Well, before I go off wandering into the weeds and drainage ditches of my mind, I need to first give props and thankee to Rory, who somehow through luck and a work schedule that allowed him to score box seats in one of the loveliest theaters anywhere, the Riverside Theater. As we said during the show, it was the most comfortable we have ever been at a rock show, with all kinds of leg room and a little table upon which we could rest our drinks when we weren’t drinking them. So, Yay.
Back in those old days, when the bloggerhood was still fertile and green, and we all traded memes and Zardozes, I once did a take off on a BG meme, and wrote a multi-part series called “Songs That Made Me Rotten”. Don’t bother looking for it, it’s been discarded in the debris left behind in the multitude of blogs I’ve started and discarded. BUT: I will give you a bit;
That monster riff came squeaking out of the tinny speakers, and Robert Plant screeching about something or other and the drums even at low volume distorting the little tiny speaker to some extent and it went on longer than any song I’d ever heard and I’ve never fully recovered and I don’t think I want to.
The sound, THAT SOUND, drilled directly into my synapses from my tiny ear-holes, kicking my brain-stem like you’d kick a rented flatulent orange dog.
It’s a song that everyone has heard, of course, countless times. It’s maybe not that great a song, it’s probably not even that great a Zeppelin song. But that winter morning, it realigned something fundamental in that little Rotten head and every time I hear it, I can still remember that undefinable excitement of feeling that here is something with power.
And then my Dad yelled up the stairs, telling us to shut the hell up and go back to bed. which we did. I took the earphone.
As soon as I could, I got a job delivering papers so I could buy a stereo.
All that aside, my up-front introduction to Led Zeppelin happened when I got “In Through The Out Door” and believe me, I didn’t waste much time filling in the gaps. I was angling toward seeing them if they came by within reasonable distance, when John Bonham barfed his last (it is that kind of elegant wordsmithery for which you paid your subscription to this web site, my friends). And in the intervening years, I went wandering into punk and prog and low-fi and all kinds of other audio strangeness, kittens and squirrels. I hardly thought back to those old Dinosaur Acts
EXCEPT. Every so often there would come a moment when there would be nothing for it but a monster riff, a feral howl, and a whomping fuck of a drum backbeat, and I would realize that I needed RIGHT THAT MOMENT to have “Kashmir” or “Carouselambra” and so I would put them into digital form that I could access.
ESPECIALLY. When my mother (from whom I inherited my hair) was dying, I made my final trip to the hospice, an hour and change away. I met our family there, we talked to her and touched and said the things you want to say, and made our peace, such as it could be. And in the waning fall light, I opened all the windows and the sunroof on my car, and drove east into the darkening; Physical Graffiti was playing loud and John Bonham’s primal drumming propelled me away from my mother’s last moments, and I hope served to send her to her rest also. I sang and drove and wept and loved my mother. In My Time Of Dying, indeed.
Jason Bonham is touring with something called the Led Zeppelin Experience and I guess you could call it a nostalgia trip. I would. But he makes it something better by his intimate connection to his father, and his father’s contribution to music that changed everybody’s idea about what music was supposed to be. His father died when he was fourteen; what a fucking shitty thing. Look; I am less than a fan of drum solos, but during Moby Dick, Bonham was playing while video of his father doing the same song played on a video screen behind him, and he watched a small screen to the side of his riser showing the same thing, so he played a dual drum solo with his father’s ghost. Wow.
And you know what? Jason Bonham was not the only one using the music of the past to make sense of the present.
What I found most compelling in the show was that the musicians, even Bonham, did not seem to feel like they were the stars of the show. Oh, believe me, they were wonderfully talented and able to fill all their roles without much problem. But the biggest presence on the stage were the songs.
Can you imagine the big swinging balls it takes to mount a stage to perform the role of Robert Plant or Jimmie Page? But they did, they did respectable jobs.
But yeah, the songs. And for me, that is what seeing live music is always about; the songs. stories and rhymes and shouting into the darkness. Some musicians have made pop songs, but even the most glossy pop song is nothing more than avoiding the realities of fear and death and some songs sometimes talk about that; some songs talk about love and art and sex and how that allows us to face down the void. Some songs just say “fuck off”. Either way, you know?
During Stairway, I closed my eyes and thought about the BBC archives performance; they played the song for a small audience, before Led Zep 4 was released. Nobody had heard the song before, and they were young and fiery and filled with energy, and they played it with lightning and semen. We forget, much too easily, that when they recorded that song, nobody had ever done anything like that before, working from a folkie into to a hard rock climax over the course of 12 minutes or so. When they finish, the BBC audience is audibly stunned, unsure how to respond or even if the song is over, or if the band will just throw their instruments down and ravish them all. It is a remarkable moment , and the BBC recordings capture it and it is my favorite ever version of that song we all have heard way too often. And these musicians did the spirit of that recording justice, yes they did….
They played many more songs that I like , and a fair number that I love. During “Thank You” (dedicated of course to Jason’s father) I wept. I did it when Robert Plant and Band of Joy did it a while back, also.
Because that really gets down to the base level of these songs. Hell, ALL songs. the really great ones burrow down into the subconscious, into your life, and the things that you have to go through, that EVERYBODY goes through, can be eased, or made sense of, or even just screamed out against; there are the songs that make it possible to do that. Those songs allow us to get up in those crappy fucking mornings when it seems so much easier to give up.
I forget that, more often than I should. I get swamped with work, and swamped with despair, and swamped with other responsibilities. I listen to music to sleep, and to wake up, and as much of the day as I can manage. I forget that the reality of music is when people play it. Music is most real when it is live. I love all these noises humans make, I love the pain and love and energy they pour into them and if sometimes it takes watching some Musical Humans play these songs LOUD and in the presence of other Musical Humans, well that is just fine.
And when it is really good, I remember that I love these people in my house, and you weirdos too. I remember….