Deflating "Zeppelin"

Posted: Dec 14, 2007 12:01 AM
Deflating "Zeppelin"

I've learned a lot about Led Zeppelin lately. For instance, it wasn't just any concert the rock band played in London this week for the first time since breaking up 27 years ago after the 1980 death of drummer John Bonham (a death Rolling Stone magazine notes was caused by his ingesting "forty measures of vodka"). In the words of the Financial Times, the concert was a "heritage rock event." This is another way to describe an onstage reunion of rockers who qualify for AARP membership.

But fear not. 59-year-old Robert Plant has "an impressively taut backside," the FT assures us, even if 61-year-old John Paul Jones wears his hair short and looks, according to The Spectator magazine, like a "bank manager," and 63-year-old Jimmy Page delayed the concert's -- sorry, the heritage rock event's -- play date for some weeks by breaking his finger, according to, "falling over in his garden."

But back to the, er, bottom line in the Financial Times: "There aren't many heritage rock events where the shape of one's bottom matters. But Led Zeppelin is different. If sex is one of rock and roll's prime motivating factors, then no band has managed to sound as horny as them (sick -- I mean, sic). Their groupie-chasing days may be long gone, but they still manage to convey magnificently the roiling, hormonal urgency of their songs."

"Magnificently" or not, is this a good thing? Not in the Gershwin world of "We may never, never meet again on the bumpy road to love." But in the Zeppelin world of "Way down inside, woman, you need it!" there is no higher compliment. And no matter how old and grizzled these rockers (and others like them) get, we live in a Zeppelin world.

Not that Zep is merely "Still Sexy After All These Years," as the FT titled its review. Amid the decibels, The New York Times detected what it saw fit to describe as a "loud serenity." As in: "There was a kind of loud serenity about Led Zeppelin's set." Hmm. As for Mr. Plant himself, The New York Times said: "He was authoritative; he was dignified."

OK. I'll pretend I haven't seen concert pictures of Mr. Plant, his face contorted over his hand-held microphone and under his disheveled perm. In fact, maybe "authoritative" works, at least in the way a street person yelling at a bus is authoritative. But "dignified"?

No doubt "dignified" is in the eye of the beholder -- in this case, the concert audience, some 10,000 strong. Among them was the Washington Post's reviewer, a self-described attorney "staring down the barrel of 40," who wrote of the "palpable sense of community" in the crowd around him, and more. "It appears that all the tickets to this concert went to couples who care about each other deeply," he wrote. "Fathers and sons. Mothers and daughters. Lifelong friends who bonded all those years ago to the music of the men onstage." I can hear the old song now: "Should auld acquaintance be forgot, woman, you need it!"

Of course, we're not talking about just any lifelong friends -- just the ones who, out of 20 million online lottery applicants, won the chance to plunk down $500 (or more) for two Zep tickets. "The randomness of the lottery system guaranteed that nearly all the tickets went to true fans, not a bunch of corporate stiffs," the Post attorney-reviewer wrote. Then again, who but "corporate stiffs" could afford them?

Corporate, likely, but "stiffs" -- whatever that means -- never. And that's the point. In our post-grown-up age, the middle-aged men who buy Zep tickets never think of themselves as "corporate stiffs," especially when they are exactly that. Rather, they cling to what the Post described as an "adolescent faith in the redemptive power of rock-and-roll." To wit: "With every note, as the night goes on, the weight of the years melts away and we are transported closer to our adolescent selves." And this is one scary sight. "As the band settled into a series of songs old and new," reported, "grown men in the mostly middle-aged and male audience began playing air guitar."

Question: If our "grown men" are busy transporting themselves closer to their adolescent selves, who guards against the barbarians at the gate? Nero got a very bad name for fiddling while Rome burned. But at least he wasn't playing air guitar.