boarding House Reach, I’ve thought often about Prince. Jack White reminds me of Prince. Is that an obtuse comparison? I’m not aware of anyone making the connection before, but the more I think about it, the more obvious it seems. Not only is Jack White like Prince, Jack White might very well be Prince.
Here, I made a list: Both men are musical geniuses from the midwest. Both men are obsessive about monochromatic color schemes. Both men set up their own fortresses of solitude in the middle of the country, ran them with military precision, and invited other artists to make records there and soak up their respective auras. Both men could be accurately described as “curmudgeonly Luddites.” Both men were considered guitar gods well past the point when guitar gods were relevant in pop culture. Both men formed a close collaboration with a female drummer at critical moments in their careers. Both men released their finest albums the same month they turned 26. (Purple Rain for Prince, White Blood Cells for White.) Both men can credibly rock a pencil-thin mustache.
I could go on.
The most crucial similarity between Prince and Jack White is a preoccupation with “real music.” For Prince, who spent much of his glory years in the ’80s making albums mostly by himself with the latest line of synthesizers and drum machines, “real music” entered his rhetoric in the last few decades of his life. On the back of his 2004 comeback LP, Musicology, Prince promised “real music by real musicians,” a motto he repeated throughout the album’s lengthy support tour. And for the next 12 years, “real music” was his brand. He loved talking about “real music” as much as he hated Spotify.
“People don’t understand real musicians anymore,” Prince complained in 2014. Then he cited a specific example: “Jack White is great, he’s the real thing, but he isn’t having hits.”