Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene.

I’m begging of you please don’t take my man.

—Dolly Parton, “Jolene”

I was seventeen when I saw the White Stripes perform this Dolly Parton song live at Glastonbury in 2002. And I guess I’m now officially one of those people who talk about performances they heard many years ago, you know, “back when music was good”.

If you watch the White Stripes version closely, perhaps you’ll see me in the crowd.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene.
Please don’t take him just because you can.


It’s been said that the Dolly Parton version of this song happens before she goes to speak to Jolene, and the White Stripes version takes place after.


There is still some hope things will work out. Just talk to her, maybe Jolene will see things your way and back off. 


Nope, sorry. It didn’t work. All hope has been lost. Jolene took your man and you’ll never be loved again. 

Like many people, I delight in any good revamp of a hit song that draws out new emotions, especially if those emotions are raw and despair-ridden. But this performance also taught me a couple of things:

Standing on the shoulders of giants

In this world, nothing comes from nothing. The seed of pure creativity often feels like it comes out of nowhere, and maybe it does. But when it takes roots in this world and actually becomes something new, it always gets nourished by something that already exists. 

The White Stripes took their inspiration from Dolly Parton’s song, and from it, birthed emotions no one had ever dreamed it possessed. Even Shakespeare didn’t invent most of the plots that his plays are built on. They came from existing poetry, myths, and history. 

An invention is never something completely new but a novel twist on the prior art. Creativity on a human level is not creating something from nothing, but taking something that’s already there, and breathing your own uniqueness through it.

There is no such thing as the self-made man, and we are all standing on the shoulders of the artists that came before us. We are all connected and we draw our inspiration from each other, just as we should. 

Gender appropriation?

And secondly: The White Stripes perform a song about a woman begging another woman to leave her man alone. 

He talks about you in his sleep

And there’s nothing I can do to keep

From crying when he calls your name, Jolene.


The concept of identity has become SO important to the world we live in today. There is a great fear of overstepping boundaries, speaking for others when we have no right because we are not them and so couldn’t possibly understand. 

Yet Jack White literally bulldozes through these boundaries when he takes on the persona of a heartbroken woman – he speaks in her voice, cries in her tears – and yet it’s completely breathtaking. 

How does he get away with it? What gives him the right to sing in her voice? 

Identifying as human

I think it’s because his performance cuts so deep to the bone; he manages to truly embody the underlying emotional reality of the situation. He gets to a place so deep that it reaches miles beneath all the identities and markers we cling to so tightly, where all that’s left is pure, raw human-ness. 

He can sing from that place not because he claims to be a woman – but because he’s human.

Yes, on one level it’s important to see and be seen for the different experiences and identities we amass as we move through life. We must respect each other for our differences. But for this humanity project to work out, we have to be able to connect to each other through the very deep things that at their roots, are the same. Our human-ness, our shared spiritual essence, our souls.

Summer of change

In the 18 years since that weekend at Glastonbury, I’ve quite literally lived another lifetime. Just a few weeks later, that same summer, I went on a trip that introduced me to Judaism on a serious level and changed my life in the most profound way I’ve ever experienced. I ended up seriously changing my core beliefs and life path.

Many, many of my friends and family thought I had been brainwashed or at the very least was just “going through a phase”. It was so hard to explain to them that what I was seeing and experiencing about Judaism was more truthful, meaningful and healthy than anything I’d ever known before. 

It was actually a complete Catch-22. Have you ever tried convincing someone that you are not brainwashed? No matter what you say, they will tell you, “Well, that’s just what a brainwashed person would say.”

Perhaps it’s a funny story looking back. But that year, my last year of high school, was incredibly painful. I lost so many friends, felt isolated from my family, and was just living through a haze of feeling completely unseen and misunderstood by so many.

You, only more so

There was one friend, however, who was able to see that the person I was becoming was not a stranger, but just an extension of everything I had been up until that point. The values and principles that made up my core were still with me, and now I had a whole new way of applying them through Judaism.

The nicest thing I heard that year was from this friend. She told me: “Other people can’t see it but I know. You are still absolutely and entirely you, only more so.”

Her words gave me the strength and belief in myself to keep going down this new path that I loved. Even though she herself was not on the same journey, she could see past the difference in my externals, and keep her deep human-ness connected with mine.

Those words turned into a personal goal for me, one that I still have today. To be myself, only more so. More open to respecting and loving people for their differences, and connecting to people through what is truly and deeply the same. Building on who I was before, and being open to the person I can become.