Jack White’s “Love Interruption” – an interpretation, part 1

I am “interrupting” my series of song interpretations from Andrew Bird’s “Noble Beast” with an interpretation of “Love Interruption” I don’t follow Jack White closely, but every now and then he gets my attention. I heard his song “Love Interruption” on the radio a few weeks ago and liked it immediately. What a great song! I have since seen the official video and the Saturday Night Live Performance and both are also great!

I liked the song not just for it’s sound but also for its words, both of which seemed to me to portray to me that it is essentially a gospel blues song! In this song Jack white seems to have taken the mantle of the greatest American guitar evangelist of nearly a century ago, Blind Willie Johnson. (The video is a re-enactment)

Of course. this is solely my own interpretation of this song alone, but I think that the music, lyrics, instrumentation, band, singers, videos, all provide hints that Jack White may actually be presenting himself in this song as a sort of guitar evangelist. So I will now proceed to examine what I believe is the “manifest propensity” of this song.

Here is a link if you want to read the lyrics before reading my interpretation.

The first thing to note is that “love” is personified in this song as active  and able to do things to the singer and to others. We need to be careful that we do not take this literally, but metaphorically, although this does not mean that there are not some radical things “happening.” (This is actually a very biblical/radical way of communicating, especially when we consider many of the the statements of Jesus.)

The second thing to note is that the receiver of the actions of “love” is willingly desirous of “love’s” actions, although they are drastically radical. He wants “love” to work it’s work on him presumably because he does not presently live according to “love” and counts the cost of change as worth it.

So what does he want “love” to do? In short he wants love to completely overcome him. In the opening verse he describes love stabbing him in such a way that it is likely that he means to “die” from such treatment.

In the second verse he describes love as appearing to be gentle (“grab my fingers gently”) but abruptly becoming brutal (“slam them in the doorway”) and then essentially humiliating his pride (“put my face into the ground”).

In the third verse he wants love to treat his mother similarly by “murdering” her and taking her to hell or heaven. Don’t overlook that he is essentially only wanting love to do to her what he wants love to do to him also. He is simply desiring this radical “love” for her also. I will address the reference to “hell or up above” a little later.

In the fourth verse he wants love to make his friends his enemies “and show me how it’s all my fault.” This is one of the more difficult parts of the song to interpret, because it is hard to know if these two things are connected to each other or not. If they are not connected it is easy to see that he wants love to show him that everything is his fault, meaning all the negative things in life. In essence it would be a personal confession of sin, in solidarity with the sinfulness of the fallen race, as the cause of our miseries. If they are connected it is possibly just a deeper reflection that as “love” liberates some of us from our common lot, but not others, such as our friends, that it is in a sense our fault that they then become our enemies. (They remain “stuck in the mire” that we have promoted in our own participation in the sinfulness.) The fact that “love” can make our “friends into enemies” is akin to the teaching of Jesus where he speaks of the “peaceful” relationships that should normally exist in families, as susceptible to becoming “warfares.”

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:34-37; ESV)

In another statement Jesus uses radical language to show the demands of fulfilling “love” when he says

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26, ESV)

In the fifth verse he again describes love as abruptly biting him, fighting him, and leaving him dying on the ground.

In the sixth verse he describes love as overcoming his speech and hearing by “splitting his mouth wide open” and “covering up his ears” so he can “never hear a sound.” This seems to be saying that love will take away his old ways of communicating so that they will become dominated by love.

The seventh verse is another difficult one, but it seems to be saying that he wants love to enable him on the one hand to forget “that you offended me” (to forgive someone of their offense against him) and to enable him on the other hand to remember “how you have defended me, when everybody tore me down” (to thank someone for their defense of him).

The chorus is also somewhat difficult. He says “I won’t let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me.” I think he is saying that he won’t let love merely take these half measures against him so that he is essentially the same although he in some partial measure was “disrupted, corrupted, and interrupted.” In other words, he wants the radical full treatment of “love” that dominates and destroys his original self (in a sense.) The title of the song can seem to be contrary to this view as though love is merely interrupting, but not dominating. Perhaps this is his way of saying that love can be merely an interruption to us, or it can become the dominating principle that changes our being. And this is the way that love, and “gospel songs” work. This is why the song has the dual emphasis on the “sovereignty” of love and the “free will” of submission.

At this point I must revisit the lyric where he speaks of “love” taking his mother “off to somewhere, like hell or up above.” Certainly there is some ambivalence here with the words “off to somewhere”, but the point seems to be that love must take us one way or another. It is interesting that Jack White seems to have the insight and courage to say that “love” when it interacts with us, cannot leave us neutral, but because of our response to it, will necessarily “take” us to one place or another.

