Saturday, January 26, 2008

Culinary Crimes, Part One (One Man's Crusade Against Evil)

Somewhere along the line, paprika became the culinary equivalent of teal in the late 80's: a gaudy, vulgar, embarrassing affectation mistaken by the hopelessly middle-class for some mark of sophistication and upper-class élan. How did this happen? What cook came up with the idea of finishing off his dish at the Middle Class Family Restaurant, by dumping paprika all over everything? And why did anyone ape him? Why did anyone think he knew anything?

And if dumping paprika all over dishes which have NOTHING to do with paprika wasn't unforgivable enough, not mentioning the paprika dump on the menu must be. You never know anymore when that prime rib, or veal cutlet, or three cheese omelette, or fish and chip plate, is going to show up at your table with that rotten orange powder all over everything. So now, out of a sense of justice, culinary sense (I like to imagine), and because I hate the stuff, I immediately send everything back which has the paprika dump, and then I deliver a cutting two minute speech to the manager or waiter about why they should respect paying, hungry customers by telling them ahead of time that the dish they ordered will have weird crap that totally alters the taste dumped all over it - and "why do you dump the stuff on there anyway?", etc.

Reactions vary. One guy said once, "they do that to add color". (WTH?) I'm like, "Color?! What about the TASTE? Would you spread tomato paste or blue tempera paint all over everything just for 'color'?". Another lady, at an otherwise nice Greek restaurant, said, "I don't know why the cook started doing that. And I've told them a million times to put it on the menu, but they won't". I heard something similar a few months ago here in Victoria when my perogies and sausage showed up showered in the loathsome dust. I rolled into my speech, and the waitress - SORRY, "server" - said that she had told the managers to announce it on the menu repeatedly, as more and more customers had been sending the "Paprika Surprise!" dishes back ("let us begin the revolution, comrades!"), but that they hadn't changed it yet. (In any case, they did make me up another plate of [untainted] perogies and sausage, so - deo gratias - I was able to calm down...).

But what about a high-class culinary crime? What about...(shudder)...the rejection of big, sloppy, gloriously sinful chocolate cake by high-falutin' restaurants all over the place? For going on a decade now, the chocolate "cake" these pretentious tombs serve has been getting drier, harder, denser, and tinier. It's like the Big Bang in reverse or something. (There's something really wrong when you need a STEAK KNIFE to cut a piece of your chocolate cake). Where is the AIR, people? Where is the FUN? Where is the SAUCE? Where is the MOIST, MELT IN YOUR MOUTH FROSTING? Where is the OOOOOOZE?! ("Hallelujah"). "Where is the LUSCIOUS, PEOPLE?!" ("Amen!"). "WHERE IS THE LUUUUUV IN YO' CHOCOLATE CAKE, BRUTHAS AND SISTAHS?!" ("Amen, Lawdy!").

All that stuff is gone now, not just in the high-end joints, but even in many middle class pubs and diners. We are experiencing a veritable apostacy from the one, true chocolate cake. All you can get now in most restaurants is something resembling a miniature hockey puck, which tastes vaguely like one of those little Ex-Lax wafers your grandma used to eat (and is getting to be about the same size [as the Ex-Lax wafer, not your grandma, that is]). About the only place you can still get True Chocolate Glory (TCG) anymore is at Denny's, or low-end mom and pop family restaurants which are so "out of touch" they've never even heard they're not "supposed" to be serving it anymore.

There IS hope, however. For years, mashed potatoes were abandoned by fine restaurants around North America (what idiots these people are....) Now, everyone has them. So maybe the fancy places will get their Choco-Mojo back on soon. It doesn't hurt to hope.

Please add your nominations for culinary crimes in the comments section. Together, we can destroy these monstrous expressions of evil BEFORE THEY DESTROY US.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Knower

The most striking moment in the recently released Tom Cruise Scientology video (see it on comes about five minutes in, where Cruise laments his inability to, say, frolic mindlessly on vacation, because he "knows". Just what does Tom Cruise know?

It is no good looking for any explicit answer to this question in the video itself - Cruise is - almost unnervingly - nearly incoherent through much of it, leaving sentences unfinished, speaking in the vaguest terms, jumping instantly from topic to topic, etc. But from the context and other remarks in the video, it seems that what Cruise thinks he knows is just how the world really is. Mindless frolicking is out of the question because his special knowledge about the true state of the world imposes on him the obligation to eschew idleness and help redeem the world from its impurity; or as he might put it, from its overabundance of "SP"s (Scientology-speak for "suppressive personalities").

