Last night, my husband and I decided to watch director David Guggenheim’s It Might Get Loud, a rock ‘n roll documentary that was, arguably, just a bunch of guitarists sitting around talking about why they play guitar, which guitar they play, when they started. Stuff like that.
Of course, the guitarists who are sitting around talking are Jimmy Page, The Edge, and (Katie Darby Recommends favorite!) Jack White, so it’s not your average jam session.
The movie kicks off with Jack White on an old, dilapidated porch, surrounded by fields and cows, with a glass Coke bottle, a piece of wire, and a wooden plank. Within two minutes, he’s created the same sound that a guitar would make, and he starts the movie by jokingly asking, “Who needs guitars?”
This is the perfect way to start this movie, because by the end of it, I think it’s obvious– everyone needs guitars. Not just guitarists. The best part of this movie was getting to go ‘home’ with the three musicians (England, Ireland, and Detroit/Nashville, respectively), and to watch them watch each other.
Jimmy Page actually started out as a session guitarist. He also played with several other bands, including the Yardbirds, before becoming A Legend with Led Zepplin. There’s awesome footage of all of these things, including Page playing a pop song on TV when he was grade school age. There’s rarely this much intense focus on Page the person, and it’s really cool to see it. I had to keep reminding myself that he was THE Jimmy Page. He comes off so unassuming. There’s a great scene where he puts a Link Wray song on, and the smile that spreads across his face is so genuine and so real. It’s rare to watch someone enjoy music the way that I always feel it: to have that person be Jimmy Page is ridiculous.
Of course he’s not unassuming once you get a guitar in his hands. He talks about the different guitars he’s played through the years (including the awesome double-neck for “Stairway”), but words aren’t necessary as he starts to play the intro to “Whole Lotta Love”. Even The Edge and Jack White can’t really keep their cool: Jimmy Page. Playing “Whole Lotta Love.” It’s just as cool when you aren’t really in the room with him.
The Edge is a calm man, and that transfers to his guitar playing. His wall of pedals make it to where he can really focus on restraint without losing any of the classic U2 sound– it’s awesome. He tells the story of his first guitar, and his Explorer– and how U2 was put together by a “Musicians Wanted” call on a bulletin board at school. Some of the more poignant sections with The Edge, though, were listening to him talk about the Irish Civil War (an atrocity that it’s all-too-easy to forget U2 lived through), and getting to hear about his writing process. He was always afraid he was “just a guitarist”. Of course, if he’s “just a guitarist,” that’s not such an awful thing to be.
I was conflicted on his section because for years, I’ve been vocally anti-U2 (I think they were so mainstream that I bucked it on principle). But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bring a tear to my eye to watch him listen to the four-track recording demo of “Where the Streets Have No Name.” I think I may have been giving U2 a hard time for years, and I’m not sure it was warranted. Look for more posts on them in the near future.
In a related story: does anyone have a favorite U2 album? Any rabid fans? Anyone else who couldn’t get into them? Share your U2 stories here.
Jack White. The man, the myth, the legend. Though he was obviously the least experienced guitarist out of the group (which again, says something remarkable and awesome about the film), he was the one with the most distinct personality. He stands for authenticity even when it doesn’t make sense; he’s opposed to technology; he played an awesome Son House blues song that only utilized vocals and handclaps. He said that his initial goal with the White Stripes was to become such characters that people would be distracted from the fact that he was playing pretty much straight blues music, and I think it worked. Wow.
Andy and I were talking about it again today: White certainly came off differently in the film than the other two did, though not in a bad way. Andy mentioned that it might be because White was the only frontman in the movie, which I didn’t realize until right as he said that. It’s true. White’s personality and attitude is too big to confine, even if he’s behind a drum kit or playing a (really awesome) plastic guitar from Montgomery Ward. The film would be worth watching if only to see how awesome Jack White is– he seems to be exactly who I thought he was after watching him play.
That’s the best part of the movie: Page, Edge, and White all have personalities that come through their guitar playing. They take genuine delight, not just in playing their music, but in music itself. And as a music nut, it was kind of affirming to watch my heroes– giants in my heart– giggle, be in awe, air-guitar, and just love the art. An awesome movie, and a great way to spend an evening.