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Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009

It Might Get Loud

Jack White’s Summit with Jimmy Page, The Edge

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Rock guitar gods were a product of the 1960s and Jimmy Page, who went on to reign over much of the ‘70s with Led Zeppelin, was an original member of the pantheon. By the time the Edge gained acclaim, punk rock had already questioned the efficacy of guitar gods. But if the ‘80s had a presiding spirit of guitar grandeur, the Edge defined it with U2. When Jack White came up in the rap-ridden ‘90s, even a guitar hero—much less a god—seemed anachronistic. But with the White Stripes and other groups, White has kept the restless ghost of rock’n’roll rattling at the edges of pop culture.

What if you brought these three together for a little conversation and a jam session? That was the idea behind It Might Get Loud, the fascinating documentary by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), but the scope of the concept broadened to embrace nothing less than the search for creativity and the meaning of artistic expression. Aside from the wide generational span, these three definitely do not look like they belong in the same band. With his long coat and ruffled sleeves, Page plays the Edwardian dandy; his watch cap pulled down over his hard features, the Edge resembles an enforcer from the docks; with his rumpled hat, vest and necktie, White suggests a Depression era vagabond. What they share is a love of music, specifically the electric guitar, and a sense that music saved them from a life without meaning, giving them the possibility to connect and share with the wider world.

They don’t actually play much together in It Might GetLoud, and the three-way discussions are widely spaced within an intelligently conceived zigzag between their separate histories, crisscrossing between their home environments, recollections of times past and archival scenes of bygone days. Most revealing is footage of Page as a wee lad in a skiffle band and an early, snarky new wave incarnation of U2.

They don’t share the same roots. White, the youngest, is most committed to olden times with the terrifying, dark force he finds in Mississippi Delta blues of the 1930s. Page, an omnivore, also loves the blues—and a hundred other things. The Edge has no discernable musical roots, but built U2’s vaulted cathedral of sound from a painterly sensibility, picking emotional colors from the vast palette of the electric guitar and an endless set of effects. In contrast, White disdains advances in technology, “the destroyer of emotion and truth.”

Punk, which rebelled against Led Zeppelin, was a spark for both the Edge and White. But that cultural struggle seems as distant now as the Crimean War. Despite their disparate past, the three guitarists prove to be amiable companions, trading riffs and reflections and finding at least one common point of origin—the will to escape from bleak places at bleak times into a world of community and creative expression.

It Might Get Loud opens Friday, Oct. 9 at the Oriental Theatre.

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