What Is a Lazaretto? Behind Jack White's New Album Title

Investigating the etymology of the obscure title behind Jack White's forthcoming LP

Jack White
Jo McCaughey
April 1, 2014 12:45 PM ET

Earlier today, Jack White released a new track, the instrumental "High Ball Stepper," and announced that on June 9th he'll be releasing his second solo studio album, Lazaretto, a follow-up to 2012's Blunderbuss.

So: What is a lazaretto? The term first appears in English – or at least, in the Oxford English Dictionary – with William Thomas' mid-16th Century The Historie of Italie. There, the Welsh scholar writes, writes of a house "two miles from Venice, called the Lazaretto" where people sick with the plague are cared for.

Q&A: Jack White Reveals Why He Was Selling Candy on an L.A. Street

According to Jane L. Stevens Crawshaw's Plague Hospitals: Public Health for the City in Early Modern Venice, the term is a corruption of the name of that original building, a converted monastery located on an island outside Venice that reopened as Santa Maria di Nazareth in 1423. Another account, however, posits the term as descending from the Gospels – either the story in "Luke" where Lazarus, a poor man "full of sores" dies outside a rich man's gate but finds their positions reversed in the afterlife, or the story in "John" where Jesus returns to the town of Bethany to heal a presumably different Lazarus, a man who has been dead for the past four days. As you might have guessed, this Lazarus comes back to life.

Today, however, the word, which since the mid 18th Century has grown increasingly obscure, refers to a Santa Maria–like house for the occupancy of the diseased poor or a ship or building set apart for quarantine.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories


The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

More Song Stories entries »