So is Jack White taking up the mantle of the guitar evangelist in this song? It certainly seems so to me. He has aptly portrayed the radical call of “love” that corresponds to the radical call of Jesus, and has shown life and death, heaven and hell, sovereignty and free will, forgiveness and grudge, gratitude and indifference, friendship and enmity, desire and apathy, are all involved in the choice we invariably make.

Obviously I cannot know if “love” in Jack White’s song implies biblical love and the God who “Is Love” (1 John 4:8). But I believe that only biblical love can truly fulfill “love” as qualified by Jack White in this song. In order to demonstrate how biblical love is like the “love” in this song we may consider the following from C.S. Lewis.

When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some “disinterested,” because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the “lord of terrible aspect.” is present: not some senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, not the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as an artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes. How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes. It is certainly a burden of glory not only beyond our deserts but also, except in rare moments of grace, beyond our desiring. (The Problem of Pain, 41-42)

That Jack White is actually more daring and traditionally biblical than many popular Christian “teachers” today is also evident in his lyric about “love” necessarily taking us to one of two places. Another quote from Lewis may show how the biblical God of love also of necessity must “take us” to one place or another.

It is not simply that God has abritrarily made us such that He is our only good. Rather God is the only good of all creatures: and by necessity, each must find its good in that kind and degree of the fruition of God which is proper to its nature. The kind and degree may vary with the creature’s natrure: but that there ever could be any other good, is an atheistic dream. George Macdonald, in a passage I cannot now find, represents God as saying to men “You must be strong with my strength and blessed with my blessedness, for I have no other to give you.” That is the conclusion of the whole matter. God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God – to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response – to be miserable – these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows – the only food that any possible universe ever can grow – then we must starve eternally. (The Problem of Pain, 48)

In conclusion, there are two main questions of concern. Is Jack White knowingly or unknowingly calling on the God who “is Love” to conquer him? The second question is whether hearing this song and thinking about it is merely a “love interruption” to us? Or will we say

I won’t let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me, anymore…

I want love to walk right up and bite me
grab a hold of me and fight me, leave me dying on the ground
and I want love to, split my mouth wide open, cover up my ears and never let me hear a sound

So what do you think about this interpretation? I’d love to see some comments or questions…

Thanks for reading!

Note: On January 27th, 2013 I posted a “part 2” update that may be of interest.

More posts on love

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

6 thoughts on “Jack White’s “Love Interruption” – an interpretation, part 1

  1. I think it is much simpler. Could he just be saying that he loves love, but really hates it,(because of a pain it caused him (divorce?)) so he wants love to do all these bad things so he will have another reason to hate love. I suspect he fears love, and its power. At the same time, he is trying to convince himself that he has the power over love and he will not let love corrupt, disrupt, or interrupt who he is.

    • Bryan says:

      Thanks for the comment and I apologize for the long delay in my response! You present an interesting view which I partly answer in my reply to Shannon below. The main problem I have with your view is that by definition I don’t think “love can do all these bad things” and actually be love.

      But you raise a very interesting and important question regarding which has the greater power – love or him. In a world such as ours where false loves are apt to become idols it is a danger for such “loves” to be more powerful than us. I have always had a problem with the Beatles “all you need is love” for this reason – because it idolized undefined love as being all we need. I find an answer to this problem of idolatry in the biblical statement that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and in not finding what seemingly would be a parallel statement but is not – that “love is God.”

      “God is love” gives definition to love and prevents idolizing love; “love is God” idolizes love without defining love. Of course these statements are supported by the fact that the Bible defines God as a person and not as a concept like “love.”

      So I agree with your concern that “love” especially as defined by us should not become “God” over us and I appreciate your comment for bringing that out!

  2. Shannon says:

    I think the verses are meant to be what he never wants love to do to him and he resolves that in the chorus by telling us what he won’t let love do!

  3. Bryan says:

    Thanks for the comment. I wonder if you read my “part 2” follow-up to this original post in which I considered what Jack White reportedly said about the song. In light of that I felt more assured that he was portraying love in a positive albeit shocking way because love has become to trivialized. He uses irony in the song so that when he says he won’t let love interrupt him he means that he won’t let love merely be an interruption because he wants it to actually dominate him.

    Common interruptions are things that we shrug off and try our best to ignore and not allow to influence our lives. But Jack White uses irony to say that he wants love to dominate him so that he will submit to it’s uncommon power and let it influence him totally.

