Houses Of The Holy

Posted: November 21, 2012 in Music nobody listens to

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….
  1. blue girl says:

    This is a really, really good post, ZRM.

    I’m reading Rod Stewart’s new autobiography, and it’s filled with moments that make me ache, wanting to have been there, experiencing it for myself. Like, Rod was in a band (way early on, no one was famous yet) with Jeff Beck and Ron Wood and they’d play in this one bar all the time and Jimmy Page would come in to hear them, and to specifically watch Beck play, trying to figure out what they were on to, getting into; the new sounds they were creating. Or Rod would hook up with another band for a few nights and John Bonham would be on drums. Just lots of stories like that.

    And this isn’t the same thing and is OT, but also how they played in NYC early on and were staying in some flea bag hotel. There were other musicians there: Cream, Sly and the Family Stone. (Can you even imagine all of them just milling around some hotel?!?!?! The energy must’ve been incredible.) Anyway, Janis Joplin would chase Rod Stewart and Ron Wood around the hotel because, in Rod’s words, she wanted to shag them. There were terrified of her, and would hide behind the plotted plants in the lobby till she gave up trying to find them. lol

    Anyway back to the topic at hand:

    During Stairway…. 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…

    I *love* the idea of hearing these songs we’ve heard so often — I love the thought of hearing them for the first time, and wondering what everyone’s personal response was: What’s this? *turns up radio* Listens. And is blown away. I had a first time with all of them, but do not remember them. 😦 But, I do remember one time with my cousin, Lisa, when I was about 7. She was probably 16-ish and had gotten a guitar for her birthday. We were visiting and she and I were in her bedroom, sitting on her bed. She was playing her guitar for me, and asked, “Do you know this one?” and started to play Stairway to Heaven. She’d goof up and begin again, and we sat together and sang it as she struggled her way through it. I love that memory. I love that that song was *new* at the time. Lisa died way too young b/c of drugs. Life was just too much for her. She was dealt a bad hand. So I can never hear Stairway to Heaven too many times.

    Again, ZRM, this was a wonderful post! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

    Rock on, dude.

    • (Can you even imagine all of them just milling around some hotel?!?!?!

      Hotel Chelsea?

      • blue girl says:

        He didn’t say. All he said was Jeff Beck was the type of guy who only thought of himself. He was the most popular one, so he got to stay at the Waldorf (or something similar), while the rest of them had to stay at a dive hotel.

        I always wanted to stay at the Hotel Chelsea just to do it. The Skimmer was in NYC once for biz and I tagged along. I told a producer at the meeting I was in who lived in NYC that I wanted to stay there and he was appalled.

  2. blue girl says:

    Just reading about Stairway:

    Plant cites the most unusual performance of the song ever as being that performed at Live Aid: “with two drummers while Duran Duran cried at the side of the stage – there was something quite surreal about that.”

    Imagining the guys from Duran Duran standing there all tranced out with their boufants and their shoulder pads, crying while listening to Stairway to Heaven is making me smile. 🙂

  3. fish says:

    I think I have said this before, but my musical moment was seeing Devo on SNL back in 1978. As a kid in a small town, this broke my head open to the possibility that music was more than Aerosmith and the Allman Brothers (regardless of their merits). That music can make you go WTF?!?! And that was a good thing.

  4. blue girl says:

    Hungry like the wolf
    Hungry like the wolf

  5. mikey says:

    Nicely presented, passionately written.

    I have nothing of value to add because I never liked Led Zeppelin – to me they were in a category with the Rolling Stones, massively popular bands that played music that simply didn’t sound like Rock n Roll to my provincial tastes.

    But I damn sure enjoyed reading your narrative…

    • And WordPress fucked me over by turning it into a run-on paragraph that is hard to read. Unsure whether I feel like trying to fix it though, I am becoming kind of fond of the way it reads like a rush of words, flowing too fast to stop…

    • M. Bouffant says:

      OK, see, the Stones had the sense to cop it directly from American Negroes. Zep got it second hand, & that Robert Planet sucks.

      Born at just the right time: “Satisfaction,” maybe, was the first radio’d tune to offer the possibility of difference. Or “Pushin’ Too Hard.”

  6. Also, too:

    Happy Turkey Day!

  7. Also, Beege; that BBC Archives recording is not just the first time those folks heard Stairway. It was the first time ANYBODY had heard Stairway. Or anything LIKE it. I can’t imagine how it must have blown their tiny little minds.

    Also, apropos of nothing in particular, I had some friends in a Couch Flambeau-inspired punk band named Out Of Round that did a ‘cover’ of Stairway called “Stairwell to Hell”. Yeah, it used a cheesy drum synth and had appalling lyrics and was pretty much awesome.

  8. mikey says:

    Somebody ought to do an updated version of Stairway to Heaven called “Spaced Elevator”. That would be cool…

  9. another kiwi says:

    Nice post Mr. Zombie. My time machine request is to go back to the Marque club when The Who first played there. (Then to see England win the World Cup with 3 Westham United players in the side including the captain.)

  10. mikey says:

    I think I might have had too much rum. I had a contract from the Beaver to whack Wally, but I seem to have overshot.


  11. You know what’s a good song? This one.

  12. Boss, this is simply one of the posts of the year, anywheres. Pleased to know ya.

  13. mikey says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to the entire Zombie family.

    May you find Branes in your Turkey…

  14. ebonkrieg says:

    To fuck up is to be human. I am flummoxed by my generations failure to understand the nuance of music. It is to be grasped intellectually from the gut. Emotion rides supreme and it is through our entrails that we can begin to understand it. Fellow baby boomers (zombie death generation) you had the world by the balls and you failed. But, then again what depraved human would not take the KISS alternative (sex and money).

  15. Hey you:

    If you want the image, snag the source code from the page; the file is big so it’s good to let Google host it.

  16. Whale Chowder says:

    I recently went to see a Joe Jackson show (shut up) where he mixed material off his new album (reinterpretation of Duke Ellington tunes) with his olger stuff, including a rendition of Is She Really Going Out With Him on accordion, banjo and tuba (awesome). Olds doing shows and relying on old material, while not within the hip tradition, can be incredibly entertaining. They can play and they know showmanship.

    And when the personnel are no longer available, one must make due with what is. I’ve recently joined a band that’s into blues-inflected jam rock. One of our touchstones is the Allman Brothers band, a group with which I was only vaguely familiar previously. This has led me to the incredible Fillmore East recordings (how was I unaware of this for the last 40 years?!). All of which is a long-winded way to say if an Allman Bros tribute / partial reunion band was to swing into town I’d be among the first in line to buy a ticket.

  17. mikey says:

    I’d like to request a list of bands I’ve heard of whom Zombie has NOT seen play live.

    I recognize it would be a very short list, but that way I would be able to read it all in one sitting…

  18. mikey says:

    Hell, I’ve seen Night Ranger twice. Once with a bunch of teenage girls – I took my niece and her friends. April Wine was the opener. Show fucking rocked…

Go ahead, tell me how I fucked up this time.

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