"Little Ghost" by The White Stripes is the cutest little ghost story you'll ever hear.
The White Stripes either think we're way smarter than we are, or they liked pulling one over on their fans. Their songs, albums, and even their public image are full of little jokes and references that even die-hard fans have no hope of understanding. Even now that the story of them being brother and sister is well known to be a lie, does anyone understand that joke?
Jack and Meg White always claimed to be brother and sister, even after a sleuth with too much time on their hands dug up a marriage certificate showing that the two were actually a divorced couple. Jack White told Rolling Stone in 2005...
“When you see a band that is two pieces, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, you think, ‘Oh, I see … When they're brother and sister, you go, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ You care more about the music, not the relationship – whether they’re trying to save their relationship by being in a band. You don’t think about that with a brother and sister. They’re mated for life. That’s what family is like.”
"Little Ghost" is the White Stripes' mysterious non-mystery
Now, I hate to call BS on my favourite band, but what a bizarre quote, and contradictory too. Do you care more about the music when they're siblings, or do you think about how they're "mated for life," a statement which I assure you, distracts from the music.
Jack White is too smart not to have thought that one through. What he is saying is that with a married, or divorced couple, the lascivious gossip is mundane stuff about who slept with whom and when. But with siblings... well..., we don't know what to gossip about. A brother and sister in a two-person rock band is such a strange arrangement, there's definitely an image being curated there, but what is that image saying?
20 years later, I still cannot explain why they presented themselves as brother and sister.
Another more obscure White Stripes mystery is why there's one song on each album beginning with the word "little." Are these songs related in some way? Even if they're not, the connection in the title causes the mind to try and form a connection, like how the human mind will always see three or more images in a row as a sequence of events, even if they're unrelated.
I believe that was the intention, to leave the audience with the urge to force these six songs into a non-existent narrative.
"Little Ghost" is the penultimate chapter in our non-story, a tale of a man in love with a ghost. It's a straightforward folk stomp, with no double meaning or subtext here, just a sweet spooky story. Of course, there's the possibility that there is no ghost, and that the singer really is just "holding air," but the question is not laboured, and ultimately it doesn't matter, the guy's in love, and that's what the song is about.
Audiences quite often read more into a work than is there. But The White Stripes coaxed us towards more complex interpretations of their songs, which makes finding beautiful simplicity at the heart of these mysteries all the more sweet and meaningful. A mystery with no answer is a reminder not to take pop music too seriously.