This is what Cruise thinks he knows. But what does he really know?

I suggest that the most Cruise can know is that Scientology has "worked" for him (which is to say, that he likes Scientology); and that it has worked for others (that is, that others like Scientology, too). But that is only what everyone already knows. In short, what Tom Cruise really knows, is hardly anything at all, and nothing that any normal eight year-old couldn't instantly grasp. His actual knowledge can be summed up like this: "Scientologists like Scientology". (Or, if you like, "Scientology has worked for Scientologists", or "Scientologists believe in Scientology").

But here is something that Tom Cruise doesn't know, but which he thinks he knows: that "Scientology will work for everyone". This conclusion comes from the following (invalid) inference. We could call it the Fanatic's Inference:

P1.) X (Scientology in this case) has worked for me;
P2.) X has worked for others;
C.) Therefore, X works (for everyone).

And implied in this invalid inference is another invalid inference (call it C2): that if Scientology doesn't "work" for someone, it means that that person didn't really give it a proper chance, or wasn't really sincere to begin with. There is yet another implied invalid inference here (C3): "Therefore, X (Scientology) is all it claims to be (X is 'true')".

The point is that neither C, nor C2, nor C3, follow from the premises, and so they cannot constitute knowledge. It is, in fact, perfectly possible that X (whatever it may be) can rescue someone from drug addiction, or an unhappy marriage, or suicidal depression, or anything else, and yet not do anything for others with different natures, goals, and experiences. It is also perfectly possible that X be a fraudulent claim, salutary effects notwithstanding. For example, we might tell an ill-behaved child that if he obeys, Santa Claus will fly from the North Pole and give him lots of presents - and the story might very well "work": Johnny will change his behaviour, and find his life much improved as a result. But this doesn't mean the Santa story is true. Indeed, it only worked because it wasn't true. It was a fiction calculated to appeal to certain aspects of Johnny's nature: acquisitiveness, for example. So Johnny might "know" that his life has improved (after all, he's now getting smiles instead of frowns, and treats instead of time-outs), but that's pretty much it. He doesn't have "special" knowledge at all.

So, that Scientology has "worked" for Tom Cruise - whatever that may mean in his particular case - cannot validly lead to the conclusion that it will "work" for anyone else, nor to the conclusion that ex-Scientologists weren't sincere about improving or weren't intelligent enough to understand Scientology, nor to the conclusion that L. Ron Hubbard's stories about an alien dictator named Xenu who, 75 million years ago, presided over "The Galactic Confederacy", are true.

And this means, I suggest, that Tom Cruise doesn't actually know what he thinks he knows, by any stretch; and by extension, that he doesn't bear the burden of redeeming the world through Scientology that he thinks he does.

And of course, that means that he might as well go ahead and enjoy his vacations, guilt free.

I know you're sincere, Tom - but honestly, you don't need to worry about us or 75 million year old dictators from outer space. Go forth and...mindlessly frolic!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"Leave Britney Alone!"

If you're one of the four people left on earth who hasn't done this yet, go right now to YouTube and punch in "Chris Crocker Britney", or else "Leave Britney Alone!". Certainly, this is one of the funniest YouTube videos ever - right up there with the DEA agent shooting himself in the leg during a gun safety demonstration and the fat guy miming to the Romanian dance song.

But the weird thing is's weird hysterical transvestite fan is, uh...pretty much spot-on: the schadenfreude demonstrated by all of us in our Britney obsession is now so perverse, it seems almost to be bordering on the joy ancient Romans felt watching human beings ripped apart and eaten by lions or something. I bet that if the messed-up Britney announced that she would kill herself live on YouTube tomorrow at exactly 6 PM EST, that we'd all tune in. And certainly we'd all watch, if we could, the footage of some paparazzo running her into a concrete median in a tunnel and her dying in the crash. We can't get enough. The mess of a girl is in every magazine, newspaper, and TV news show, and the more horrific or bizarre or sad the story, the more we love it; but the real story is ourselves - how our insatiable appetite for the ongoing tragedy of one girl's life has laid bare some of the most grotesque qualities of human nature.