    I admit my view requires a sort of “pretzel logic” to borrow a phrase from Steely Dan, but I stick by my interpretation. I also continue to pay tribute to Jack White because he has succeeded in provoking “some kind of thought” about love with this song by using his craft admirably. I know this because there have been approximately five-thousand visits to this blog post alone by people thinking (or wanting to know what to think) about this song!

    Thanks again for your comment – perhaps the brevity of your comment has prevented me from fully understanding your viewpoint. I suppose the bottom line of my view is that love is in actuality real love in the song. Your view (I think) would be that he is ironically saying that he wants “love” (which is not really love) to do all these terrible things to him meaning that he actually does not want it to do these things and that he won’t let it interrupt him. But real love by definition does not do evil things and so the irony is that the “violence” of real love to us is actually good.

    At any rate both views require the song to be using irony and thus it is not by any reading a “simple” song!

    By the way, the view of love I think the song is based on is love as spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13:6 where it says that love “does not rejoice in wrongdoing” – so love does not do evil things.

  4. Mitch says:

    Thank you for sharing. This is a great forum and subject. I think the best artists express emotion, and it’s no different with Love Intteruption. Shame (or simply unsolicited advice) from the outside world hides feelings and people get stuck in shame…do not express true emotion…and so songs like this one can be inspirational. I believe true (or as close to true as you can get) love and understanding of another human being sets a human being free…all parts and expressions from the limbic system to the prefrontal cortex to the pineal gland. To love all parts or expressions of another is true love…including the emotional painful parts…love by understanding…not trying to fix…allowing another to find their way in life, and have empathy for another so they feel the connection along the way, progress, and not get stuck in shame. There are parts to all human beings that are similar to each other, but the combination, how someone balances out, their essence (which I believe is good when relatively balanced out), their experience is very different…we are all on unique journeys in the narratives in our mind and in life. We all have narratives in our mind inspired by emotions we feel and our experience in life. As a relator, I think Jack White’s essence is a desire for love (main part of the human condition, I believe), and there are many different types of love out there (romantic, unconditional, conditional, altruistic, self, selfless, etc.), and I think he embraces them all as a self-actualized artist in this song. Divorce can do that to a person. It did it to me. “Murder my own mother” is a leave and cleave type statement, but probably more so to do with anxious attachment style, and a desire to let go of those subconscious feelings and mysteries from childhood experience ages 0-8. Awareness and an earned secure attachment style (not my Catholicism at the time) would have been helpful in my marriage, but it was too late when I realized that, and earning secure attachment is nothing that happens over night, it comes with intent and experience and reflection/mindfulness to get to know oneself. I think Jack is looking to earn a secure attachment in which “love” doesn’t disrupt anymore. He’s been thru a lot, and is willing to get back up on that horse in a more secure and resilient way in his future relationships. Love/divorce/attachment/emotional pain is the expression I see here. Christianity inspires, but couldn’t one argue Christianity held a patriarchal expression in the Bible to stop divorce and keep property? I’ve met many women who are not fond of this essence, and some who crave to be freed of it. We crave true love and meaning, not just following another writer’s expression (albeit the writers of the bible were wise in my humble opinion). White embraces all aspects of love, even the heartache, the finality of divorce, and what he gets from it…security, growth, healthy detachment…these are the underlying desires he holds. White was quoted, “I feel strongly connected to God. My roots are Catholic by default. I can take elements from Buddhism or other religions and see the similarities and differences in those, and learn from those, but at the end of the day, I don’t care as much about man’s interpretation of religion. What I care about is what God tells me directly.” Another way of putting this could be, “What I care about is what a (Higher Power) or (Universe) tells me directly.” It sounds much more like a self-actualized Maslov higher needs expression than a Christian one to me. It’s a brave, wonderful, and vulnerable expression, this song, and he desires to find true and unconditional love in spite of painful past experiences from relationships. His universe is not Christianity, he is open minded enough to embrace his own truths, not just those writers of the Bible and other religious expressions. There are lot of wise people today…scientists, philosophers (Ancient Stoics’ work (just before Christianity) that resonates with many Bible stories), musicians, psychologists, parents, pastors, teachers, etc. whose work would resonate with the essence of this song. It’s a great expression, this song. I’m fond of it. Years after my wife stepped out of the marriage, I went on my first date, we asked each other what the other listened to in our cars on the way to meet at the restaurant, it was this song. My universe spoke to me that night in many ways, and so went my journey (with this song as one of many guides) that illuminated what I needed illuminated to improve as a parent of young children, professional, lover, friend, etc. (“And if you want to be free, be free, ‘Cause there’s a million thing to be, You know that there are.” – Cat Stevens’ “If you want to sing out, sing out.”)

  5. Mitch – thanks much for your thoughtful and interesting comment!

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