Lately, it’s been a lot easier to stay in shape because we have moved a computer into our basement where I can watch Netflix while working out on the elliptical machine. This month, I watched two music documentaries while working out which were both about musicians that have influenced my love of music and my understanding of the guitar. It’s been an interesting study in the meaning of fame, success, popular art, and what it means to be a musician.
It Might Get Loud
This doc is records the meeting of 3 unique voices of guitar playing from 3 different generations: Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, The Edge of U2 and Jack White of the White Stripes. The scenes of there meeting is inter-cut with the stories of their past. This is a very entertaining, well crafted film that taps in on the romantic glorification of the artistic process. It makes you feel like the guitar is the coolest thing in the universe and that these guys are like demigods who walk among us. I loved to learn more about the history of Led Zeppelin and U2 because I have always been a fan of both bands. I could pass on White who the film seems to have to invent a mythology about him in order to make his short career (in comparison) seem to have more substance. Despite that, watch this film and you will believe that you too could learn the guitar, create a sound, make a band, and become a living legend. I have to say that I like that about the movie, because anything that gets kids playing music together is a good thing in my book.
You may or may not have ever heard of The Pixies, but this film is a record of the reforming of the band in 2004 for a reunion tour. The Pixies experienced a little success in their day, but they mainly are know for being a band that inspired Kurt Cobain and other “alternative” bands. For kids like me, Nirvana grabbed me as a teen, but The Pixies were much more meaningful. The Pixies broke up shortly after I started to be a fan, so I never had a chance to see them perform and they were never a band that showed up in a lot of press or on MTV so I knew very little about them. This film, in comparison to “It Might Get Loud”, was the more realistic perspective of what making music is like. The Pixies were a band of real people with real dysfunction and real lives. We see the band years after they were “rock stars” making a living like the rest of us. Frank Black, the lead singer, has a solo career, but he admits in the doc that everything he does as a solo act will be overshadowed by the legacy of the Pixies. Meanwhile, his band mates are just getting by. The drummer had given up music for magic performance, the guitarist scores films, the bassist is recovering from substance abuse. In the end you see that they made amazing music together, but their dysfunction was too much for them to handle.
It was really interesting to view these films back to back. I have to say that “It Might Get Loud” was more entertaining, but it was fantasy. It shows a “Guitar Hero” version of what it means to be a musician. My own experience is a lot more like The Pixies who are sinners looking for redemption in all the wrong places while living their normal lives of kids and paychecks. At the end of “loudQUIETloud”, the tour wraps up and the band goes their separate ways without any big reconciliation or new music to create. But, as the credits role, the film maker chooses to show a group of teens playing a Pixies song in their basement, one teen is a fan who was interview earlier in the film. She’s a girl who idolizes the bassist, Kim Deal. So, the message seems to be that The Pixies as a band no longer exists, but there music is now inspiring others to jump in and make their own music. Ultimately, I believe that this is the real quality and content of art. That it feeds and expresses the emotional life of a community and then perpetuates itself in future generations. “It Might Get Loud” obviously does the same thing, but with a little more glam and sparkle that distances the rest of us from the Olympian gods.