The Ultimate Six-String Summit: It Might Get Loud

It Might Get Loud movie poster


It Might Get Loud indeed, when three gen­er­a­tions of rock gui­tarists con­vene for the ulti­mate six-string sum­mit. Jim­my Page (rep­re­sen­ta­tive of 1970s sta­di­um rock and, with Jeff Beck and Eric Clap­ton, part of the canon­i­cal trin­i­ty of gui­tar heroes) joins The Edge (child of the punk/new wave era but also para­dox­i­cal­ly a bit of an egghead) and Jack White (stu­dent of Amer­i­cana and free­wheel­ing blues-rock of The White Stripes and the Racon­teurs). The three had no doubt crossed paths before now, but prob­a­bly nev­er had a chance to pick each other’s brains, let alone trade licks and jam.

Direc­tor Davis Guggen­heim also made the Al Gore doc­u­men­tary An Incon­ve­nient Truth and the soc­cer dra­ma Gra­cie, but the core con­cept came from Thomas Tull, pro­duc­er of Bat­man: The Dark Knight. As White quips in one of the DVD bonus fea­tures, he thought Page would make a fine Jok­er.

The Edge in It Might Get LoudU2’s The Edge is a child of the punk/new wave era but is also para­dox­i­cal­ly a bit of an egghead

Through­out, White is con­sid­er­ably more wit­ty and spon­ta­neous than the oth­ers, both ver­bal­ly and in his effort­less impro­vi­sa­tion. In com­par­i­son, The Edge some­times seems ret­i­cent and com­pa­ra­bly tongue-tied. Con­sid­er­ing his noto­ri­ety as the man that intro­duced cod-Satanism and Tolkien into Led Zeppelin’s lyrics and iconog­ra­phy, Page is quite the dap­per Eng­lish gen­tle­man. He arrives in a chauf­feured Rolls, while White and even The Edge dri­ve them­selves to the set.

Jack White in It Might Get LoudJack White, of The White Stripes and The Racon­teurs, keeps it real

While Page and White share a back­ground in the blues, The Edge comes from some­where else alto­geth­er. He’s long been more inter­est­ed in son­ics and tex­tures than in impress­ing audi­ences with fleet-fin­gered tech­nique. Page was, for a time, one of the biggest rock stars in the world, but of the three, The Edge has enjoyed per­sis­tent fame the longest. He states with total con­vic­tion that This is Spinal Tap was, for him, not fun­ny at all: “it’s all true.” A delet­ed scene answers a ques­tion I’ve long had: U2’s nick­names date back to their child­hood, and now even The Edge’s moth­er now no longer calls him David.

There’s no need for an onscreen inter­view­er when no one else would know bet­ter what to ask these three men than each oth­er. When gui­tarists get togeth­er for gabfests, a nat­ur­al top­ic is to wist­ful­ly rem­i­nisce over their first instru­ments (The Edge and White still own and play theirs). Their con­ver­sa­tion is inter­spersed with short ani­mat­ed sequences and price­less ear­ly footage, with relics includ­ing embar­rass­ing very ear­ly footage of U2 as gawky teenagers.

All three have enjoyed com­fort and suc­cess for quite some time, so it comes as a rather awk­ward shift in tone when they are called to reflect on times of cri­sis in their careers. None were instant stars. Page’s ear­ly anx­i­eties are the most inter­est­ing; he became a high­ly suc­cess­ful ses­sion gui­tarist fair­ly ear­ly on (work­ing large­ly in the now-for­got­ten musi­cal genre of Skif­fle), but real­ized he was look­ing at a cre­ative dead-end. He found release in The Yard­birds, a fer­tile caul­dron that famous­ly also includ­ed Beck and Clap­ton at var­i­ous times, and arguably invent­ed hard rock. The hair came down, the pants flared, and the cel­lo bow came out. Mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist White recounts a child­hood sleep­ing on the floor in a room too crowd­ed with drums to leave room for a bed, and found­ing his first band while work­ing the lone­ly job of fur­ni­ture uphol­ster­er. The Edge recalls the con­tem­po­rary polit­i­cal tur­moil of Ire­land as a back­drop to his anx­i­ety over being “just a gui­tarist” and pos­si­bly nev­er a song­writer. From this cri­sis of con­fi­dence came the polit­i­cal­ly charged U2 stan­dard “Sun­day Bloody Sun­day.” His sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tions to U2 were delib­er­ate­ly obscured by the unusu­al­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic band; it’s only recent­ly that they have begun to talk more open­ly about their inter­nal divi­sion of labor (gen­er­al­ly, Edge demos the music, Bono sup­plies the lyrics, Lar­ry works along­side the pro­duc­er, and Adam is res­i­dent sar­to­ri­al­ist).

Jimmy Page in It Might Get LoudLed Zeppelin’s Jim­my Page is now quite the dap­per gent, but was once an infa­mous 70s bad boy that intro­duced cod-satanism and Tolkien to sta­di­um rock

The nat­ur­al wish is for the three to strap on their gui­tars and jam. So as each is cel­e­brat­ed as much for their song­writ­ing as for their chops, they take turns teach­ing the oth­ers one of their sig­na­ture tunes. The Edge’s chim­ing “I Will Fol­low” riff fails to take off, but Page’s “In My Time of Dying” pro­vides a bed for some fan­tas­tic slide-gui­tar solos from all three play­ers. The cli­mac­tic clos­ing tune is ill-cho­sen; The Band’s “The Weight” is with­out a doubt a great, clas­sic song, but not much of a gui­tar show­case.

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