Having the freedom to do what you want in a creative venture without the constraints and pressures of mandated commercial success can be the most freeing and self-releasing experience. Twinned with natural gifts and a driven spirit, an environment emerges where truly great things can happen.
Steve Jobs is a great example of this.
Prince always has done what he wants, and done it well.
Clint Eastwood has always been able to create things at will, onscreen and behind the camera.
John Lennon had the freedom to create and the resources to play with whomever he chose.
Jack White is one of those guys. Creativity knows no boundaries with him. And while the rest of us may think that the guy just can't sit still (what, eight different band projects in the past dozen years?), success in pretty much all that he does has afforded him the opportunity to have healthy outlets for his growing creativity.
Think of that cartoon snowball going down a mountainside getting bigger and bigger as it picks up speed, taking down trees as it catapults headlong. Jack White is today's musical equivalent.
His unchecked creativity allows him to do stuff on records—hanging out in the studio at length with some of Earth's best session players, just waiting for creativity to strike? Wow!—that few others can afford. Guys like Jack White and Prince set the bar for what becomes standard, but they are always one step ahead.
The Information Age and the disposability of digital files has made new music seem so transient. You have to really go hunting for the good current stuff, or you just go backwards and listen to Zeppelin or the Stones. Blunderbuss, Jack White's first true solo venture, is one of those records that makes you feel like you are in the same room as the players. The sounds and riffs are authentic and hearken back to some Levon Helm/Band-isms, sounding current and urgent at the same time.
If you delve into the word choices, rhyme schemes, and subject matter of the lyrics for Blunderbuss, you will find a smart, dark, and hip trip into the blackness of love found, lost, and finally disposed of. White says he doesn't like to set out to write about himself, but turns to universal truths of heartbreak and human wreckage as a foundation to get some anger and emotion out. It's only after a song gets made that Jack sees his characters clearly.
"The funny thing is, I always think I'm writing about a couple of characters," Jack told me, "but by the end I'm mixing the song and listening to it back and thinking, 'Oh, now I know exactly what this song is about. I'm the only one who's going to know.' "
White has joined the ranks of Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen as anomalies in the rock-and-roll game. He sells records (and a lot of them). He sells tickets to shows (again, lots). He can afford to tour with two complete bands (one all-male, one all-female. What!?), choosing daily which one will play that night. He can choose who he wants to work with, and those people seemingly jump at the chance (the Stones, Loretta Lynn, Jimmy Page, The Edge, etc.).
We need dudes like White. We need people to show us that you can be an individual who indulges the whims of your creative spirit and still be commercially successful. Pushing boundaries and selling records makes other bands and artists stray to the outer edges, away from what's safe, familiar, and popular—and that is great for music.