Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Robert Plant turns 60; what's he up to?

One story that is often repeated about the formation of Led Zeppelin 40 years ago this month deals with the occasion of Robert Plant's birthday. During the same month that saw him and his friend John Bonham rehearsing with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones for the first of many times, Robert turned 20 years old. This was much more than a symbolic milestone for him. Robert is said to have promised his concerned parents that if he did not have a successful singing career in place by his 20th birthday, he would take the professional path they wished for him: accounting.

Obviously, forming Led Zeppelin sufficed.

The group's youngest member went on very quickly to record an album that forged a new genre of music. That eponymous Led Zeppelin LP opens with words that perhaps resound even more with the more mature Robert Plant who today turns 60 years old:

"In the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man/ Now I've reached that age I try to do all those things the best I can ..."

It's easy to reflect on the many lyrics Plant has written, sung, quoted and stole during his brilliant and ever-twisting career that stretches from '66 far beyond Timbuktu. Tight But Loose author Dave Lewis has already done quite a fine job of that, so I won't dare to repeat his efforts here.

What I would like to do is take a moment to think about where he might be headed next. Not that I would dare predict it. As current touring partner Alison Krauss was recently quoted in her hometown newspaper in Nashville, The Tennessean, "He's constantly on the move to find inspiration." What's he up to next? I'd answer that with about five very different guesses, and I might not even nail it.

That's the brilliance of Robert Plant. You never know where he'll go next. He'll surprise you. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was when he fronted a reunited Led Zeppelin fourpiece for a charity gig in Ahmet Ertegün's honor last year. I wouldn't be the first to suggest that the recent death of Jerry Wexler, Ertegün's partner at Atlantic Records, would be sufficient cause for a similar effort. But that would almost be expected now, wouldn't it?

Plant has long been his own spokesperson in interviews, press conferences, concerts and other events. It was during an award acceptance speech last year that he delivered a memorable bit of insight as to how his musical influences had shifted through his life. When he and Alison Krauss were presented with a CMT award for their cover of an Everly Brothers tune that dated back to 1964, Robert said:

"I'd like to thank Don and Phil Everly for getting me through my teenage years, and I'd like to thank Alison for helping me get through my late 50s."

But an even more revealing snippet was something Robert wrote five years ago this month, which turned up in the liner notes of the first album to chronicle the music of his solo career. He writes for Sixty Six to Timbuktu:

"And today, after the Top 40 twists, the retro ballads, and even a couple of fascinating duets I am so charged. With abundant new material developing rapidly and connections in Morocco and West Africa moving at a pace unimagined back in '71, the future is ahead -- bright ahead."

No matter what your next year brings, Robert, your fans hope the future is still bright ahead. Go get 'em, and happy 60th birthday.

1 comment:

  1. gradual, ineveitable, desired, deserved obscurity.


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