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THE BIG PICTURE

Jack White, Jimmy Page and the Edge talk shop

The guitar heroes of 'It Might Get Loud' explore their craft and their origins.

August 28, 2009|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Whether they're nuclear physicists, poets or archaeologists, it's always fascinating to put people who practice the same craft together in the same room and get them talking. That's pretty much the concept behind Davis Guggenheim's new film, "It Might Get Loud," which is playing in New York and L.A., then heading to 12 more cities on Labor Day weekend. Instead of interviewing astronauts or molecular biologists, Guggenheim chose three world-class guitarists -- Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White -- who not only play some wonderful music together but ponder their place in the world as well.

The movie is full of sly humor and oddball personal revelations. White, who worked as an apprentice in an upholstery shop, made one of his first records as a member of an obscure Detroit band called the Upholsterers. Page, who for years was rockdom's dark prince of black magic and self-indulgence as the maestro of Led Zeppelin, spent years as a young studio hired hand, handing out a business card that read: "James Patrick Page -- Session Guitarist." (He even played on Shirley Bassey's 1964 hit, "Goldfinger.")

Not only do the guitarists have totally different musical styles, but they have entirely different looks. In a bow tie and bowler hat, using a hammer and nail to build a makeshift guitar, White has the air of a frontier tradesman in a Mark Twain story. With his black skullcap, goatee and intense dark eyes, the Edge looks like a jewel thief from a Guy Ritchie movie. Page, who's now 65, is the most elegant of all. Sitting in the back seat of a town car, with his long white hair, black frock coat and ramrod-straight bearing, he looks like a distinguished London barrister on his way to court.

Of course, their real passion is music, which constantly makes its presence felt in the film, whether it's Page playing air guitar to his favorite old Link Wray instrumental or White being transported when he hears the Son House Delta blues tune that changed his life. As White says in the film: "When you dig a little deeper in rock 'n' roll, you're on a freight train straight to the blues." But what fueled the passion that drove these artists to such heights? I wanted to hear more about their formative years -- the years before they were such familiar legends. Who inspired them? What shaped their love for music? What obstacles did they overcome? What pitfalls have they avoided?"

Here are some excerpts from my interviews with the three guitar heroes at the center of "It Might Get Loud."

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The Edge: U2 met in high school at Mount Temple, which changed our lives. We'd rehearse every day after school in a classroom after we first cleared away all the desks to the side. It's about 3 1/2 miles from the Dublin city center in the northern suburbs. There were both well-to-do and tough working-class areas nearby, so we got to mix it up with kids from all sorts of different economic backgrounds, from kids whose dads were professionals to kids whose dads might've been in jail. We were in the right place at the right time. Punk rock had come along when we were very impressionable and we all came to the conclusion, despite scant evidence that we had any real talent, that this was what we wanted to do with our lives. We just grabbed it and said, "That's it. We can do this!"

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Jack White: I'm the youngest of 10 kids, and my mother was the youngest of 10 kids too. I'm still trying to figure out how it influenced me. All I know is, growing up with all those other brothers and sisters, it was like having 10 parents. I'm not sure what was a positive about it and what was a negative, but I know it definitely gave me a level of drive and ambition. I certainly wasn't always going to be a musician. In fact, when I was 14, I got accepted into the seminary in Wisconsin. I was ready to move, but at the last minute, I decided to go to public school in Detroit, just to get some more experience in life. I never had the pull toward the seminary again. But I guess I've always had this sense of unwilling leadership -- that it was my job to get up on a soapbox and have something to say. If you listen to the history of music, you could argue that it's not that much different, preaching or playing music. It's usually all the same topics.

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