Thursday, July 31, 2008

Led Zeppelin exists as a brand but not a band

Want an officially licensed Led Zeppelin beach towel? How about a matching bag? Would you like to sit on an official Led Zeppelin barstool while you're wearing your Led Zeppelin hoodie and staring at your Led Zeppelin blacklight poster with the soundtrack to The Song Remains the Same blaring on 180-gram vinyl? These days, there sure are enough goodies available from Bravado, the sole officially licensed dealer of Led Zeppelin merchandise, for a hardcore fan to adorn a room in a way never before possible.

The amount of sanctioned merchandise available to the public keeps on increasing. Collect all the ringtones and 2007 reunion programs you want, but there is one thing Led Zeppelin has not been able to supply: new musical compositions. That's because Led Zeppelin, while successfully resurrected in a concert setting once last December, is not a functioning band.

Led Zeppelin was forming at this time exactly 40 years ago, and it spent the following 12 years offering up the music that made the band the best in the world. Excitement about the group has not lessened in the long period since the fourpiece existed. The band's original albums are among the biggest sellers of all time, and newer collections of archival material have been right behind, with barstools and beach bags being manufactured to satisfy fans clamoring for more memorabilia associated with the band.

This 40th anniversary gives pause for reflection and a measure of celebration. One can only assume that the group's three original surviving members are cognizant of the occasion and are marking it in their own ways, just as will the collectors and fans who will be taking part in the memorabilia exhibit held at the historic Knebworth Field House in England between Friday and Sept. 3.

Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant must also harbor some desire to recreate some of their greatest collective moments from when they played alongside John Bonham, rock's greatest drummer. Recent packages like BBC Sessions in 1997 and DVD in 2003 have reminded fans about what Led Zeppelin was like in its '60s and '70s heyday. Because the group's fine form reappeared onstage for an isolated moment in this decade, with the powerful and deserving Jason Bonham behind the drum kit, it is more than a mere possibility that the group could do something else to add to its outstanding legacy. As such, it is simply up to the Led Zeppelin organization to decide whether or not the last Led Zeppelin song has been written, or the last Led Zeppelin tour has taken place.

We can make educated guesses on the mindsets of the would-be band members. Jimmy Page is looking back on the band he was in when he was at his best. Jason Bonham is hopeful for the band that will make him his best. John Paul Jones could be doing anything at this point, but he has a soft spot for playing with Jimmy Page. Robert Plant, turning 60 next month, is looking ahead to something he hasn't done yet.

If it is indeed Plant's decision to pursue other projects, it is unfortunate for him that he would inevitably be viewed, once again, as the lone holdout to a Led Zeppelin reunion. It would likewise be unfortunate for the others that he would not be joining them should they otherwise decide something like a world tour is in the cards.

It would be just as unfortunate if the history of Led Zeppelin, as the one legendary rock group that resisted all temptation to reunite and/or change its membership for the sake of a whopping payday, were so drastically rewritten that the new storyline involves a 2009 world tour with a new singer, such as a young Robert Plant imitator.

Still, Jason Bonham was Jimmy Page's drummer on tour in 1988, and they didn't call it Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page went on tour between 1994 and 1998, and they didn't call it Led Zeppelin. If a Led Zeppelin tour is discussed for next year and the willing parties don't include everybody it naturally could, and particularly if one or more surrogates is called to step in, then there's no sense in calling it Led Zeppelin. Call it the Vegetables, or the Mad Boys, or the Whoopie Cushions, or the Nobs. Just don't call it Led Zeppelin.

Then they can introduce a new brand with which to license merchandise, so they can pocket the profits and keep the proceeds from any unwilling participants.

Update: Well explained comments from Jeff Jampol, manager of the Doors, appeared in late October in a mailing list by Bob Lefsetz. Jampol, in a response to an earlier complaint about the rock band's perceived commercialism of late, defends the choices he made and explains why. Click here to read them.

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