PR Tips from Jack White’s Old-Timey Publicist

Bill Barol brings us the story of a man with a very demanding client.

Jack White

I represent one client exclusively: music superstar Jack White. That way I can focus on him like an old-timey laser. See, Jack’s all about the authenticity, so I don’t handle his business like I would for any other client. Give you an example: Jack doesn’t allow me to pitch him by phone. What I do is, I write the pitch by hand, with a Bakelite fountain pen, on a piece of siding from Furry Lewis’s house in Memphis. Then I drive it to the magazine or newspaper or wherever in an American-made car from model years 1948 to 1954, and I abandon each car after it’s driven once. That way every pitch is individual and authentic.

Jack also doesn’t allow media outlets to contact me directly. If they want to reach me they have to draft a song-poem in language that would have been used in Depression-era Appalachia, and record it on one of those wire recorders that Alan Lomax used. Then they have to put the wire reel between two pieces of birch bark and seal it with glue of their own devising. (How they make the glue is up to them, as long as it isn’t animal-based or a perfectly white shade of white. Jack prefers things in the cream spectrum, because he feels they don’t try quite so hard.) Then they can either get in a canoe and paddle the package to a dead drop in the Mississippi near where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil or toss it onto my office roof from a gyrocopter, and again, which of those they choose is entirely up to them. I mean, Jack’s not a monster. He’s an artist, and a perfectionist, and he has a vision. And that vision is authenticity. 

I’ll never forget the first time we met. Jack was hiding in a house-sized box he’d built himself from papier-mâché on the exact site of his previous house, which he’d had demolished the week before by artisan woodworkers using only hand tools that would have been available to the folk-art woodcarvers of the Pacific Northwest in the late ’30s. “Come on up,” he said, “I’m in the solarium.” The problem was, it was a summer day and the sun had already started to melt the walls and ceiling. Jack didn’t mind. He was sitting there in the brown tweed suit he’d bought at Robert Crumb’s garage sale, melted papier-mâché walls and tables and chairs all around him, with an ironic smile on his face. “Isn’t this great?” he said, but I could feel his eyes on me, and I knew it was a test. “It isn’t so much that it’s great,” I said slowly, feeling my way. “It’s that it approximates the feeling of greatness someone might have felt years ago, before greatness itself, or the idea of greatness AS greatness, became irrevocably debased by popular culture, or ‘Popular Culture.’” Jack just nodded in a way that seemed to say, You said something there, brother. From that day forward we weren’t just client and publicist. We were friends.

I’ll be straight with you: The bread’s good. (Jack pays me in home-baked bread. He used to pay me in silver certificates and twenty-dollar gold pieces, but those are getting scarce.) But I don’t do it for the bread. Sometimes Jack will drop by unexpectedly in the hot-air balloon he bought from George Jones, and we’ll sit in my office and drink moonshine from baby skulls. And I don’t mind telling you, the orange-juice-can-on-a-string that Jack demanded I install after he personally ripped out my telephone will be sort of ringing or buzzing off the hook (actually a wooden peg) and I’ll know it’s the big media outlets of the world trying to reach me to arrange access to Jack. Everyone wants a piece of Jack White. Jack just looks at the can with wary bemusement, because he knows it’s all a game. “It’s been some ride, hasn’t it, Mort?” he’ll say. And when he goes, and nails my office door shut from the outside with his own hand-forged nails, I always know that I’ve been in the presence of someone rare and special. And yes, I’ll say it, because it can’t be said enough, and also because my contract requires me to: authentic.