Monday, December 31, 2007

The Zeppelin Re-Inflates...

It has been a long time since they rock and rolled...not counting the Live Aid and Hall of Fame performances, it's been almost three decades since they broke up.

But on December 10th, the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin, with deceased drummer John Bonham's son Jason on drums, played what was apparently a fantastic show at London's O2 Arena...and there are rumblings around the world that the re-formed biggest, baddest, crudest, most shameless hard rock band in history is considering a world tour. It could very well be the biggest world tour ever.

And for every music critic with a safety pin jammed through his cheek rolling his eyes over this (though I notice that virtually everyone these days gives Zeppelin its due), there are probably ten thousand people who would consider selling their grandmothers into slavery to go see them. After all, Led Zeppelin...well, they weren't Herman's Hermits, were they? They weren't the Yardbirds. They weren't even the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones may have started out as a blues band, but they are, and have been since very early on, a pop band in the truest sense of the word. Heck, even GOP presidential hopeful - and ordained Christian minister - Mike Huckabee cites Keith Richards as his favorite guitarist. And we're not even mentioning Margaret Trudeau and Truman Capote and Captain Jack Sparrow...

But Led Zeppelin was never like that. Like all great cults, they never really made it into the mainstream, for all sorts of reasons. One reason was this: it is almost true to say that Led Zeppelin hardly had any real "songs". When you think of a classic rock "song", you think of "Can't Get Enough of Your Love" by Bad Company, or "Alright Now" by Free, or "China Grove" by the Doobie Brothers: there was a verse, and then a chorus, and then a verse, and then a chorus...maybe a bridge or breakdown...then a verse, and a chorus. Or something very similar. These songs are taut. They stick to classic song structure.

But the funny thing about Zeppelin is how often their "songs" are slightly - or greatly - skewed. "Whole Lotta Love", for example, obviously very much has a chorus, but it also has somewhere around a minute of bizarre sound effects, with no melody or chords right where a bridge should be. Songs like "Communication Breakdown", "Ramble On", and "Good Times Bad Times" have big choruses, true; but so many of Zep's classic rock radio station staples - "The Ocean", "Stairway to Heaven", "Black Dog", "Trampled Underfoot", "Over the Hills and Far Away", "When the Levee Breaks", "Kashmir", "Four Sticks", "Houses of the Holy", "The Wanton Song", etc. - just don't really bear any real resemblance to "normal" songs at all. There are no choruses. There is no real song "structure". Often the lyrics veer into inanity, or childish crudity, or self-importance, or are incomprehensible.

So, whereas any bank teller could immediately relate to "Honky Tonk Woman" or "Last Time" or "Satisfaction", virtually NO bank teller could relate to "Dazed and Confused". It's just too damn weird. You almost need something wrong with you to get sucked into the Led Zeppelin vortex...because you have to be, I suppose, fairly susceptible to a certain form of mesmerism.

Yeah, mesmerism. Hypnotic trance. Deep, vivid, sensory hallucination. You have to be able to hear "The Battle of Evermore" and...start to get glimpses of a cloudy sky...with arrows shooting across it...and stone castle walls...and ancient soldiers wearing dark grey armor and scarlet tunics...and you've got to smell the pungent, medieval earth...and you have to long so much to be able to go back in time and really be there during some ancient battle, that you often can hardly stand to be confined to your own time and have to live with a permanent ache that you can only ever get glimpses, and that maybe, you don't entirely belong to your own era...

Like I said, you gotta be unbalanced in a way.

Gotta go to bed - WAY more to come on this.



Eight Hour Lunch said...

Zeppelin is one band I just can't get enough of. That could be compounded by the fact that when I was devoutly LDS I was afraid to listen to them very often.

Re-discovering them in my mid-thirties was like stumbling on chocolate for the first time. Chocolate with crack, mind you, but you get the idea.

erlybird said...

Yeah, Tal...I see what you are saying. I can't wait to hear more and I get all I need from LZ now that they have their own station on XM Radio. Proves I was never really LDS, doesn't it? Since I was never afraid to listen to them...backwards even.

I always liked what they did on Animals but I think my favorites were Atom Heart Mother and Wish You Were Here.

Heh heh.

No, Wait...I think I would have to go with Close to the Edge as my favorite.

Tal said...


Not sure I get your jokes...

Can you explain them to me? Those are Pink Floyd records.

erlybird said...

Sorry, Tal.

I was stretching it a bit there. My point is that I think if you consider Pink Floyd and Yes you will find at least two examples of bands that did not write formula songs very often. As much as I loved those groups in my youth I don't find myself whistling their songs very much. At least Pink Floyd's lyrics meant something though, with Yes and LZ it was anyone's guess.


Melissah said...

The new year.

I was just confronted with the fact that I am slightly messed up and that is why I find comfort in strange things and sing about death and find appeal in stories of warfare and heroes, But I was also told not to be upset so much by the fact that I am a freak.

One of my best friends said that the greatest thing I ever told them was that I was glad they came around so I would be looked at as the freak anymore. Mostly, I was glad to not be the biggest freak. and share a bit of mt spotlight instead of acting like a dear frosen in place.

I won a true friend and deeper understanding through my freakish honesty, though. He, last night, tried to explain in various parables or anecdotes how being so weird is a good thing, though hard to deal with. People like Einstein, Morrissey, Tim Burton, Jesus and even many great and even popular bands before the birth of their greatness endured much misunderstanding. "no man cam be a prophet..." that I could understand. its not how muchground you cover but where you're headed.

So anyway, I pasted you comment about epplin being a bit of a weirdo. I really appreciated it. just another comment to add to my collection of ideas forming into a great thought, maybe even an original one! though that might be too hopefull, strangely enough.

also, I think I should share this blog with him, because he loves everything music or artsy. And considers himself a critic for the masses. But I wonder how a weirdo could be critical for those he is not on the same page as, oh well.

Sorry I didn't praise or name drop more. I'll try better next time, but not this year. My plans are bursting at the seams already, not much room for new thoughts.