Jack White, whose second solo album, Lazaretto, is out this week, makes critically adored rock music; he also makes a mess whenever he tries to talk about someone. His recent spat with the Black Keys was just the latest in a line of public feuds with everyone from Lady Gaga to the Guinness Book of World Records to ... himself. Here's a look back at 12 years' worth of fighting:
Target: Ryan Adams
In the spring of that year, Adams covered several White Stripes songs in concert but changed the lyrics to suit the occasions. White expressed his distaste in person, and Adams responded to NME later that year. “Did little girl White talk back? I don’t have a problem with him—he started it,” Adams told the magazine. “But what’s he doing on the Internet seeing what’s being said saying ‘I see you changed my lyrics’. Fucking ponce.” The feud continued in the press for a while until Adams finally conceded on his website that the White Stripes' Elephant “may be the best rock 'n roll record ever made. No shit. I am so jealous of that guy. He is so tuned in, its [sic] just incredible his gift. Motherfucker knows rock 'n' roll like sugar knows ice-cream." What a happy ending.
Target: Journalists/MP3 players
When the White Stripes released Elephant on April 1, White made a point to only send vinyl promotional copies to critics. “If a journalist or a critic doesn't own a record player, I don't really trust them,” he told an Australian paper at the time. “They're obviously not looking back, they don't know enough about music history.” White continued his crusade against digital music by releasing a miniature record player and series of White Stripes singles that could only be played by that machine in 2005.
Target: Jason Stollsteimer
On December 13, 2003, White attended a record-release party for the band Blanche. When he ran into Stollsteimer, the lead singer of the Von Bondies, White allegedly threw the other man onto the ground and delivered a series of punches to his right eye. White later claimed that Stollsteimer exaggerated details about the incident, claiming, “it’s so funny that when the aroma of money and fame is in the air, old friends will quickly step on your face to get to it.” The next year, he plead guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to pay $750 and to mandatory anger management.
Target: George Roca and the Seattle International Film Festival
In 2001, Roca, a documentary filmmaker, shot the White Stripes' Bowery Ballroom show with White’s permission. When he showed the band a rough cut, they decided it wasn’t ready for public consumption, but in 2004, Roca screened the film (Nobody Knows How to Talk to Children) at the Seattle International Film Festival. “This situation is obviously an example of the latest generation of people who think they are entitled to do whatever they want—no matter how greedy or self-serving (and possibly illegal) their actions may be—with no repercussions for these actions,” White posted on the band’s blog on June 23.
Target: His own name
While on tour in the U.K. with the White Stripes, the guitarist forced new names upon both band members. He became Three (III) Quid, and Meg became Penny Farthing; White repeatedly used those names in his blog posts about the band’s tour. Jack also famously took Meg’s last name when they married, and kept it after they divorced. On his birth certificate, he’s John Anthony Gillis.
Target: Billy Childish
When the English guitarist told GQ that he wasn’t a fan of the White Stripes, White lashed back in a blog post on February 27. “Meg and I really feel sorry for you,” he wrote. “It must be lonely sitting in all of that garage rock bitterness Billy. You know children, when you take someone else's music and put your own lyrics on top of it, it's still called plagiarism.” Childish responded in an open letter to White the next week, claiming that White’s statement “smacks of jealousy to me. I have a bigger collection of hats, a better moustache, a more blistering guitar sound and a fully developed sense of humour.”
Touring with his side project the Dead Weather, White made a stop at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, where—according to fans—he made some less-than-supportive remarks about veganism. “Any other vegans in the crowd out there?” he reportedly asked, adding, “come onstage and we’ll kill a cow together.” Maybe it’s a modern-day version of Ozzy biting the head off of a bat?
Target: The Guinness Book of World Records
In 2007, The White Stripes played a one-note concert in Newfoundland in an attempt to break the record for shortest music concert ever. The officials at Guinness weren’t having it, which infuriated White, who told Interview magazine in 2012 that “the Guinness book is a very elitist organization. There's nothing scientific about what they do.” He made up with the record book in April 2014, when he released the world’s fastest record by pressing and readying a single (“Lazaretto”) in less than four hours.
