It’s a tricky business, chasing a reunion rumor in Los Angeles. Above all, you have to be discreet about your gullibility (which I like to call optimism). Pursue too many unicorns and you end up looking the fool — but lasso just one and history is yours.
So, ha ha, of course Led Zeppelin is playing the Sunset Marquis tonight. And Liberace’s sitting in on piano, too. No, scratch that last part, because this tip arrived from a reliable source, who heard it from someone inside. Fuel the fire with the invite I got to the party a few weeks ago, which featured an image of Jimmy Page holding his Gibson electric guitar, and you’ve got a bona fide probability. In this business, you can’t afford to laugh off such nonsense. Stranger things have happened. Blink and the next thing you know, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons is rocking with John Oates of Hall & Oates.
So maybe there’s a sliver of possibility. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss are on a break from touring, so it’s not like he’s booked elsewhere tonight. Maybe the band were over at Live Nation signing a contract, and now they feel like jamming while they’re in town. The rumors of some big-ass Led Zeppelin tour have been building for the past year, and it seems somewhat orchestrated by the band. It’s feasible is what I’m saying. And there is that picture of Jimmy Page on the flier.
The Sunset Marquis Hotel & Villas sits just off the Sunset Strip. It’s one of those überexclusive deals with $7,000 villas and an Edenesque, multi-tiered courtyard. On this Wednesday night it’s hosting a reception called Gibson Through the Lens, sponsored by the maker of the famous electric guitar that Page used to drag his violin bow across. Spread throughout the grounds on various walls are images of rockers with their Gibsons: Slash holding a Les Paul. Jimi Hendrix on his knees and conjuring the god of feedback. Kurt Cobain underwater with his guitar. Pete Townshend, Zakk Wylde, Jerry Garcia, all in various states of ax-generated ecstasy.
The stage is set up at the far end of a swimming pool, so we’ll have to watch Zep rock “Stairway to Heaven” from 25 yards away. (Maybe they’ll have synchronized swimmers!) As the evening progresses, waitresses wend through the dozens carrying trays of champagne flutes — a vision of hope if there ever was one — which glisten in the light like a fool in the rain. Tonight could be the night. I see a few other writers here, and there’s Cameron Crowe, who’d surely be privy to any Led Zep reunion. What a scoop I’ll be sharing, too, with Rudolf Schenker and Klaus Meine of the Scorpions! And somehow James Denton, Justine Bateman and Michael Rappaport have found out as well. A herd of supermodels giraffe across the garden, and you halfway expect them to crane their necks and start chewing on leaves. (Led Zeppelin’s playing tonight. Indulge me.)
Champagne turns to Cabernet turns to whatever else they’re serving, and lo, soon John Oates jumps onstage with an acoustic guitar. Oates has made the news recently because there’s a cartoon being made about his iconic mustache (long since shaved off), which fights crime or something. He looks great, by the way, and his voice sounds fantastic. But I gotta tell you, man to man, John Oates, there’s something missing on your face, and you need to reunite with it. Why deprive the public of the no-bullshit mustache it so dearly desires? Christ, man, Led Zeppelin’s reforming tonight! Let’s make history!
Take, for example, Billy Gibbons’ beard. When he jumps onto the Marquis stage to join Oates, we know that Billy Gibbons has arrived because his beard has arrived. When Oates gets onstage, we think we know who he is, but we’re not positive. With his ’stache, there’d be no doubt — just like when Led Zeppelin gets onstage, it will inarguably be Led Zeppelin because Jimmy Page will be holding a bow and his Gibson; Robert Plant’s hair will be curly — if shorter; and John Paul Jones will be looking like the bassist. Then we will all rejoice and high-five each other.
After the non-sequitur ZZ Oates jam session, the anticipation rises. One rumored surprise guest, Jeff Beck (who played in the Yardbirds with Jimmy Page, hint hint), has had to cancel, we are informed, which is a bummer because that would have been something, seeing Led Zeppelin with Jeff Beck on rhythm guitar. Speaking with a fellow writer while munching on bruschetta, I tentatively and faux-ironically confess that I’m here because of the Led Zep rumor. She seems surprised, and skeptical. She’d heard Stevie Wonder was playing. I had heard that, too, and there is a grand piano onstage — but I figured that was Liberace’s. Plus, why would a guitar maker want a pianist as a special guest? Nothing against Stevie, but he’s on 88 keys, not six piercing strings.
It says something about the power of dreams and the nature of L.A. that the arrival of Stevie Wonder, sporting his long, spangled black dreadlocks and sunglasses, is met with a twinge of disappointment by your gullible narrator. Okay, more than a twinge. Stevie Wonder, he of “Master Blaster,” of “Superstition,” of so many brilliant musical moments, is playing “Sunshine of My Life” to 200 people and all I can think is, “That certainly ain’t ‘Immigrant Song.’”
Life’s rough in a recession, even in Hollywood. Sometimes we have to settle for Stevie Wonder when Led Zeppelin so blithely lets us down. The horror. The horror.