Henry Rollins: Led Zeppelin, All Powerful
[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
Two nights ago, I was sitting in front of my speakers listening to a very clean pressing of Led Zeppelin's altogether perfect Led Zeppelin II, which I have been listening to since I was in ninth grade and which is still working for me. One of the best parts is that there is not a lot of overdubbing, besides the regular doubling of vocals and guitar and some basic old-school tape manipulation on "Whole Lotta Love." But past that, it's just an incredibly good band doing their thing right down the barrel. It is a testament to how little you need when you are the real thing.
Listening to this album made me think of the following: During President Obama's excellent acceptance speech a few weeks back, he said: "In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward."
This struck me as odd. Perhaps the president was trying to be polite in an effort to show Mitt Romney how a real leader does things? Why would he want to engage with the ex-governor again? I know I had my fill.
Yet true to his word the president sent out the invite and Mr. Romney took him up on it and went to the White House for lunch. A few days afterward, I had an idea as to perhaps why this meeting took place. I looked around on the Internet and saw others had this same conclusion. Our president is a very, very intelligent man who plays the long game on an intensely complex and dynamic level, as Speaker John Boehner is learning.
I think that the president wanted Mr. Romney to get up real close to the presidential experience. Basically: Enjoy the chili, check out the digs, take a good look around, realize this is as close as you are ever going to get to being president -- and then get the fuck out.
This was the Sun Tzu ass-kicking that this phony deserved, administered by one of only four presidents to win 50 percent of the popular vote twice, sharing that particular shelf space with FDR (the New Deal guy), Eisenhower (who warned you of the military-industrial complex) and Reagan (who raised taxes a lot of times). Well played, sir.
So, how does one get from Led Zeppelin to the president and back? It's the idea that Mitt Romney was never going to be able to fill the shoes of a president and, despite his abundant hubris, he probably knew it. Led Zeppelin left a dent in rock music that will never be straightened out. They were, in fact, so good, their live shows so crushing, their albums so timeless, that one might think it foolish that the remaining members even consider reforming, especially after losing a drummer like John Bonham.
Now that the Led Zeppelin reunion show from Dec. 10, 2007,at London's O2 Arena -- done in tribute to the great Ahmet Ertegun-- has been immortalized on DVD, LP, CD, etc., it leads me to wonder what was going through the minds of Page, Plant and Jones when they decided to get back together for the first full set since the band broke up in 1980.
To approach those songs again -- taking into account that their brief reunion sets for 1985's Live Aid and 1988's Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary went less than great -- makes me think of the question George Carlin posed to Father Russell on the Class Clown album: "If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock so big that he himself can't lift it?" If you happened to be in the band that wrote "D'yer Mak'er" or "Kashmir," that is a question you might want to ask yourself. If there is one band who shouldn't go anywhere near their own music to play it again, it's Led Zeppelin.
The O2 Arena performance shows the band not so much playing the songs as trying not to incur their wrath. Their songs are so impossibly monolithic, the performance was impressive in that they not only played them well but they got to the end of the set without being smashed flat by their almighty weight.
As I watched the band play, I found myself rooting for Robert Plant as he artfully sang around his legendary peaks of long ago. It was like watching a man coolly and repeatedly escape the horns of an enraged bull. He survived by being the older, wiser boxer. I must say, his hair was amazing.
Performing these songs is not a burden I would place on anyone's shoulders, not even the remaining members of Led Zeppelin. Had they chosen to, the band could have taken that set on the road, played anywhere they wanted to, charged whatever they felt like and the tour would have sold out in minutes. No doubt they would have brought joy to millions. The most graceful part about the whole thing is that the band didn't do this.
I bet Page, Plant and Jones knew what was at stake, knew what they had to lose and what old fools they stood to make of themselves. Yet out of love of their good friend Ahmet Ertegun, who started Atlantic Records, signed Led Zeppelin and died in 2006, they got together and trod the boards one last time.
Thinking about it in this way, if this was at least partly what went into their thought process, then it was a brave and incredibly cool thing they did. And yes, they pulled it off quite well, excellent musicians they are.
If the band can just let that show be their last statement as a band, then they can get on to the fun stuff, like reissuing all the albums on vinyl, including the mono versions!
Rock god status and elections have consequences.
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