Listening to: Various snippets of Led Zeppelin, U2, and the White Stripes
My Film Festival campaign is now wrapped up. While more of a lightning raid than the full scale epic assault enacted by others (link), I was more than satisfied with what I did see. I bought tickets for five features, got to four of them, which is much better than my average return for the festival.
I'm going to go though these in reverse order, just because its easier that way, and my favourite film of the festival was the one I saw last.
It Might Get Loud (2009)
*There are links all over this thing. Click if you want to know or more importantly hear more.......
I saw this yesterday with Kate, and didn't want it to end. Someone had the idea of getting three great rock guitarists in a studio to talk about their craft, and what drew them to the guitar in the first place. Its simple in concept, but immensely rewarding. The three guitarists brought together were Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2), and Jack White (The White Stripes). As Kate has pointed out in her own excellent summing up here, the three represent different generations, ideologies, and approaches to making music. They also each have quite aurally distinct sounds that make them stand out. Each talked about the sounds and artists and events in their life that inspired them. The film was divided into chapters for each of the three to describe their own experience of the shared evolutionary stages of the way they played, and common experiences, each chapter beginning with the three chatting together, and then moving out to archival footage combined with specifically shot material.
Its no fault of the documentary makers, and probably unavoidable, but in terms of legendary aura the film is definitely (for me anyhow) about Jimmy Page and two other guys.
I came late to Led Zeppelin. Apart from the passing knowledge of 'Stairway to Heaven' common to pretty much every rock fan, I had no great appreciation for Led Zeppelin. I always thought they were a bit too heavy and bogan for me. One winter's evening in 1998, the local alternative music radio station played 'Ramble On' by request. The riff reminded me of some of Pearl Jam's stuff. The link is more than coincidental, since Zeppelin were a big influence on Pearl Jam's sound, something knowingly acknowledged in the Pearl Jam single 'Given to Fly', which borrows heavily from Led Zeppelin's 'Going to California', more in tribute than theft. I picked up a copy of the "Remasters" double disc collection not long afterward. It was around then that I realised that Led Zeppelin was a lot more than a backing group for the consumption of an endless number of bourbon and cokes. They were good, better than good in fact, one of those unique confluences of talent that only occurs perhaps once in a musical generation. Beyond the rock and roll swagger, these guys were seriously talented musicians. So when Page's journey was the first to begin in the film, and introduced with him playing that riff from 'Ramble on' unaccompanied, and I got to understand it in a whole new way, I was hooked. It was a proper rock and roll moment. The film is littered with them. Another one was Page explaining just why he had a custom built double necked guitar: he couldn't play the solo part of 'Stairway to Heaven' live without it, since the break before the guitar solo is played on a different guitar to the solo itself (six vs seven string).
Each artist got a brief introductory part and from then their stories were intertwined, as parallels and contrasts were revealed (like Jack White revealing how he hates the use of technology in music, something The Edge employs enthusiastically to create the sounds he wants).
Whereas Jimmy Page is deservedly a legend, The Edge is more the quiet acheiver and somewhat underrated. U2 (which I am also a big fan of) would simply not be where it is today without him and his sound. He was also the most engaging and drily funny storyteller of the three, like when he related how the riff for 'I will follow' was recorded on a particular guitar; when the producer suggested he use another he couldn't, because it was the only guitar he owned. The Edge was also unafraid to deconstruct his own mythology, demonstrating just how simple the riff for 'Elevation' is when stripped of the effects employed to create what is heard when the song is performed. He also explained the timing structure of 'Where the streets have no name' as being working in both 3+3 or 6+6, which led to a great cut from a clip of the band performing the song to an audience of thousands on the Vertigo tour (a concert I had to sell my tickets for since it clashed with a friends wedding, sigh. I saw them play in 1993 though), to The Edge returning to where they first played to an audience, at their school on a concrete pad smaller than my lounge.
Jack White was the most curious of the three for me. I'm no great fan of The White Stripes (I like a few of their songs, especially 'Icky Thump' and 'Seven Nation Army' but am pretty meh about most of their stuff, and The Raconteurs leave me completely cold). White is the most self consciously artistic of the trio, and also the most image conscious. Perhaps tellingly, White talks about his childhood while roaming around rural blues country Tennessee; only later is it revealed that he grew up in suburban Detroit. This doesn't take anything away from his music or influences, but he does come across as a little insecure and feeling like he has things to prove, mainly to himself. He is a definite counterpoint to the other two more classical rock guitarists. White states quite early on in the piece that one of his ambitions from the meeting is to get Page and Edge to teach him some of their tricks. Another telling, and fascinating part of the film is when Page demonstrates how he used distortion by playing the riff to 'Whole lotta love'; White is visibly trying to stay cool, but "oh my god, Jimmy freakin' Page is playing 'Whole lotta love' right-here-in-front-of-me!" is written all over his face, a look quickly replaced by furious concentration as he tries to decipher Page's technique. The Edge on the other hand is clearly just content to enjoy the awesomeness of the moment.
This film was awesome and instantly earned a place in my top five favourite documentaries. I'd recommend it for anyone with an interest in rock music and why it sounds the way it does, and anyone learning to play guitar. The film doesn't just feature music from the three artists, their influences and inspirations are also given free reign, and it would be a soundtrack well worth picking up.
I left the theatre wanting to see more, and also wanting to go and resume trying to learn to play the guitar I have at home. It's that sort of film.