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Master of the Off-Chance 

Wednesday, Mar 1 2006
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When three-quarters of the Style Council (Steffie, Linda and myself) decided to go to Joshua Tree for a weekend of high-desert shenanigans, we knew to expect the unexpected — after all, this is the land of UFOs, shooting stars and the Integratron (a strange acoustically perfect dome supposedly designed to communicate with alien beings).

But while we were more than ready to deal with Martians, we were utterly unprepared for our supernatural encounter with rock legend Robert Plant.

“Er?.?.?.?that’s frigging Robert Plant,” someone whispered as we were throwing back a few desert brews and watching rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson play some favorites at the dusty ol’ biker bar/music club Pappy and Harriette’s. It was no mirage — the swirl of blond ringlets was unmistakable. Word spread like wildfire?.?.?.?necks craned as everyone strove to catch a glimpse of Led Zeppelin’s godlike lead singer. Plant seemed relaxed and was happy to engage in conversation with the patrons. And he told our friend Karen he was going to join the local musicians in their regular jam session the next day: “You should all come down.”

When Sunday evening rolled round we piled back into Pappy’s and waited for Plant to reappear. I wasn’t convinced it would happen — even when one of the guitarists teasingly played some “Stairway to Heaven” while tuning up. Having seen Robert Plant once was random enough — for him to appear twice in the same little biker bar in the middle of the desert would have defied all laws of rock probability.

But lightning can strike twice — Plant, true to his word, beamed himself back to Pappy’s and belted out three numbers for an ecstatic and slightly bewildered crowd. I grabbed a CD and a pen and followed him out back to get an autograph. He was talking on his cell phone. “This place is great,” I overheard him say. “I’m so sick and tired of all the sycophants in L.A. This is very refreshing.”

When he got off the phone, I got him chatting for a few minutes, and he told me he was heading back to L.A. to meet with his old band mate Jimmy Page on Tuesday. They’re checking out an aerial ballet troupe that wants to use some Zeppelin tracks to accompany one of their routines. We chit-chatted some more, and I was so excited I totally forgot to mention information that might have further prolonged our conversation — like the fact that I interviewed Led Zeppelin’s tour manager, Richard Cole, not so long ago. (“Back in those days we didn’t have fax machines or e-mail,” Cole told me. “We booked world tours by picking up the phone and saying, ‘Don’t fuck with us — this is Led Zeppelin’.”)

And I forgot to mention that I had lunch with legendary British producer and manager Peter Asher last weekend, who told me about the time he hired Jimmy Page as a studio musician, and how John Bonham liked to yell at his drum technicians. (“Make them fucking LOUDER.”)

Mostly, I forgot to tell Plant that between the ages of 16 and 19, nearly every time I lay in bed with my boyfriend, it was his voice I was listening to.

All these things flew out of my brain the second I set eyes on the craggily majestic face of one of the greatest musicians in the history of rock. The only time I noticed a flicker of irritation in his eyes was when, in danger of being one of those L.A. sycophants, I thanked him a little too profusely for taking the time to talk. Even rock gods get tired of being worshipped all the time.

Check out the ongoing adventures of the Style Council, the blog that undresses L.A. nightly, at laweekly.blogs.com/style_council.

Reach the writer at caroline@carolineryder.com

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