I love Led Zeppelin; they are perhaps my favorite band. Having grown up with them, many parts of my life are colored by their sound in the background. I used to listen to Zeppelin more than I do now, but when I do listen to them, I find their music is always powerful and long lasting. I do not like all of their stuff, and sometimes I cannot get over what seems to be the more juvenile aspects of their music. Stairway to Heaven? A nice melody, but somewhat silly.
What I enjoy most about Led Zeppelin is their blues based music. Zeppelin is a band that has its origins in the blues music that swept the British rock scene in the early sixties. The Stones, Clapton, Cream, Jeff Beck were perhaps the best musicians of that time and all were heavily influenced by American blues music; Jimmy Page, the lead guitarists and founder of Zeppelin was also a blues devotee. As far as pure blues sound, I think their best albums were their first, Led Zeppelin (1969), their second, Led Zeppelin II (1970), and then their fifth Physical Graffiti (1975). In these we hear the blues music most consistently and spectacularly.
The one problem with Zeppelin is that they helped usher in the era of rock-glam, with all their outrageous costumes, packed stadiums, and on stage theatrics. This was the natural progression of rock at the time; indeed, you can say that all this excess really begins with Elvis back in the fifties, but Zeppelin took it all to its natural conclusion. What is strange about Zeppelin is how a band with such a hard, sexually driven sound can have members who were so androgynous. Robert Plant, with his long, golden main, soft silky shirts, and tight jeans painted onto his lithe body, looked like a girl during Zeppelin’s heyday in the early seventies. Even more so, he sounded like a girl. If you ever see him on stage in their years of Zeppelin’s dominance, he pranced about like a girl, albeit for the massive crotch bulge clearly protruding from his three sizes too small jeans.
Page also had a rather effete, ethereal quality about him, with his strange costumes and long hair. And yet this is the man who produced some of the greatest, heaviest rock riffs of all. This contradiction between the sexual, overtly masculinity of their music, and the effeminate appearance of the band members is somewhat strange; but then again, it was quite common in those days of the late sixties and early seventies. Only John Bohnam, the drummer, with his beard and deep alcohol problems, was perhaps the truly manly member of this most manly of music bands. His alcohol induced death in 1980 was the end of the band, forever.
Back in December of 2012 Zeppelin was honored at the Kennedy Center by President Obama for their contribution to American culture. Although this is certainly a great honor, nevertheless I found it odd to see them being honored in this way. What was strange was seeing a band that was known for its raunchy music sitting in such respectable seats and wearing such respectable clothes. When their music was being played that night, it was amusing to see all the genteel, proper and wealthy members of the Kennedy Center club, tuxedo clad, grooving in their seats, swaying back and forth as Lenny Cravitz did his rendition of “Whole Lotta Love”.
“Whole Lotta Love” at the Kennedy Center? The ironies run deep with this one.
“Whole Lotta Love”, with its heavy, pounding rhythms, guitar riffs and raunchy lyrics is a song about one thing and one thing only: fucking a girl, and fucking her really well. Of course, we know that the namesake of the Kennedy Center, JFK, enjoyed his share of pussy. Given JFK’s interest in banging different women, this was perhaps the most appropriate piece of music ever to be played there. But such a song should not be sterilized to the point that it gains respectability. Part of the fun of rock and blues music is that it is so blatantly sexual. It is highly incongruous when it is played in such a staid environment as the Kennedy Center. Watching Obama enjoy the song was uncomfortable. Does that mean he was going to pile drive Michelle when he got back to the White House, or even better yet, an intern? He should have, because that is what a song like “Whole Lotta Love” is about. If you enjoy a song like that, if you really let yourself get lost in the sounds, rhythms and lyrics, then your only option afterwards is to want to fuck the first girl that comes along. And I don’t mean tender love making. I mean fucking: raw, physical, commitment free fucking with no emotional bonds. Fucking for the pure sake and pleasure of fucking. That is part of what blues music is about: the sex, violence, betrayal, lies, deceit and seduction that life offers. It is about the thrill of sexual conquest. Of course all of those are part of the Washington scene anyway; but I hate it when good music becomes ossified into something respectable. At that point it begins to lose its power. Soon after that it begins to become an object of academic study, which is always the death knell for any living artistic tradition. I am sure there are many college courses now that analyze Zeppelin’s music and legacy in the name of scholarship.
Again, much of Zeppelin’s music, especially its blues based music, is about the raw physicality of fucking. Not hand holding romance, not love making; but seduction, fucking and the consequences of that. It is about the pleasures of sexual conquest. We can save the drippy romance shit for Taylor Swift.
Good rock or blues music is sort of like porn: it should never be too respectable. Part of the fun of porn is that is should remain slightly taboo, outside the realms of acceptable society, always on the edge of a world people dare not enter, although they are most curious about it and secretly enter it quite often. When music like Zeppelin’s becomes part of respectable society, then that music has lost some of its initial charm and meaning. Songs about raw fucking should remain something that either makes people uncomfortable, riles the anger of the religiously pure (as late as the 1997 the Vatican condemned Zeppelin as Satanic), or gives hope to horny young men looking to get laid and inspiration to those of us who have chosen to live outside the realms of the respectable, traditional monogamous world and enjoy the sexual pleasures of as many women as possible. When Zepplein’s music speaks about the pleasures of sexual conquest, I enjoy–and understand–it completely.