Sunday, August 16, 2009

Guitar Heroes, or Why Linkin Park is Awful

As you can probably tell from the majority of the content here, I listen to music quite a bit, and I lean toward the rockin' end of the spectrum. I also really enjoy movies, despite my previous statements about their shortcomings. Taking those two facts into account (or was it three? I hate math), it should come as no surprise that this movie would be so appealing to me. It Might Get Loud, Davis Guggenheim's documentary about three guitar icons of the last forty years, came out Friday. Guggenheim, who directed An Inconvenient Truth and was a producer on Deadwood, has brought together Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds), The Edge (U2) and Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather), to talk about music, their history of playing the guitar, and to play to and with each other. In addition to an apparent attempt at an apocalypse of awesome, it also looks like a good film for any guitar buff, or just people who have ever loved any of the music these guys make. 

Count me emphatically in that last camp. For me, these three musicians represent three stages in the evolution of my musical tastes (after my younger days of Whitney Houston, Mike & The Mechanics, and all kinds of other random stuff that I'll not kill my credibility by mentioning). I grew up with a brother who was twelve years my senior, so by the time I was old enough to appreciate music even a little bit, he was already in his late teens and well into his formative years as a music fan; just being around him brought about an awareness of music at an early age. Daniel loved a lot of different bands, but I still remember the first time I heard U2's "Mysterious Ways" and The Edge's infectious lead part. Not that I thought of it in those terms at the time; it was more like "What is that neat sound?" I have no idea how to type out mouth guitar phonetically, so you'll just have to do it yourself (c'mon, you know you are), but that riff stayed with me, and soon he was playing me the album it came from, Achtung Baby, and their two previous efforts, Rattle and Hum and the classic Joshua Tree. U2 promptly fell off their collective ass with puzzling efforts such as Zooropa and Pop (the former including the strange single "Numb," sung by The Edge and leading to a video where he stares at the camera singing while being molested by feet, among other things), but no matter how much they've become a shell of their former selves they still have at least two fantastic records to their name, and I would argue that Rattle and Hum, with its hodgepodge of live material, covers and new songs, deserves to be right there.

U2 led into watching a lot of MTV, which led to my discovery of video shows like Alternative Nation and 120 Minutes, and as I got into grunge and other Nineties rock, I started to get interested in which bands my new favorites had been inspired by. Especially when it came to the grunge bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Screaming Trees, I realized that Led Zeppelin had been a major influence. Up to that point all I really knew of Zeppelin was that the local classic rock radio loved them, and there was a "Stairway to Heaven" joke in Wayne's World. I borrowed an anthology from someone, and was soon sucked in by Robert Plant's wail and especially Jimmy Page's guitar. Not being a musician, I can't speak to the technical aspect of what he did, or the effects he made popular, or anything like that, but I've listened to enough guitar to know greatness when I hear it, and he's one of the best. Led Zeppelin was one of the first 'hard rock' bands, but they were also capable of great beauty. The first two albums do indeed rock pretty hard, but then for their third try they took a mellower, more acoustic approach, Page's virtuosity adding sneaky depth to what sounded like simple, pleasant songs. My personal favorites are their fifth and sixth, Houses of the Holy and the double album Physical Graffiti; I defy you to listen to the bluesy "The Rover" and "Ten Years Gone" or the dirty boogie of "Trampled Under Foot" and not become a fan. Led Zeppelin don't have a weak album, and Page also has a live recording with The Black Crowes, Live at the Greek, which consists of Zeppelin covers in addition to other classics, and it's one of my favorite live albums.

Not long after my discovery of Led Zeppelin, a red and white-clad duo from Detroit broke onto the alternative music scene with songs like "Hotel Yorba," "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" and "Fell in Love with a Girl." In addition to the innovative videos, The White Stripes brought us the musical mad genius of Jack White. From the very beginning everyone could tell that Jack was a shredder, combining elements of punk, garage, blues, bluegrass and just about anything else he'd ever heard and melding it into catchy, immediate songs. The band was his brainchild, and thrived despite the simple (ok, poor) drumming of Meg White, Jack's former wife, because the songs themselves were so good. I know many of my friends had reactions that ranged from dimming enthusiasm to outright derision as the years went on, but while I wasn't quite as into them as I once was, I never failed to be excited when a new album came out, and the first few listens were always a thrill. Then Jack White made the best decision of his creative career, at least in my eyes: The Raconteurs. Joining up with fellow Michigan-based pop rock master Brendan Benson and the awesome rhythm section of The Greenhornes, White finally had a full band to play with, and the results have been outstanding. Broken Boy Soldiers, their debut album, is a mixed bag of very good songs and misfires, but the follow-up from last year, Consolers of the Lonely, would get my vote as a top ten record of the decade, and one of the best straightforward rock albums in a long time. The album starts with the white hot riffs of "Consoler of the Lonely," a song that surely owes a debt to Led Zeppelin without ever sounding derivative, and just accelerates from there. White sings with alternating lunacy and tenderness as needed, and Benson is an excellent foil as the other lead. I honestly cannot express strongly enough how much I love this album, but let me just say that since I bought it almost a year and a half ago I've listened to it dozens, maybe hundreds, of times, and I'm still just as excited as the first time through. Now, with his new band The Dead Weather releasing another instant favorite of mine, it's safe to say that my man-crush on White is reaching epic proportions, especially when you consider his love and appreciation for musical history. The chance to see him interact and conspire with those other two legends is one I'm excited for.

I think I've gushed enough, but I don't see how this documentary could be anything but good. It's playing at the University 6 in Irvine for at least this week; if anyone wants to see it with me, let me know. I promise not to repeat any of the (too) many words in this post!


Dan said...

I think there are 4 classic U2 albums. War, The Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. The studio material on Rattle and Hum is up there with the best of it as well but it's lost to a lot of people who don't give that album enough of a chance.

Hatfield said...

I have The Unforgettable Fire but not War . The former is good but not quite classic for me, depsite the presence of "Pride (In the Name of Love)," and the latter I've only heard a couple times. Honestly, U2 from before Joshua Tree just doesn't do much for me.

Dan said...

What I meant by classic was the band was at the peak of its creative powers. War was the culmination of their original sound. UF, JT, AB, Zooropa and Pop are all them trying new sounds. Though as you pointed out the last two are hit and miss in their track quality.

You'd probably like War though. It's arguably the most "rock" of all their albums.