Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Opinion: Jimmy Page needs to move on

As we go deeper into this 21st century and this instant-gratification information age, I can't help but question to what extent the band has become popularized to the point of no return.

If that's the case, and if there's a bit of remorse on Jimmy Page's side, I wonder to what extent this emotion is driving his decision-making today.

I wonder if his fear is driving his indecision when it comes to unveiling the long-delayed next phase of his career.

Page has been the self-appointed protectorate of Led Zeppelin throughout and following the era of manager Peter Grant, who astutely acquired a record deal for Led Zeppelin on the unprecedented contingency that the band was guaranteed exclusive control over its own image and recordings.

The band used this to great effect for some time, resisting TV appearances on the notion that Led Zeppelin was too monstrous an entity for small screens. On the road, the band hired a monstrous sound system, and only a leased jet would do when it came to transporting themselves across the United States. The group stopped touring England after January 1973 because its audience had grown too big for any venue that wasn't centrally located.

When they finished up their record-setting five-night run in May 1975, Robert Plant joked onstage that it would be their last concert in England until the 1980s. As it turns out, he wasn't far off the mark.

They didn't sell singles. You had to buy the album. If you liked that song "Kashmir" and wanted a copy, you'd have to buy an album with 15 songs spread across four sides. Ha. Kids now take it for granted that iTunes sells Led Zeppelin tracks individually for a buck apiece.

Everything about Led Zeppelin was big. Big sights, big sounds. But it wasn't just size that counts (right, guys?). There were also a bunch of mysteries.

Led Zeppelin's albums themselves were shrouded in mystery. There was the untitled one with no labeling information on the outside. Then there was the one that was sold in a brown paper bag so you couldn't tell exactly what you were getting. The artwork on the 1990 box set was right on in that regard. Featuring the crop circles may have been the last great decision by the Led Zeppelin organization.

When I interviewed John Paul Jones in 2001 and acquired stories from him that dispelled some long-held myths about the band, he second-guessed his own unlimited honesty, interjecting that he'd still like to leave a little bit of mystery to Led Zeppelin. I agreed, but author Mick Wall now believes he has lost his friendship with Page by breaking that barrier from the inside and writing a biography he says is revealing and painfully accurate.

The year 2007 was a red-letter year for a wave of small things officially sanctioned by Led Zeppelin that don't necessarily hold up to the principles of enormity and mystery:
One other event in 2007 that is important to the legacy of Led Zeppelin is that reunion concert held one year ago this month. While the world wanted to knock down the doors of the O2 arena on Dec. 10 and get a peek inside, the number of people who were there was less than 20,000. This was a way of resisting the temptation to cater to the masses. The goal was simply to pay tribute to Ahmet Erteg√ľn with all proceeds going to the education fund started in his name. How'd they do? "Hey, Ahmet, we did it!" I think they pulled this off incredibly well despite the initial glitches in the ticketing process.

But since that O2 concert was filmed, there must be temptation to release a video of it. You can almost guarantee it would outsell Lil Wayne and Kid Rock and Katy Perry combined. But isn't that just the point? They'd just be making more money, and they don't need that. They'd be catering to public demand, and the Led Zeppelin of old might have been against that.

The other day, I speculated here that a one-off Led Zeppelin reunion filmed in ground-breaking 3-D could satiate unlimited generations of fans forever. But that's precisely my point: Why would Led Zeppelin set out to satiate its fans? Page must be well aware that the law of diminishing returns predicts the demand for a 3-D theatrical release wouldn't sustain itself over time. If you make Led Zeppelin so accessible to the consumer and increase the supply, what does that eventually do to the demand?

Maybe that concept is exactly what Plant was thinking earlier this year when he told GQ magazine why he didn't feel a Led Zeppelin world tour was something he wanted to do. Plant said, "Led Zeppelin's never been about the fans. We've always been about four guys coming together to make thrilling, disturbing rock 'n' roll. On our own terms." Would a 3-D theatrical release be acceptable and defensible?

On the other hand, would it be only one of many options that would distill and minimize our mammoth rock group? Our hopes for a reunion tour and a new album would only appease our selfish demands. Man, we're just coddled fans who feel we deserve everything we want. We're nothing more than spoiled brats demanding Santa Claus to provide everything on our wish list. Doesn't all of this reek of compromising the principles of our favorite band ever?

But who here has compromised it? Who's the guilty party? Look again at everything that happened in 2007. Isn't this something Led Zeppelin has compromised itself?

And now that we have a little taste, now that the band has reunited so perfectly and proven itself capable of giving a flawless performance once again, we only want more. Can you blame us? Anyone can see that the genie has been let out of the bottle. Perhaps, as Page famously suggested to Mojo magazine a year ago, they never should have let the genie out of the bottle.

Screw it, Jimmy. Go ahead and tell us what your next band will be like. Forget your image. Just go out there and play some killer music already. Do it quickly before John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham slip away from your grasp once and for all. Can't you see that Michael Lee is already gone. Robert Plant's a lost cause. You can have Jones and Bonham today. Go and get them.

Defending the work of Led Zeppelin is a task that is unending. But your work as Jimmy Page the artist is for a limited time only. You must act now.

Devoted fans are standing by.

3 comments:

  1. Very nice Steve.
    Good food for thought.

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  2. There is NOTHING that will ever change Zeppelin's legacy!!! I have never understood that ridiculous comment by anyone. The 02 was great, and Plant should come around and at least do a few shows so the real fans get a shot. PAris Hilton is not a real Zeppelin fan! As far as coddled goes, are you kidding? I've been a fan since 1979, never got to see them and got one left over album and some compilations. page and Plant was good, but not Zep. They made a lot more money fromm us in the U.S. they could have at least done 1 show here! Again, Jimmy can do what he wants, he made Zep, he made Plant, the four worked great together but I still see Plant as the real "baby" in it all. Not about the fans? Who the hell is paying all their bills? The fans!!!

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  3. Jimmy these days is stuck in a harrowing dilemma:"await the call (he) know(s) may never come" or settle for a quasi Led Zep. I don't think Zep's legacy is so much on his mind as seeing what they could accomplish after 28 years apart(i.e. new songs), re-living some of the glory that they enjoyed in the 70's, and his turning 65 soon. Jimmy would agree to just about anything if Robert changed his mind...No one can fit a famous Black Dog verse into Kashmir but Robert, but heck he'd rather sing Rock And Roll Blue Grass-style(sic)...So let's see what Bonham, Jones, Kennedy, and Page can do together.

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