And by the way, what kind of flake is Dr. Phil, visiting her in hospital and then blabbing all about how nuts she is to everyone? What kind of "friend" is that? She needs HELP, you idiot - not one more guy trying to cash in on her. HELP. Is everyone nuts?

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm going to be trying to maintain my own little boycott from now on of the Britney story, and send as many good thoughts her way as I can. She's one sad, messed-up girl.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Friend Lost

Once, I was friends with super-producer Bob Rock (with whom I co-produced my Columbia Records CD), and now I'm not. I feel sad about this, not least because as far as I know, there's no reason why we shouldn't still be buddies.

And when I am honest with myself, I suppose I feel sad most of all for selfish reasons. You see, the last four years have been the most tumultuous of my life, and often I've wanted to talk to another guy about being the father of so many children, how to handle certain wife issues, child discipline issues...and for a few reasons, I can't talk to Dad about those sorts of things. I've often wished my granddad was still alive so I could talk to him, but he died fourteen years ago. I've wanted to talk to Bob most of all - he's the only other guy I think who would understand things. (He has seven kids and has been through a few wars with them, but managed to keep things pretty together). seems, he doesn't want to talk.

I first found out there was a problem when I returned a phone call of Marc Reiter (of Q Prime Management, my then managers) a month or so after the 2000 Juno Awards (Canadian music awards). After a bit of chit-chat, Marc said, "Tal, you really ought to call Bob. He's pretty upset about this Juno thing".

"What Juno thing?", I said.

There was a pause.

"Come on...", said Marc.

"What do you mean, 'come on'? What are you talking about?". I felt my throat constricting.

"You're trying to tell me you don't know?"

"What are you talking about?"

Well, the story he told was this. Evidently, when the presenter at the recent Juno Awards ceremony (which I didn't attend and didn't see on TV) announced the winner of the producer of the year award (which Bob and I won), he or she didn't announce Bob's name at the podium - only mine. (To this day, I don't even know if that's true, but that was the story). Supposedly, the Juno people told Bob's manager Bruce Allen afterward that the reason they only announced my name, was that I had called up the Juno committee prior to the awards and demanded that the award be given only to me. And now, Bob was upset that I had backstabbed him by trying to steal his glory!

"WHAT?", I exploded.

The skepticism in Marc's voice when he asked again, "You're telling me you don't know an-y-thing about this? Not even a bit?", still stings when I think about it.

I hung up with Marc, grabbed my cellphone and jumped into the car to pick up my kids from school in Langley (BC).

I dialed Bob's house. His wife Angie answered the phone. "Bob's just leaving", she said.

"Angie", I said. "I just heard this totally insane story from Marc Reiter about the Junos...have you heard anything about it?". I was hoping she'd say no.

"Actually, yes".

"Okay - Angie - I don't know anything about this at all. I have to talk to Bob. Can you get him? This is important".

After a few minutes of dead air (turns out cellphone calls from BC to Maui are pretty expensive :P), I heard a click-clack and then a gruff-sounding Bob.


"BOB - I just got off the phone with Marc Reiter and he told me you think I somehow arranged to get our Juno just for myself or something. It's-"

Bob interrupted. Still very gruff, very low voice. "I thought we were friends".

"Bob - listen - I don't know ANYTHING about this. This is totally insane. I didn't even know when the ceremony was. I only found out about that we'd been nominated because I read it in the paper! I've never talked to anyone at the Junos and I'm PROUD that we both did the album - it couldn't even cross my mind to claim the award for myself. I don't know anything about this, really".


"I was really surprised you would do something like that".

What the...?

I tried to calm myself.

"Okay", I said, breathing deeply. "Let me ask you a question: Why do you think I could have gotten the Juno committee to not give you your award, when we're both listed as co-producers on the CD? It's absurd".

"Because you're a Bachman in Canada", he said.

That got me a bit riled.

"I've had one hit in Canada! That's nothing! Listen - if you and your co-writer get nominated for song of the year, you can't call up the Grammys and say, 'hey, I want the award all to myself, so just give it to me alone'. It's totally crazy! How could you guys even believe this? You guys have been in the music business for like twenty five years! It doesn't make any sense. If someone forgot to announce your name at the Junos, it was probably some printing error on the card or something".

More silence, and then:

"Like I said, I thought we were friends".

"BOB - what I'm saying is, I DIDN'T DO THIS AND I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT. That's the whole point! We ARE friends and it couldn't even occur to me to do something like that...".