Target: Meg White
Though not the first and certainly not the last time White would criticize his former bandmate, his interview with The New York Times Magazine showed the tip of the iceberg that is his feelings towards his ex-wife. “Meg completely controlled the White Stripes,” he said. "She’s the most stubborn person I’ve ever met, and you don’t even get to know the reasons.”
Target: Lady Gaga
Later that winter, White spoke to Esquire U.K. about Lady Gaga and consumerism, claiming that the star’s image and costumes were merely covering up for a lack of substance. “It's all image with no meaning behind it. You can't sink your teeth into it,” he said. “It's a sound bite. It's very of this age, because that's what people want.” He later clarified his remarks, noting that he’d never disparaged Gaga’s music. “Peace to Lady Gaga and I fully congratulate and compliment her on her championing of gay rights issues and the momentum it's given to help create change,” White wrote.
In the same Esquire U.K. interview, White bashed the social-media site. “I think the only people who should have [Twitter accounts] are comedians. Because it’s all about one-liners. I would love it if Conan O’Brien or Reggie Watts or Stephen Colbert were to walk into a room and tell me one joke and leave. But you don’t want Gore Vidal telling you ‘I’m doing my dishes right now.’”
Target: Clint Eastwood and Reality Shows
One more from that Esquire U.K. interview: White came down hard on reality television, singling out Eastwood’s Mrs. Eastwood and Company as the biggest letdown. “You know, Clint Eastwood is doing one with his family and it’s such a disappointment. Forget the [RNC] speech, man,” White said. “The speech was cool compared to that. There’s no reason to put yourself in a position that makes things completely unspecial.”
Target: Karen Elson
The singer’s roller-coaster marriage to Elson—a model who had appeared in the White Stripes’ “Blue Orchid” music video—ended with a boom when she filed a restraining order against White on August 1, two years after they’d divorced, on charges of harassment. TMZ later leaked a series of angry emails between White and Elson. Sample White quote: "[I] am NOT ever going to therapy with you and acting out some bullshit so you can tell your friends you did the right thing."
Target: The Black Keys
In the same email exchanges between White and Elson leaked by TMZ, White blasted Black Keys’ lead singer Dan Auerbach as a copycat, dragging him into the former couple’s custody battle. “That’s a possible twelve fucking years I’m going to have to be sitting in kids [sic] chairs next to that asshole with other people trying to lump us in together,” White wrote. “He gets yet another freee [sic] reign to follow me around and copy me and push himself into my world.”
Targets: The Black Keys (again), Meg White (again), Adele, Duffy, and Lana Del Rey
In his Rolling Stone cover story last week, White went to town on Auerbach and Carney once again, tossing in jabs at his former bandmate and a gaggle of female singers for added measure. “There are kids at school who dress like everybody else, because they don't know what to do, and there are musicians like that, too. I'll hear TV commercials where the music's ripping off sounds of mine, to the point I think it's me. Half the time, it's the Black Keys," he said. For their part, the Keys have put it behind them: “We’ve all said fucked up shit in private,” Carney told Rolling Stone.
Later in the interview, White slammed other artists for copycatting. “Amy Winehouse: Did she invent white soul? Wearing a beehive? No. But she did something brand new and fresh, altogether as a package,” he said, “and you see who's in her wake, from the Duffys to the Lana Del Reys. Adele selling 20 million records? That would not have happened if Amy Winehouse was alive.”
And as for Meg? “She's one of those people who won't high-five me when I get the touchdown,” he told Rolling Stone. “She viewed me that way of 'Oh, big deal, you did it, so what?' Almost every single moment of the White Stripes was like that. We'd be working in the studio and something amazing would happen: I'm like, 'Damn, we just broke into a new world right there!' And Meg's sitting in silence." Silence: not a priority for Jack White.
Correction, June 20, 2014: This post originally misidentified the Seattle International Film Festival as the Seattle Film Festival.