So I just finished watching It Might Get Loud, and I have to start by saying that if you’re a rock guitar fan, you must see this documentary. Not should. Must.
As is the case with most movies I watch and love, I try to find negative reviews of it to try and figure out how someone could not like it. On occasion, doing so alters my opinion as I see what someone else caught and I missed. However, this time, the nay-sayers are just barking about how they don’t think Jack White should have been in that room with Page and Edge, and how it should have been more focused on the three-way discussion rather than individual histories. While the latter I can at least see, the former is so far off the point that I think it belongs in a Confused Matthew review. These three guys were here because they each represent a very different approach to rock guitar. It fascinated me how little their styles crossed over. There was no moment when I thought, “Oh, well these two are actually pretty much the same and this third one’s the odd one out.” No. Three different men of three different groups with three different philosophies about writing music and guitar playing. Brilliant.
Jimmy Page is a life-long musician. He started playing young, he was a studio musician early on, he craved more creativity, and that timed perfectly with the 1960’s rock movement and he became one of the most influential guitarists ever. His history was in skiffle and a little in the blues. He’s someone who pushes himself in complexity, in technique. He’s finding new ways to do things with notes, ways to bring new influences in to what he’s already done.
The Edge is essentially a computer geek. He builds his sound and builds ambiance with effects. The electric guitar is so versatile in its applications and its possibilities, and Edge is someone who recognized this early and created a new sound in the process. I’m actually shocked by the people in the negative reviews saying that he’s a bad guitarist. He’s anything but. He’s not a fancy fingerer, no. But he’s a great guitarist. It fascinates me how someone can do so much with so little; to have such a strong understanding of the electronics and the effects. He’s essentially playing pedals, and that’s not any less impressive.
Jack White is the one I ended up liking the most (though I did relate to The Edge more). He’s in this movie because he really does represent a third way to approach rock guitar. At the very beginning of the movie, he builds a 1-string electric guitar on an old piece of wood and plays it with a slide. He doesn’t drop a lot of money on his guitars, and prefers to struggle with his instrument to get it to do what he wants. If you’ve ever REALLY paid attention to the The White Stripes or anything else White has done, you would have noticed this about him. His favorite song is just Son House singing and clapping. The lesson is: don’t lean on technology and fancy bells and whistles to make your music for you.
The most clear common thread is how they all have seen things in popular music that they don’t like, and they’ve all embarked on careers that set out to be different from those things; something they’ve all three done, and Page and The Edge both changed rock and roll in the process.
Now please humor me as I dramatically shift gears and get into my personal reaction. It’s really inspiring to see how they’ve been so successful, all setting out to do what they love and refusing to do things the way everyone else in their respective times were doing them. When I’m immersed in what’s on the screen, I want to get rid of all my distractions and just figure out what the guitar is to me, and what I am to the guitar. I may not change the world, but I’ll make my mark. But then I remember that my mission is where God sends me; what I end up doing I will end up doing for him and because he called me to do it. All three of those guitarists set out on a “me versus the world” quest, and arguably conquered (or are conquering) what they set out to conquer; but it’s still a selfish quest. What’s next for James Page? More celebration of his career with Led Zeppelin and then death. That’s it. People still go on and on about Hendrix and Tupac, but they’re both still dead. Neither one of them can do anything else.
I’m not standing here alone with my six-string, heading out to climb atop the next hill with do-or-die in my heart. I love the guitar and I love rock music, and I wish my life could be based in music more, somehow. But my relationship with Jesus trumps all of that; the things he shows me and the things he asks of me are more treasured than anything I could accomplish on my own. And that fact is very comforting.
But make no mistake: as soon as I live somewhere that allows me to turn up an amp anytime I want, I’m going 100% analog.