But for whatever reason, Bob didn't seem to really hear me.

Well, I have to say that I felt pretty stung that both Bob, and evidently, the guys at my own management company, could have so swallowed such a cockamamie story, and imagined I was so petty...I kept wondering, "What is it about me that would make them think that? I must not be the kind of guy I like to imagine I am".

So the next thing I did was have a couple of people at Q Prime call the Juno committee (called CARAS) directly to try to get to the bottom of everything. Within days, I'd received a faxed copy of the original Sony submission form, which - of course - listed both Bob and me as co-producers of the album, and a letter of apology from the head honcho at CARAS saying that the error had apparently originated in their publicity department. I immediately faxed copies to both Bob's studio in Maui and to Bruce Allen's office in Vancouver. But...they didn't fax or call back. Hm.

Well, I called up Bruce Allen at home that Sunday to talk to him about it. He said to call him at his office the next morning. "What time?" I said. "Ten", he said, then hung the phone up.

The next morning at ten I called up Bruce's office to just make sure he and Bob had gotten the material from CARAS and were clear about everything...but do you know, that when I called, Bruce wouldn't take my call? "Bruce is busy", said his assistant, Sandy.

"Uh, okay. When should I call back?"


"What time?"

"Ten", she said.

The next morning at ten I called again. Sandy put me on hold, then came back on a few minutes later and said, "Bruce is busy".

"When should I call back?"


"What time?"


Wednesday at ten I called back...but...(surprise)...Bruce wouldn't take the call. I don't know if he was embarrassed that it hadn't had anything to do with me when he'd been running around telling everyone it did for six weeks, or what...but, he never would take my phone call. This is the same guy who I'd chummed around with just a couple of months earlier at a Christmas party, who came to my wedding reception, who I've known since I was five, who I'd talked to on the phone, with whom I'd discussed the possibility of him managing me...and so, we haven't spoken since. (I found out later that Bruce had been slamming me week after week on his CFOX radio show!).

Well, all I could do after that was write a letter to Bob and Bruce, which I faxed to them, just trying to clear things up...but again, no response I've since left a few phone messages for Bob, sent an email...but Bob's never spoken to me since.

The only thing I can think of that I might have done to ruin things was this. When I had my first meeting at Q Prime Management (early 1999, almost a year prior to the Juno fiasco), I was very desirous that they would take me seriously as a songwriter and musician and producer (after all, quite a few journalists and industry execs up till then had seemed to think I was only a company creation, and I wanted to really make my mark as a musician; I wanted Q Prime to help me get producing gigs - it's something I always thought would be fun to try). So, I made a point of telling the Q Prime guys during that first meeting that I really had co-produced my album - that the co-production wasn't just an idle credit. So, I mentioned that I'd arranged a lot of the material, played a lot of it, and that I thought I could help other artists as a producer or co-producer, etc. And...maybe I either came on too strong that day, or what I said was exaggerated before being repeated to either Bob or Bruce, or both, at some point by someone at Q Prime, as if I'd meant to say that Bob hadn't done anything at all on my album. Heck, I don't know.

What I do know is that Bob's reputation as a world-class producer is well-deserved, and I'll always feel grateful I had a chance to spend five months in Maui recording down there with him. It was a fun, challenging, and educational experience. We had a lot of laughs.

For years, I stuck up for Bruce Allen when I heard others tell stories like the one above. I guess I couldn't really believe them, and I probably wouldn't even now but for this happening. It's really made me wonder...

There have been a lot of times over the past four years I really wish I could have talked to Bob about all those things we used to talk about: being a dad, being a husband, trying to teach your kids right from wrong, how to even tell right from wrong in a lot of cases...but I guess those days are over.

Monday, January 7, 2008

In Search of Art

What is art?

No idea, really - though I think it would take an extremely expansive conception of "art" to make the term cover anything I've ever done. But maybe, one way to think about art is this:

Maybe it is the revelation of things that were there all along - even the most important things that were there all along - but which we hadn't noticed before (like a microscope or a telescope, or "X-ray vision might do); and maybe also it can be the creation of a kind of an alternative "world" which is intelligible to us, yet unlike any other world with which we are familiar in its "rules" and norms. Just a few examples...

