Sunday, March 14, 2010

three musicians

My friend Ginger forced me to watch “It Might Get Loud” recently. This documentary brings together three forces of electric guitar fury into one room for a conversation and jam session while providing relevant background information along the way. The guitarists featured are Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, The Edge of U2 and Jack White of The White Stripes. These representatives of three generations of electric guitar expertise bring together a panoramic view of the electric guitar.

I do not watch tons of documentaries because generally I prefer movies that make me laugh a lot and think a little. This leaves me in no position to provide any sort of technical critique of this film as it compares to other documentaries. I can tell you that the film was visually appealing and there were even a few graphically drawn sequences that were perfect representations of verbal descriptions.

The backbone of the film, however, was simply the three musicians. The silver haired Page played the part of rock and roll royalty. He and his perfectly smooth accent and his calm demeanor gave me the first impression of a stately man who was above it all. That is until the music started. Whether it was a live guitar or an old vinyl record, when he heard the music play his face instantly became the excited and expressive face of a 17 year old boy. A simple yet completely inspiring detail of the film.

At the other end of the spectrum was the raw and untamed personality of Jack White. He is, by his own description, a man who was pushed around as a teenager and who now uses his picks and Humbuckers to do some pushing around of his own. It seems the design of the film was to present White as the picture of youthful exuberance. The excitable boy (or girl) we all used to be and maybe we’d be a tiny bit embarrassed about that youthful zeal now. But White is no punk kid. From the opening shots of the film showing him create an electric guitar in moments out of a Coke bottle and wood scraps to the final shots of him leading the threesome in an acoustic version of “The Weight” by The Band, this guy is doing what he loves and he knows his craft.

My favorite guitarist of the three was The Edge. First of all, you have to like a guy who goes by “The Edge”. I mean, anyone can have a name, but you have to earn a knick name like “The Edge”. But he was also presented as a man of substance. His love of music was also demonstrated by his face but even in the midst of the most rollicking riffs his face held the quiet awe of a man in prayer. Often his eyes were closed and more often the slightest smile would surface just to show how much fun he was having.

Even more interesting was the background information The Edge provided about the early days of U2 and the things that inspired them to form a band. He and his school aged friends gathered together because they felt hemmed in by negativity. The IRA bombs were going off every week in their neighborhood and everyone was threatening war. He said that in order to move forward they simply had to believe that there was something else for them. They thought there must be something positive they could do. He kept referring to the violence around them and saying that no one seemed to believe in respecting the importance of human life. The fact that he and his friends did have reverence for life somehow gave them the impression that if they created music that they could help change people. Perhaps it was an attempt to counteract some of the negative actions with positive actions. Art versus violence.

The Edge had a couple of other things to say that are worthy of some thought. After achieving some success and moving on to larger stages and audiences he indicated that there were moments when he questioned if he was really good enough to be the guitarist in a rock band. He had moments of self doubt when he said, “Can I do this?” Like the rest of us, with the start of each new project even The Edge wonders if he’ll be able to pull it off again.

It was his talk of the creative process that provided the most vivid illustration. I’ll paraphrase his illustration and likely ruin it, but you can rent the DVD for the full effect. He compared the creative process to driving past a managed forest. He said that as you look at the forest it appears a just a mass of tree trunks and limbs each indistinguishable from another. It appears as a confusing jumble until…just at the perfect moment….you suddenly see straight down a row and you realize that the trees are planted in rows and spaced perfect distances from one another and now the entire forest makes sense and you get it. He said that as you struggle with new ideas you feel that nothing works and nothing make sense until you keep looking and keep waiting and then finally that perfect moment happens and everything becomes clear. OK it was much better when he said it and there was a visual element to help, but I did what I could.

You can’t help but envy the talent of these three musicians. And if you watch the film be warned: you’ll want to dig out your guitar and drive your family crazy trying to remember how to play. There’s no shame in wanting to dip your toe in the stream these guys are swimming in.

Oh, and Donovan drove in from Tennessee. Here’s a great photo of him mugging while Ginger says “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”


ginger said...


T.J. said...

Sounds like an awesome documentary. I will have to check it out. I just read an interesting (if poorly written) article on Jack White. He's quite a character.