Up Close & Personal With Three Great Guitarists In “It Might Get Loud”

Like Kids at Christmas

So, yesterday, I finally got around to watching It Might Get Loud, a documentary that might have been the best of 2009, if not for Anvil! (despite what the idiots at the Academy Awards think). This documentary brings together three rock guitarists – Jack White, The Edge and Jimmy Page – for a conversation about how they started playing, what music means to them and some discussion about their techniques.

If you’re into rock bands or guitars, it’s an absolute delight to watch. There’s not that much actual music in it, but it is jam-packed with trivia and wonderful little stories about where songs were recorded, early gigs and first instruments. The Edge talks a good deal about  his fascination with hardware and effects – a conversation that’s interlaced with Jack White complaining about how music has become too dependent on computers and pedals and how it has become too easy for people to sound good. Whether or not that makes The Edge less of a musician is open to debate and there are lots of arguments to be made on each side. To be sure both he and Jack White are talented musicians. Unfortunately, for me, White comes off as being a bit pretentious, which is unfortunate, because he has added a lot to music over the past decade.

Then there’s Jimmy Page who, at age 64 when the movie was shot, still had all the swagger, moves and licks from his vintage Zeppelin years. Unlike some musicians of his age (or even younger), his fingerwork doesn’t seem to have slowed down a beat. One of the best scenes of the movie comes about halfway in when Page starts playing the opening riff from “Whole Lotta Love”.  Immediately, both White & The Edge get these wonderfully happy, ear-to-ear grins on their faces. The Edge moves around so he can see Page’s fingers work the neck a little better and you see on their faces that they’re just watching as fans, like you and me, appreciating one of the greatest guitar heroes of all time. It’s a very special moment.

Altogether, “It Might Get Loud” is a fascinating movie, for its insight alone. Director David Guggenheim (whose previous work includes a fictional account of the coming ice age, errr, global warming errr, climate change, errr, climate crisis) has done a great job weaving three very diverse stories together. The end product is a great homage to the contribution of several very talented guitarists and – even more so – a celebration of the electric guitar.

Don’t forget to watch the DVD extras, which include some deleted songs, a jam session or two and a wonderful discussion about strings. Buy at Amazon or rent at Netflix.

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What Is It With Short Guys & The Deaths Of Thousands?

No. 325 in a series of 1500
No. 325 in a series of 1500

Joseph Strauss was a short man, even for the standards of early 20th century America, standing just shy of five feet tall. Yet, he had big aspirations. Even as a young man, the first signs appearing as he graduated at the top of his class from the University of Cincinnati with degrees in both economics and business.

During his college years, he was hospitalized with a lingering illness that left him bed-ridden for weeks. Strauss had little to do besides read a book or look out the window at the Cincinnati-Covington bridge. It was in these long, boring days that Strauss developed a fascination for bridges.

Upon graduation, he went to work for a the pre-eminent bridge designer of the day, Ralph Modjeski, a pioneer of suspension bridges. It’s no stretch of the truth to say that Modjeski’s imagination and agile thinking allowed American cities to span distances thought impossible before Modjeski put pen to paper. He built more than three dozen bridges during the Industrial Revolution, including the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.

The Bay Bridge, connecting San Francisco and Oakland is an impressive feat of engineering, a double-decked behemoth, stretching nearly four and half miles from terminal-to-terminal and capable of handling whatever the San Andreas fault could dish out. It was impressive feat in engineering, let alone early 20th century construction.

But Modjeski’s marvel was quickly overshadowed by his student’s magnum opus. A scant six months later, Strauss dedicated the completion of his bridge across the bay with a poem he had penned himself. A shameless self-promoter, Strauss celebrated the Golden Gate bridge (and himself) in “Spanning the Impossible.” Continue reading “What Is It With Short Guys & The Deaths Of Thousands?”