On this depths of insight business...what about Tolstoy? I do think that "Anna Karenina" is probably the greatest novel ever written - the insights into the minds and souls of each character ring so true, that reading it is almost overwhelming. The day I finished reading it was one of the saddest days of my life. (Homer is another author who perfectly captivates you, and blows your mind with just how deeply and truly he explores human nature...How could these authors have been mere humans?).

Or, what about the paintings of Norman Rockwell? (Cue reverie) I used to spend hours staring at his paintings, collected in a coffee-table anthology, as a kid, just savoring the whole "story" I could imagine behind the scence..and I always felt like I knew just what had happened leading up to the scene, just how the characters were feeling, and what would happen after...

There are so many insightful, enriching Rockwell paintings - ones that seem to "deepen" you instantly. What about "Girl at Mirror"? Isn't that perfect? Doesn't that just totally give you a sense of what it must be like to be a girl at that age, experiencing those first inklings of womanhood and insecurity and wonder? What about "Breaking Home Ties"? Or "New Kids in the Neighborhood", painted during the first wave of American racial integration? Art critics hardly paid any attention to Rockwell at a time when they were wetting their panties over vainglorious garbage from the likes of Mark Rothko, Sol LeWitt, and Barnett Newman, and it's really a shame. Thank God in the past fifteen years he has finally gotten his due from contemporary critics (the old cranks all had to die out first, obviously. Good riddance!).

What about the other criterion: an unfamiliar, even strange world, with rules and norms unlike any we know, but which are intelligible, or even comforting, to us?

One classic example of this for me is Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" - though perhaps it takes early exposure, as with language, to develop a real grasp of the thing. There is something completely bizarre, when you think about it, about a beagle as a World War I flying ace, a talking school building, or a kid (Charlie Brown) developing a rash on the back of his head in the shape of baseball stitches, making sense to us. Yet they do make sense, like so many other strange little features of the strip...things make sense in that world, that really don't make sense anywhere else - and we don't even notice, so fluent do we become in that world. Even the humor only works within the bizarre context of the strip.

Other examples come to mind: a lot of the Queen stuff, for one trivial example. "Bohemian Rhapsody" - who else could have pulled it off? From who else would something that bizarre have "made sense"? What about the lyrics of Morrissey? Certainly with "The Smiths", Morrissey created a whole little cosmos of morality and meaning - senses of irony and tragedy and comedy and right and wrong and love and hate, that seemed coherent and believable in that world.

What about the poetry of William Blake? Even leaving aside the freak-out mythology of "The Four Zoas", the poems in "Songs of Innocence" and "Songs of Experience" form an intoxicating world unto themselves...and when we emerge from it back into the real world, we are never quite the same. (Who could be after reading about his "little black boy" [the chimney sweep], or his "poison tree", or his little lambs and burning tigers?).

Something similar happens in Wes Anderson movies. "The Royal Tennenbaums" doesn't have one character in it which acts anything like any human I've ever known; yet they are all immediately intelligible...and just..."make sense" on their own terms, and within the skewed "world" of the movie. But in no other. And I love it.

Wait a second - is anyone actually reading this?

Gotta crash,


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Is America Ready for a Black or Female President?

Is America ready for a black, or female, president?

I'd like to answer that with another question: Why do media commentators keep asking this stupid, insulting question? American voters - male, female, and of whatever race - have been voting for years for black or female (or both) candidates: for city council, for school board, mayor, for state senate, for governor, for the House of Representatives, for the Senate...but somehow, the fact that there's never been a black or female president of the United States strikes media commentators as slamdunk evidence of "racism" and "chauvinism".

I'd like to propose another theory: the United States has never had a black or female president because hardly any blacks or females ever run for president (or higher office, for that matter) - and those that do run for president, seem unsatisfactory for reasons entirely unrelated to their sex or race.

Let's take the three most promiment losing black candidates for president over the past twenty years: Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Alan Keyes. Jackson is a (fake) "Christian" minister with a few mistresses on the side (to one of which at least he was funneling his tax-free "donations" as hush money), who has a problem with Jews, who actually makes his money as an extortionist. While he did serve as DC's "shadow senator", I don't think Jackson's ever even run for city council anywhere, let alone established a legislative track record as one. He simply has done nothing to reassure anyone he could be entrusted to ethically manage a Little League soccer team, let alone preside over the United States. He's a huckster, not a president, and most people - black and white - recognize that.

