Ok, so…three rock musician walk into a barn…
What? You’ve never heard that joke? Yeah, me neither. It just sorta came to me yesterday while I was watching It Might Get Loud. This film, a documentary of sorts featuring Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White, is a must see for the rock fan. Heck, you can even hate Led Zeppelin, U2, and The White Stripes, and still get something out of the movie. Seriously.
The film provides individual histories of each guitarist, told in a non-linear fashion. Eventually, the three stars meet in a summit of sorts, with the discussions and righteous guitar playing taking place in a temporary sound state set up in a barn. The documentary portions don’t really provide much in the way of new information, but I’m sure that that wasn’t the point. Yes, I’m familiar with the history of U2, but that doesn’t the diminish the fun of seeing The Edge mess around with his insane effects setup. It was also entertaining to see Page revisit Headley Grange, where Led Zeppelin IV was recorded. And watching Jack White make some blasphemous noise out of a hastily-constructed single-string “guitar thing”? Not just for guitar geeks such as myself.
It was fascinating to see areas of commonality illuminated between these guitarists, since they come from three different generations. It’s tempting to try and pin each man’s sound and career arc to their early interests. That does work to a certain extent — Page’s folk leanings can be seen as directly related to skiffle — but that’s not the whole story. The big intersection, one that is really more general, is that they all love music. Sure, this seems like something of a platitude, but it’s the truth: a truth that can seem surprising if we tend to take a more cynical outlook on stardom.
There’s a scene with Jimmy Page at home, flipping through a bunch of old records before finding a 45 of Link Wray’s “Rumble.” The look on Page’s face, as Wray cranks up the vibrating intensity, is one of pure joys. Very cool to see a real guitar hero playing air guitar to his own hero. The best Jack White moment comes with no guitar involved at all. He’s sitting there listening to a record of Son House singing “Grinnin’ In Your Face,” after which he proclaims that it is still his favorite song. A very genuine moment. And people might think that The Edge is nothing more than a pedestrian guitar playing hiding behind a pile of effects units, but it’s clear that what the man has always tried to do is to produce the sounds that he hears in his head. I totally dug watching the looks pass across his face as he listened to tapes pulled from a box of old U2 demos.
And what do generations two and three think about Mr. Page? The answer came when Jimmy tore into the opening riff to “Whole Lotta Love.” Two ecstatic grins spread across the faces of the other guitarists. They just couldn’t help themselves. It was yet another example underscoring just how much these guys are into the music. Are they all rock stars? Yes, but they’re fans too.
The film ends with the trio working out and then performing a version of “The Weight.” Really great stuff. It made me want to go plug in and make some noise. I’m such a guitar geek.