3 Real Guitar Heroes

In “It Might Get Loud,” Jack White, The Edge and Jimmy Page let us into their very special place.

You want a power tool that moves hearts? Puts you right in the pocket? The place of bliss? The same ineffable zone people seek in prayer, meditation, binge drinking, sex and Ultimate Frisbee?

 

It’s called the electric guitar. And even though 99.9 per cent of us can’t actually play the thing, well, we can fake it pretty good on Guitar Hero.

The point isn’t that technology exists to make us feel like guitar rock gods. The point is how much we love to experience that state. We want to download the cool, compelling, connective power that can reduce audiences to worshipful mush. But Guitar Hero only gives us an approximation. And alas, we need talent and dedication to experience the exhilaration of playing the real guitar.  

That’s why “It Might Get Loud,” a documentary cum extended fanboy session with Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, The Edge of U2 and Jack White of the White Stripes seems to satisfy some deep collective need. We get the chance to interface with three musicians whose inspired fingers have changed people’s hearts. Whose daily lives are built around getting back into that creative zone, again and again. They do this by experimenting with riffs and chords, sounds and tones, knobs and Wawa pedals.   

They not only live in that special place. They’re going to tell us all about it.

They’re an odd trio, a sort of Easter Island collection of big headed statues with very idiosyncratic features. Page, the 1960s rock icon with his double-necked guitar, is now in his 60s, wizened, ponytailed and blessed with a puckery mouth in a fixed Buddha smile. He’s David Carradine with an English accent.

Edge (his real name, David Howell Evans) suggests Christian Bale auditioning for “Mission: Impossible 4” with that permanent stubble and skull cap. But his hard look softens as soon as he speaks about the music that moved him, or the layering of effects he puts on the simplest of chords.

And then there’s White, whose eccentric top hats, alabaster face and otherworldliness suggest a combination of  Oscar Wilde and Bud Cort in “Harold and Maude.” His obsession with reinterpreting his blues idol Eddie James “Son” House is boyishly endearing.   

Director Davis Guggenheim, whose “An Inconvenient Truth” documented Al Gore’s environmental lecture tour, intersperses concert footage (old Zeppelin concerts and U2’s South American tour) with visits to locations that mean something to each of the musicians. There’s Page in the Headley Grange recording studio where he created “Stairway to Heaven.” White takes us through Austin, Seattle and Nashville. And Edge tour-guides the camera crew through his old Dublin secondary school where he and some mullet haired friends had their first practice sessions.

 

All three musicians also congregate for a soundstage conversation and to compare stories and strums.  

Little by little, the movie pulls us deeper into the guitarist’s most privileged space: their relationship with their instrument and artistic sensibilities. We hear old stories, as Page revisits his evolution from session man to member of the Yardbirds and then Led Zeppelin. (Trivial Pursuit factoid: He played on the theme for “Goldfinger.”) We also watch Page play his best known riff — the one from “Whole Lotta Love” — with such enthusiasm, you’d think he came up with the chords that morning.

 

It's delightful to experience Edge’s deadpan humor as he points out how dull one particular chord would be, if he didn’t layer it with echo and reverb. For White, playing the guitar is really about fighting it. Subduing it. Wrestling with it. He has bloodstains on more than one of his guitars to prove it.

Do we learn anything deep about the human condition? Or the Muse? Well, maybe not. But there’s a glowy, folksy joy in just spending fanboy time with them. Listening to them. Share-reveling in their joy. 

 

The key word is connection — them with themselves and their guitars. Them with us. And all of us – artists on screen and audience watching — caught in the hypnotic ecstasy of the power chord.