The press frequently tosses around the word "feud" to describe the brouhaha surrounding Jack White and Dan Auerbach. Yet feud implies some significant form of back and forth between the two musicians, no? I could be mistaken, but from where I stand, it's more accurate to say White keeps taking potshots at an Auerbach, who doesn't much care what he has to say (at least that's how the Black Key carries himself publicly). From the leaked e-mails White originally sent to ex-wife Karen Elson to his recently published interview in Rolling Stone, his issues with Auerbach have popped up in a number of forums. Even his apology letter to The Black Keys (posted on his website in the weeks leading up to the release of his new solo album, Lazaretto) contains a barely concealed sarcasm.
A good portion of White's barbs revolve around the fact that he believes Auerbach has been ripping him off for the last decade. I'm not so sure White is correct. When the Keys first hit the indie rock scene in the early 2000s, critics compared their punk-blues stomp to Jon Spencer (Blues Explosion, Pussy Galore, Heavy Trash) far more frequently than they did The White Stripes. In my humble opinion, what his beef really boils down to is competition. White would probably be loathe to admit it, but he and Auerbach are vying for the same legacy: the preeminent rock star of his generation, one who in addition to creating hip new music is highly respected by the legends of rock 'n' roll. Check it: Both have played in retro-fitted two-pieces, both produce emerging young artists and both have worked with classic rock icons (Auerbach with Dr. John, White with Neil Young). On top of all this, they live in the same city (Nashville) and, as the previously mentioned e-mails revealed, their children attend the same goddamn school. (Wouldn't it be cool if their kids one day, when they're all grown, formed a band just to stick it to their rock star dads?)
But here's the thing that White doesn't appear to understand about himself: For all the pop success he's thus far achieved (which has been considerable), he ultimately is an industry outsider who isn't comfortable swimming in mainstream waters for extended stretches of time. There certainly is a part of him that wants to be The Man, yet there also is another part of him -- the Neil Young in him, so to speak -- that has little desire to deal with all the music-biz bullsh*t that comes with being The Man (beyond perpetuating gossip-column beefs, that is). This is where he and Auerbach differ radically. The latter has proven exceptionally willing to navigate those mainstream waters. In addition to having teamed up with hip-hop producers RZA and Danger Mouse, he has collaborated with straight-up pop divas Kesha and Lana Del Rey (whose forthcoming full-length, Ultraviolence, he produced). Though White too has worked with Danger Mouse (he's featured on the cameo-laden affair Rome), his only other notable stab at big-time radio pop was the Quantum of Solace theme "Another Way to Die," a duet with Alicia Keys (herself something of an outsider) released six long years ago. White instead appears to prefer hanging out in his boutique record shop and studio, Third Man Records, where he records and releases music on limited-edition vinyl records from an assortment of underground artists (Nobunny, JEFF The Brotherhood), old-school rockers (Jerry Lee Lewis) and the occasional folk pop act (Beck, Jack Johnson). So yeah, I don't think White will be hanging with Kesha anytime soon.
But enough with the armchair psychology. If you want to appreciate the myriad similarities and differences between Jack White and Dan Auerbach on a musical level, please check out our carefully programmed playlist. In addition to cuts from their respective bands and solo releases, it spotlights many of their collaborations and production credits, including Neil Young's recently released A Letter Home (recorded inside Jack White's vintage Voice-o-Graph booth) and the new Lana Del Rey single "Shades of Cool," produced by Auerbach. Now get listening …