Al Sharpton was the unnamed standard in Joe Biden's comment that Barack Obama was "clean". The dude looks like he hasn't bathed since the Tawana Bradley fiasco. Not necessarily a disqualification for president, but...let's say twenty years worth of Afro-sheen and Royal Crown and God knows what else mouldering and fermenting in that pompadour ain't doing him any favors in the image department. Superficial I know, but...this is a television age. More importantly, the guy's never held elective office. He himself has claimed that he often doesn't run to win, only to "raise the profile" of some issue or other (like himself). Or rabble-rouse. Or pimp. He just...hasn't given anyone any reason to believe he's a serious political candidate. Who could vote for him?

Alan Keyes at least has a Ph.D. in political philosophy, but - what can I say? He can't shut up. Everytime he appears in a debate he appears irritatingly strident, disrespectful of the debate standards and the other candidates, and like the others, has never been elected to legislative office. He is also, shall we say, out of the mainstream on many issues. In fact, I think during his Illinois senate candidacy, he revealed that he knew that Jesus Christ wouldn't vote for his rival, Barack Obama (must be cool to know just what people who either don't exist anymore, or exist in some other galaxy, are thinking!). And by the way, arguing against the stupid racism allegations of the media is the fact that the peak of Alan Keyes's 2000 presidential primary run was the 20% of the vote he received in UTAH.

In sum, none of these three has shown any ability to even run a viable campaign for city councilman, let alone win one, or prove their worth as a legislator even at the lowest levels of government. Why then should they be given, as a political entry-level position, the job of presidency of the United States? It's ridiculous. It's why Pat Robertson and Buchanan never got anywhere, either. It isn't because they're black or white; it's because....they haven't shown that they're presidential material.

Obama, by contrast, won a Senate seat, has a track record, is positionally within the Democratic mainstream (though, as a straight-up leftist, just within), can articulate his message fairly well, and in sum, is a legitimate, viable candidate. And what is the result? He just won the Iowa caucus (like Utah, a very white state). (And by the way, Obama is half-white and half-black; calling him "black" seems like a tacit adoption of the old "one drop" rule. The whole Establishment fixation on blackness is just...totally stupid).

About women: the truth is that few women run for high office. That fact too is blamed on "society" by media commentators and airhead Gender Studies professors (as though "society" were some entity entirely independent of human biology). But anyway, the bottom line is that the fewer the females who choose to run, the less chance there is of any female being elected (brilliant insight, I know). But where a female does run, and shows fitness over her rivals, she wins just as easily as a male. Could that be any more obvious? How else did Boxer and Feinstein and Dole and Clinton win? They were elected by people who voted for Schwarzenegger, Helms, and Spitzer, and a host of others. How can that be if "American voters have a problem with women"? The whole thing is nonsense, a baseless slur.

I suggest that most voters love their country and genuinely wish the quality of life to improve for themselves and their children, and would therefore vote for whoever they think is the best candidate, regardless of their race or sex. I further suggest that the main reason why there aren't more women or blacks in the US Senate is because hardly any blacks or women run, and those that do, often aren't viable candidates - not because Americans are so stupid or bigoted that they would vote for a lousier candidate just because he's white or male.

More on this later.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Could It Really Soar Again?

I keep thinking of so many things to say about this Zep thing, that I can't even fathom how to put them in order. So here's another entry off the top of my head, which doesn't necessarily follow from the one I posted a few days ago.

Could Zeppelin genuinely soar again? I mean, like even with a new album?

I'm going to offer a qualified yes. To explain:

Bands are packs, and packs have alphas. This doesn't mean that other pack members don't play indispensable roles. For example, without Lars, there wouldn't be any Metallica; yet James is the alpha. Same with U2: The Edge is absolutely indispensable, but...not the alpha.

And sometimes pack (band) alphas change...and when they do, the character of the pack changes. And this is what happened to Led Zeppelin, and it's why, even if John Bonham hadn't died, they probably would have broken up not long after, or at least, really begun to suck big-time. What I mean is, after "Physical Graffiti", Zeppelin's alpha - Jimmy Page - began a self-(read "drug-")induced evaporation. The next album, "Presence", is the document of a band in transition: Page was no longer the captain of old, but no other had stepped up to fill the void. And "In Through The Out Door" is the first Zeppelin album with its new alpha - Plant, aided by his new first lieutenant, Jonesy - at the helm. (Supposedly, Page and Bonham didn't even show up for most of the daily recording sessions).

