January 10, 2010

If It's Too Loud, You're Too Old; plus, Son of In Rotation

Against my better judgement, I rented a copy of It Might Get Loud yesterday. I found it to be a charming, if inconsequential, little movie. If you think you might enjoy it, then pick it up. If it doesn't look interesting to you, take a pass. It won't dramatically affect you either way.

It Might Get Loud is a summit meeting of sorts between three generations of rock guitar gods: Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. The Edge is as you expect him: soft spoken and even tempered, ridiculously (and genuinely) humble in spite of his huge world-wide rock star status, and always smiling. Jack White, also as you would expect, does his best to live up to his provocateur status to sometimes cartoonish results. Jimmy Page, though, is the true revelation here: I was a fervent Led Zeppelin fan in my teen years, and over time consumed all kinds of articles, interviews, and videos about the band, yet Page reveals far more of his personality here than anywhere else I've seen.

Some points:

  • Page, far from being the dark, mysterious avatar of heavy metal cool he has projected in the past, is an aging music geek . . . and I mean that in the best possible way. One of the highlights of the movie is watching Page's crazy joy while he plays records for the interviewer - jumping up and down and giggling with glee as Link Wray's "Rumble" blasts through the speakers at ridiculous volume, playing air guitar along with every song on the phono (and this is Jimmy Page air guitar, mind you, so that left hand is going crazy) - and just how thoroughly he loses himself in the music. In the past, Page on camera has always seemed so aloof and distant, as if speaking out from under a hallucinogenic blanket. Here he is, at all times, actively engaged and often quite animated.
  • You always knew that The Edge was heavily dependent on effects, but the sheer scope of his sound setup surprised me. They moved his rig into the shoot site with a freaking forklift, for the love of god. He has a full time engineer to help him set up and run the rig. To his credit, he is very up front about his dependence on effects. I also like the fact that he neither defends nor apologizes for his effects mania: it's just another way of playing electric guitar.
  • The Edge has a really cool home studio that overlooks some body of water. I like that. The master of machinery also pulls out his old Fostex cassette four track to play old demos. That was my little piece of nostalgia.
  • It's so cute the way Jack White discovered the blues, as if no rocker before him ever discovered the blues. He makes a strong case for Son House as a gateway drug. His experience on this count mirrors mine, for it was Son House who really got me rolling on my blues journey. For White, the song was "Grinnin' in Your Face"; for me, it was "Death Letter Blues", from the same '65 sessions as "Grinnin'". By the way, if you have any interest in music at all, you need to have Son House's Father of the Delta Blues: The Complete 1965 Sessions. It's even on vinyl, if you swing that way. And, while you're at it, pick up this Son House/Bukka White video. It is, in my opinion, the single most stunning musical document on film. For years, I made everyone who visited my Brown county house watch this video.
  • Jack White also makes an argument for the superiority of cheap guitars, and anything in general that makes you work harder to make music. The theory is that if you have to fight to play guitar, your music will be better for the struggle. At one point in some Raconteurs live footage, the director zooms in on White's bleeding right hand as he plays a lead, and then shows the bloody Gretsch in all its glory after the set. Speaking as a bloody-handed guitarist who played cheap guitars with bad action for years, I'm not sure how I stand with this idea. I can't speak to how all the Silvertones and Kays affected my technique over the years (well, I can, actually - my left hand is like a vice, and not particularly nimble), but I do know that when I finally picked up a couple guitars with good action, I became a better guitarist. Not just a more technically adept guitarist, but better . . . against Mr. White, I would argue that playing with the guitar is better in the long run, though playing against the guitar has its charms as well. I very much sympathize with the thought, and I agree that smooth proficiency has nothing to do with rock -n- roll.
  • White was showing off a mod they made on one of his Gretchs, where a luthier added a bullet mic on a cable spool to the body of the guitar. Now he can just reach down and whip out the mic when he wants to howl instead of play. That is one of the goofiest mods I have ever seen. It also reminds me of John Belushi, samurai guitarist, where he had that SG with a gooseneck mic stand bolted to the body.
  • Oh, and while we're at it, Jack, it's a little disingenuous to talk about cheap guitars when you have all those Gretschs lying around.
  • The Edge may be the "sound" guy, but White shows the true beauty of the electric guitar with a collection of busted up Kays and Nationals going through that Silvertone Twin Twelve (which looks like it has been modified to a six sixes).
  • In spite of his rep as a "sound" guy, The Edge busted out some beautifully lyrical (if way too brief) slide on the "In My Time of Dying" jam.
  • White tried to keep up a punk rock exterior throughout, but when Page plugged in his Les Paul and started wailing away, White sat there like a grinning, gaping twelve-year-old with his jaw on the floor. Both he and The Edge appeared as if they were in the presence of a deity.
All in all a pleasant, if non-essential, little movie.

* * * * *

I've decided to revive the In Rotation series in this blog. Looking back, I kind of missed it when it went away. Should you care? I don't know. But, how about this: anyone who reads this should feel free to post their playlists in the "comments" sections of the posts.

In Rotation:

  • Morton Feldman: Rothko Chapel
  • The Mekons: early 7" singles
  • Lupe Fiasco: Enemy of the State mixtape
  • Black Flag: Everything Went Black & Live '84
  • Sun Ra: Myth Science Arkestra 2000 & Heliocentric Worlds Vol. 1
  • John Coltrane: Ascension
  • Albert Ayler: Live in Europe
  • Debussy: Nocturnes
  • Cecil Taylor Unit: s/t
  • Scrawl: Velvet Hammer
  • The Rolling Stones: Let it Bleed
  • Sol Hoopii: Master of the Hawaiian Guitar
  • Sun City Girls: Juggernaut & Kaliflower
  • LaMonte Young: The Well-Tuned Piano
That will do for now.


Rich R. said...

Thanks for reminding me about this movie. I saw a trailer a while back and thought it looked good as a guitar nerd. I remember the trailer showing the Edge playing a part with his full effects sound, then the same thing with just a clean signal.


Matt said...

I had just put this in my Netflix queue last week. I"m looking forward to checking it out. If you like this, definitely check out the bass equivalent - "Low Rising".
Lots of awesome players - Watt, Entwistle, Mechelle Ndegeocello, Joey Arkenstat (this dude's a trip), that dude from the Meters, lots of cool players

josh said...

Public Image Ltd Second Edition
Ornette Coleman The Shape of Jazz to Come
Shonen Knife Shonen Knife
Astrud Gilberto Compact Jazz: Astrud Gilberto
Astrud Gilberto Non-Stop to Brazil
Eliana Printes, et al Bossa Nova Nights
The Germs MIA: The Anthology

Thanks for the tip about the bass movie, Matt. I'm gonna watch both of these.

Matt said...

I should warn you about something I forgot about as I rewatched it last night: the film is made by Mike Gordon of Phish. It's good, but it's infused with a bunch of hippy dippy spirituality, which is a real drag. Example: he tries to get the "aura" of different players as they play - with an "aura cam". I'm not making this up. He does it with a straight face too. I still enjoy it though. Would love to hear your take.

josh said...


"Aura cam," that's priceless. I can't wait to see it. I'll definitely give you my take after I see it. Maybe I'll even write a review and try to talk Bill into posting it. ;)