It Might Get Loud: Pump Up the Volume
“That scene is so gorgeous and fun, and it’s one of the very important heartbeats of the movie,” Guggenheim says. “We wanted to capture the love of craftsmanship. It would be the same thing if I had the chance to go back and interview da Vinci. I’d ask, ‘What made you want to paint?’ ‘What colors do you experiment with?’ ‘Does the process ever drive you crazy at times?’ ”
Guggenheim addressed similar questions to The Edge at the U2 guitarist’s private music room in Dublin. In the film, these inquiries provide a glimpse into the trials and errors that go into crafting U2’s sound.
Working on the riff that would eventually become the backbone for the group’s recent single, “Get on Your Boots,” The Edge seems both amused and frustrated. “Some days, there’s just nothing,” he says.
Elsewhere, the guitarist illustrates the importance that pedal effects have on his much-copied style by playing the riff to U2’s “Elevation” unplugged. It sounds simple, ordinary even, and The Edge admits as much. Then he pushes a few buttons, works the wah-wah, and viola!—a king-sized arena riff emerges from his amplifier. The music inside the technology, how machines can further a guitar’s possibilities—these are the things that make The Edge get up in the morning.
Guggenheim says, “I found The Edge very brave to lift the veil off his sound. You always hear these stories about guitarists who never want to show you how they do what they do. The Edge had no problem taking us inside his head. I think he’s pretty secure in the knowledge that nobody can do what he can do.”
As for Jack White, some of his sequences proved to be among the film’s strangest and, ultimately, the most moving. At one point, at a broken-down farmhouse in Tennessee, the guitarist builds an instrument on the spot. “We were talking about the blues and what people played before they had ready access to guitars,” says Guggenheim, “and Jack said, ‘A diddley bow.’ Right there, he found an old plank of wood, a Coke bottle, some wire, and he made this instrument that can just take your head off.”
Elsewhere in the movie, White instructs a child actor nickednamed Young Jack (a dead-ringer for the guitarist as a youngster) how to kick and stomp his way through the blues. “That kid really had it,” White says. But he refuses to refer to the child as an actor, insisting, “He’s me. He’s Young Jack. How cool is it to see me show myself how to play the blues? That’s the genius of Davis Guggenheim.”
But White’s most revealing sequence takes place in a ramshackle room of the farmhouse, when he puts on a copy of Son House’s “Grinning in Your Face.” As White gets lost in the track, his face softens, his eyes dance and a sense of wonder emanates from his entire body. Taking the record off the turntable, he says softly, “From the first time I heard that, it was my favorite song. Still is.”
To reveal the muses that helped shape the guitarists, Guggenheim takes each one back to the rooms and geographical surroundings of his youth: for Page they are Epsom, England, and Headley Grange, the 18th century former workhouse where Led Zeppelin IV was recorded; for the Ireland-bred Edge, Dublin and the high school where U2 formed; and for White, the gritty streets of his hometown, Detroit.
But the undisputed centerpiece of the movie is the three-man summit at a Los Angeles soundstage, during which the celebrated axmen swap stories, show off their instruments and do a little jamming. There is a hilarious bit in which The Edge instructs Page and White on the correct way to play “I Will Follow.” Calling out the changes to Page, Edge looks momentarily uncomfortable, as if he’s thinking, Who am I to tell Jimmy Page how to play guitar? But within moments, the three men make a massive sound.
The Edge and White don’t dare pick up their guitars when Page shows them how he chords “Whole Lotta Love.” The apprentices sit in awe as the sorcerer lays down the seismic riff that inspired millions to pick up the instrument. For a fleeting second, The Edge and White share sidelong glances, both undoubtedly thinking the same thing: How cool is this!
“I have to admit, I was thinking the same thing,” Guggenheim says. “Getting the three of them together was so important, but I was scared to death: Would they get along? Would they have anything to say to one another? What if only two guys hit it off and the third guy felt left out?
“But everything worked out beautifully. And yes, when you see Jimmy Page play ‘Whole Lotta Love’ right in front of you, you become 13 years old again. You’re in your room in front of the mirror, and you’re dreaming of being him one day. That’s there on the faces of The Edge and Jack White. It was on the faces of the crew. It was amazing. To me, the movie was in the can when we nailed that scene.”
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