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The Freedom of Music: Re-discovering Zep

October 28th, 2012


One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

In the winter of 1976-77 I was a minor Led Zeppelin fan: I obviously knew side 1 of Led Zeppelin 4 and had recently taken to stealing my brothers Led Zeppelin III, which was at the time my favourite album. But BTO’s Not Fragile and Kiss Alive had been my “favourite album” before that, so that didn’t mean much. No, I liked Led Zeppelin, but I liked a lot of bands.sidebar-7

Then one snowy night a friend and I crossed town, from the northeast end of Brampton (Bramalea) to Shoppers World shopping mall in the southeast to watch the weekly showing of The Song Remains the Same.

It starts innocently enough, a gangster shoot-up, manager Peter Grant’s “fantasy sequence,” then a young man on a bicycle delivering something to each member of Led Zeppelin at their home (remarkable considering those homes ranged from Wales to Scotland). “Tour dates” John Paul Jones announces happily to his wife upon reading his. The smile changes to shock as he reads on, “it starts tomorrow.” Airport, jet, tarmac and limo ride with police escort past a traffic jam then through a tunnel the streets of Manhattan.

Yardbirds bassist Chris Dreja, talking of seeing Led Zeppelin for the first time in 1969 said, “Jesus Christ, there were four guys. it sounded like a war.” If Led Zeppelin live is like a war, The Song Remains the Same up to this point is the long march into battle. The final scene before the “four guys” unleash themselves on New York City is from the stage. Looking out on a dark stadium, the occasional lighter flickers and lights from the doorways out are the only glow in the darkness, like the night fires of the invading army from the vantage point of the villagers.

The attack starts as every self respecting attack should, with the drummer. Specifically John Bonham, who shouts in the darkness, “alright lets go,” before launching into his drum intro to Rock and Roll. Two-minutes into the song Jimmy Page steps in front of the camera and plays lick that starts his blistering solo, fingers flailing across the fretboard seemingly out of control. It was the moment, the very second where I got it, I got Led Zeppelin. No longer a mere fan, no longer just another band I like, I became a Led Zeppelin fanatic.

I learnt what most Zeppelin fanatics learn at some time, to experience Led Zeppelin live is to truly appreciate how good they are. Whether actually being at a a concert (preferred), on a movie screen, at home or even just an audio bootleg of an otherwise unreleased concert, Led Zeppelin’s live experience is almost always better than they were on record.

Their latest live release, Celebration Day, chronicles their Dec 2007 union concert at the O2 arena in London. Put out as a limited theatrical release, it opened Wednesday the 17th of this month at a variety of theaters. The second and last showing was last Thursday, and it was this one my university aged daughter expressed an interest in going to.

She was obviously raised with Led Zeppelin in the background, but like the rest of the family treated my level of enjoyment of the band with amusement. They’re OK, but that’s all, was her general attitude. For her, Queen or The Who, whom she knows from CSI. Lately, the boyfriend is a Stones fan, and 70’s Stones has also been found to be too her taste. But on Led Zeppelin she was acting the role of rebellious daughter, allowing that they were OK but refusing to be a ‘fan.’

Leaving the theatre Thursday she expressed the opinion that she liked it, it was, she thought, really good. A pretty good self taught pianist, she was pleasantly surprised by the amount keyboard playing in the band, surprised that John Paul Jones supplies the dual role of bassist and keyboardist so well. We discussed how Zeppelin often treated songwriting more like classical composers do, adding in breaks, preludes, interludes and codas, moving the songs through a variety of tempos, volumes and, most importantly, feels.

It wasn’t until she came home Friday for her usual weekend of quiet study away from the residence parties: where she could get her mother to do her laundry her father to bake her banana bread for her, that the depth of her appreciation became clear. “While I’m home, I want to go over some of Zeppelin’s older live stuff, to see what they were like when they were younger.”

“Oh, no!” cried out the wife. “Not another one,” while I ran to open the special occasion Champagne I had been saving. She got it, she really got it, as Goldie Hawn might have said in my shoes. The hook was in, and a few hours closeted away with The Song Remains the Same (complete with fairytale fantasy sequences that she will love despite their obvious cheesiness), and their 2002 DVD release will no doubt set the hook. The first Knebworth show and Seattle ’77 sit in my basement, virtually pro-shot bootlegs that will mesmerize and amaze.

The path is now clear, from the videos to the three live albums, then sometime with the turntable listening to the originals as they were meant to be heard, finally, onward to the 100‘s of bootlegs. Oh the joy of buying her first turntable for her, hitting the record shows with her and having someone in the house to eagerly anticipate the re-release of all those albums in 2013, as Jimmy Page promised this week. Oh the joy.

Now, about the boy and his rap music…

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  1. dmorris
    October 29th, 2012 at 15:41 | #1

    I was a BIG fan of Led Zep in the old days, saw them in concert five times in Vancouver and Seattle. They were great, put on a long show with several encores usually lasting 2 or more hours.

    They never had an opening act,which probably saved a lot of second-tier bands the humiliation of being booed. Everyone wanted Zep,and we got ’em!

    You didn’t have to bring any smoke to the concerts, just had to take a deep breath. I saw so many good concerts back then, all at around five bucks a ticket.

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