"Presence", it need hardly be said, is a bleak record. Every other Zeppelin album before that contained elements of a sort of joyful, if not sociopathic, riotousness; but "Presence" is the after-party. It's some lonely guy sitting alone with a needle hanging out of his arm, in a cold, windowless room, with one bare sixty watt bulb providing the sole means of light. There was some of the old magic there - "Nobody's Fault But Mine", for example - but me, it sounds grey...jaded...weary. A drag.

The problem with "In Through The Out Door" is its lapses into unforgivable "muso" musical inanity. As it happens, previous Zeppelin inanity seemed, somehow, tolerable, even charming. (Like the bizarre live Plant ad libs on "The Song Remains the Same": "Twenty nine! Twenty nine!", "PUSH! PUSH! OOOOOOOOOOOOO PUSH!". At times, Plant sounded like a chipmunk in labor...but somehow, it seemed okay). But "In Through the Out Door"'s inanity reaches new, intolerable depths.

Let's take the song "Hot Dog", for example. Actually, let's NOT take "Hot Dog", except to say it may very well be the dumbest song Zeppelin ever recorded. "All My Love" seems pretty insipid to me - just not Zeppelin. "Carouselambra" - this is what happens when Jonesy gets a new synthesizer and starts trying to write his own songs. "South Bound Suarez" - way too chirpy. (My favourite moments on the record are the guitar solos on "Fool in the Rain" and "I'm Gonna Crawl"). "In the Evening" could have been a genuine classic with its cool riff...but - and this is another big problem with both "Presence" and "In Through the Out Door" - Plant had lost his voice, and sounds pretty bad on it. Plus, the whole thing is (uncharacteristically) drenched in reverb, which sort of ruins it. What can I say? Led Zeppelin was ALWAYS Page's band - and when he began to disappear....well, so did Led Zeppelin.

My buddy Kevin Kane (from the 80's Canadian pop band "The Grapes of Wrath") and I received a bitter reminder of the changed pack dynamic when we went to see Plant and Page at the Vancouver Coliseum in May of '95. The first moments of the concert were like an electrifying religious experience: the lights went down, and all of a sudden, the first notes of "Thank You" (from "Led Zeppelin II") rang out, and in the next instant, there was Pagey, leaning back, playing his sunburst '59 Les Paul, all alone, aglow from a lone spotlight. Totally electrifying.

Yet the rest of the show was like "The Bob Plant Egyptian Review, with special guest Jimmy Page relegated to playing rhythm guitar, with Porl Thompson of the Cure playing most of the leads". WRONG!!! What was Plant thinking? Page, for a lot of the show, didn't even have a spotlight. He was in the semi-darkness off to the side of the stage, with Plant upfront next to Thompson. And one of the most infuriating parts of the show was that Plant had THOMPSON, not Page, playing all the "chicken pickin'" leads on "The Song Remains The Same"!

I said to Kevin: "All I wanted to do was see Page try to play this stuff once - you know - once, before he dies! I don't care if he misses every note. I just want to see the guy play these songs! I DON'T WANT TO SEE PORL THOMPSON PLAY THEM".

And while I'm talking about this show, I might as well say that the OTHER horrific moment of the show was when Plant, with a tone of great self-satisfaction, announced that they were going to play a song from "one of the seminal bands of the 1980's - The Cure!". We're sitting in the Vancouver Coliseum with 20,000 stoners who spent their entire high school careers BEATING UP Cure fans - and Plant wants to play a CURE song? "PLAY A ZEPPELIN SONG, YOU DOLT! LED ZEPPELIN!". And to make it even worse, it was one of those early Cure album tracks. It was like eight minutes of A minor to F, at a really slow pace. I love The Cure, but....come on. There's a time and place.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I think that Zeppelin could do another fantastic album IF (and only if) it is Page's band again. Not Plant and Jones's. If Page doesn't have it together, if he can't keep Plant's constant "wink wink I get how goofy we used to be" thing from destroying it all, it could be huge. Chances seem small; Plant - never short on ego - would have to let Jimmy steer the album. And after thirty years of calling all his own shots, that might be tough.

Can you imagine, though, a new record? And Jonesy - he's invaluable as long as he's doing his proper thing, under Page's could be incredible.

More later, gotta go to sleep.