Finally Growing Up With Zeppelin – by Charlotte Canelli

Read the published version of Library Director Charlotte Canelli’s column in the June 28, 2013 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Led Zeppelin is the greatest band of all time.  Or so some would say.

When I was growing up in the 60s, their music just seemed to hurt my ears and my brain. I was more of a Simon and Garfunkel fan. In the early 70s, I preferred the mellower music of Cat Stevens and Carly Simon.

Even though I wasn’t a Zeppelin fan, full disclosure is the fact that I was married to a Led Zeppelin fan.  There was no way but to listen, sort of, to all eight of the Zeppelin albums.  Dazed and confused, however, I think I simply tuned them out. Led Zeppelin never really got this 60s girl rockin’ beyond their most famous song, Stairway to Heaven.

Stairway was another story. To listen to it, though, you had to listen to the entire album, Led Zeppelin IV.  This was simply because Led Zeppelin and their crafty manager, Peter Grant, never allowed the release of it as a single.  In fact, in the UK, no single was ever released of any Zeppelin song. Very few singles were released in the US except for a shorter version of Whole Lotta Love and one or two others.

And so, I never grew up with Zeppelin.  Until a few weeks ago, that is.   That’s when I happened upon a YouTube video of the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors that was aired last December.  Among other talented performers (Dave Letterman and Dustin Hoffman were two), the surviving members of Led Zeppelin were three of the seven 2012 honorees.

The Kennedy Center Honors program began in 1978.  The Kennedy Centers Honors recognizes talented celebrities of all types for their lifetime contribution to our American culture through performing arts.  The very first five honorees in 1978 included the incredible talents of Fred Astaire and Marian Anderson.  Since the first year, more than 175 artists have been honored, Oprah Winfrey, The Who, Aretha Franklin and Kirk Douglas among them.

The three surviving members of Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones) ended their weekend-end long festivities watching an astonishing performance of their legendary and amazing Stairway to Heaven.  It was performed by the Wilson sisters of the band Heart and a plethora of other singers and musicians.  The performance was so moving that it appeared that Led Zeppelin’s renowned lead singer, Plant, was moved to tears.

 Everything about the rendition was magical – the surprise Plant, Page and Jones to see their deceased band member’s son (Jason Bonham, son of drummer John) on stage playing the drums, the absolutely mesmerized audience of 2400, and the gorgeous voices and sounds of two choruses and a string orchestra.

After watching that one video, I realized that the significance of 60s-70s rock eras had somehow passed me by. I needed to make up for decades of lost time. In Stairway parlance, you might say it made me wonder.

My Zeppelin education led me through the books “Hammer of the Gods: the Led Zeppelin Saga” by Stephen Davis (first written in 1985, the 2008 paperback version has been updated with a chapter never before published in the U.S) and “Led Zeppelin IV” by Barney Hoskyns (2006). Just last year in 2012, Hoskyns published a new book, “Led Zeppelin: The Oral History of the World’s Greatest Rock Band”.

Hosksyns, like other authors, includes both accounts of the indulgent excess that marked the meteoric rise to fame and the stories of the band members’ personal lives. He tells the complicated story of Jimmy Page, a successful sessions guitarist (and the one remaining member of the Yardbirds) who formed Led Zeppelin with three other unsuspecting young British men. The youngest, Robert Plant, was just turning 20 in late 1968.

After a few concerts in Europe, (as the New Yardbirds) one of their very first venues in early 1969 was the Boston Tea Party nightclub on Lansdowne Street.  Within months, Zeppelin was performing at the Boston Garden and Carnegie Hall in New York City. Money, travel, fans, and fame reshaped their lives within a very short time. The rest is history as Led Zeppelin forever changed the face of many genres of music with its “mutilated blues” infused with loud, louder and loudest rock mixed with sounds from the rest of the world. (Led Zeppelin was the first band to include giant video screens in their concerts, play for three hours and use enormous sound systems.)

“Led Zeppelin: Heaven and Hell – An Illustrated History” by Charles Cross and Erik Flannigan (1991), “Led Zeppelin: The Story of a Band and Their Music, 1968-80” by Keith Shadwick (2005), and “Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin: The Illustrated History of the Heaviest Band of All Time” by Jon Bream (2008) are three oversized books in the Minuteman libraries.  They include multiple two-page splashes of photographic history of the group. Another fantastic oversized book is “Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller than Our Souls” by Charles Cross which includes facsimiles of concert tickets and posters.

The Led Zeppelin phenomenon was not lost on Boston.  They performed seven nights at the Boston Tea Party where the band was astounded by Boston youths’ reactions. Yearly visits to The Garden ended in 1975 when that year the event was canceled because Boston authorities feared problems with crowd control.  Zeppelin toured the United States 11 times between 1968 and 1977 but never returned to Boston after 1973.

Shorter books on Zeppelin include “The Rough Guide to Led Zeppelin” (2007) by Nigel Williamson, “Led Zeppelin IV” (2005) by Erik Davis (one of the 33-1/3 Series featuring moments in rock history exploring not only Zeppelin but Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, the Kinks and many other singers and bands).

While Stairway to Heaven was the most popular song (and is one of the most played songs ever), others like Black Dog, Kashmir, Houses of the Holy and All My Love have their own magical history. (All My Love was written for Robert Plant’s son, Karac, who died at the age of five years old of a mysterious stomach infection in 1977.) Chris Welch has written two books about the song history of Led Zeppelin, “Led Zeppelin: The Stories Behind Every Led Zeppelin Song” (2009) and “Led Zeppelin: Dazed and Confused – the Stories Behind Every Song” (1998).

If you are like me, a teenager who tuned out this amazing band of four, you can still grow up with Zeppelin through their music on CD, the concerts on DVD, and books written about the band. See for yourself the Led Zeppelin you might have missed.  Or revisit the Led Zeppelin that you might want to experience again.

The Minuteman libraries have complete collections of all Zeppelin’s albums remastered on CD (Norwood owns the ten disc compilation).  The network also lends at least a dozen videos, including Celebration Day (a reunion of three of the band members in 2007) and a five-disc collection “Led Zeppelin – Good Times, Bad Times” (2012). Visit the library’s website and the link to the Minuteman Library Network to put one of these books on hold.  You may also call 781-769-0200 and speak to a librarian who will place the request for you.

This entry was posted in From the Library - A Weekly Column. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.