Sunday, February 8, 2009

Taking risks and chances possible only in the past?

Is turning down an opportunity to sing with Led Zeppelin a courageous move or not?

We seem to have two sides to this coin.

On one side, you have Robert Plant the cult hero, admired for his intrepid and offbeat partnership with Alison Krauss at a time most of the world is clamoring for him to re-team with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones and give that whole Led Zeppelin thing another go. Championing this suggestion is Spin magazine's editor, Doug Brod, who says the public characterizes Plant "as a guy who's not afraid to take chances." The implication is that by turning his back once again on the past, Plant is courageously forging ahead into unknown territory, earning as many as five Grammys this evening.

On the flip side of the coin is the notion that Plant is afraid after all -- afraid of taking the biggest chance, which could involve singing songs in his 60s that he sang when his vocal range and his onstage persona knew no bounds. It could also involve submitting once again to fate and trotting off again with some old friends to see if they could draw something out of themselves that they did not know was there, and once again become the world's biggest rock band.

Plant's not willing to do that, and the conclusion is that it's because he's afraid. But it's surprising who's saying this: none other than Plant himself. He remarked Jan. 27 in an interview for U.K. deejay Ben Jones that it is "very hard" to do justice in light of certain expectations and possible disappointment. In other words, he's fearful of letting people down. He admitted on the air to being "frightened" by his limitations.

This suggestion of Plant's is only the latest in a series of comments he's made that play off an idea that Led Zeppelin was a courageous unit. He said in a promo interview conducted for the 1990 Led Zeppelin box set that the group "was bold and brave" and "took risks and chances which are no longer possible if you start from scratch."

"No longer possible," he said back then, "if you start from scratch."

Is it necessarily the case that it can't be done? I mean, the one time there was a Led Zeppelin reunion concert this century, he met the challenge head-on. Not only Plant but also Page, Jones and drummer Jason Bonham. They've all proven they've retained enough of that magic formula to fill a two-hour concert set. So even if the ability to pull it off was in question back in 1990, it can't be the excuse anymore. This recent event has proven otherwise.

For him, it's not the point to ask if he can do it anymore -- hell, he may even be more sure than ever that he can. And that one-night-only performance at the Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert in December 2007 wasn't his only venture down that path. There were the less-than-stellar reunions at Live Aid in 1985 and at the Atlantic 40th birthday celebration in 1988, which made an extended reunion seem like a fruitless affair. There were aborted attempts at reunions in 1986 and 1991 that never advanced beyond discussions, rehearsals and the refusal of offers. There was the five-year collaboration between Page and Plant in the mid 1990s that left Jones wondering why he wasn't included. So it's not like this is something that hasn't been attempted or at least considered before.

Plant brings to the table a more poignant question with regard to the current situation. It's one of what the purpose would be in reforming the band. A radio program once captured Plant's statement on the futility of a reunion: "The media keeps playing on the fact that it could reform. Somebody could rebuild Stonehenge, but it's not gonna happen." And similarly, last July, he compared a Led Zeppelin reunion to a new episode in the Indiana Jones film series. He told Nashville's Tennessean newspaper that there had been a new Indiana Jones movie, but so what? The old ones are classics, and the latest installment failed to live up to the expectation of being rated an immediate classic.

Well, what if it had been? Wouldn't the filmmakers be popularly hailed as history-repeating engineers? Maybe that's the point of revisiting the past.

Plant may have addressed even these points in his recent Ben Jones interview. He says, for one thing, that any attempt at revisiting the past requires "a new, fresh, make-over start." And he also says that committing "to visit old ground" is difficult to do.

Difficult, sure, but not impossible. Just challenging. You can't do it if you're frightened, and that's what Plant readily admits he is!

But then again, Plant in the same minute reverts to another argument, that the reunion is impossible anyway. It's as impossible today as it was at the end of 1980, he says, because John Bonham's death made the band incomplete. It will remain incomplete "no matter what you do."

I guess that's news to Jason Bonham, and to those who found him fully capable of filling his father's shoes at the O2 Arena in London when he bravely and boldly put his reputation on the line when he took a risk and a chance in filling in for the world's greatest rock drummer.


  1. Stay tuned. We will get another one-off. Just prior to the release of Raising Sand 2. Plant is a master of marketing and promotion. However, I noticed a different tone in this interview, in terms of his attitude toward Zeppelin. No "spinal Tap" comments or belittling the time in Zeppelin, no "I am not that guy anymore" comments. My thoughts are 1. he realizes that age is narrowing the window of opportunity to perform with Page/JPJ, thereby softening his attitude, and 2. I really think he is signaling to Page that if he would come up with something new he would not rule out being a part of it.
    And the fact that he mentioned Jimmy Page by name tonight on national tv speaks volumes, in my opinion. A couple of Plant "insiders" on various message boards perpetuate the myth that he is still bitter at Page over events of 30 years ago. Based on the Wales (December) interview and the comment tonight, I am not buying that theory at all.

  2. Please ... do we have to have this analysis and reanalysis time and time again?!

    Robert Plant has done the right thing. There is no way that the three pensioners can recreate the sixties and seventies.

    You talk of fright, but all he is referring to is the obvious. A reunion could be one big letdown. Best to remember the legendary music as it was originally recorded and performed. What is the point of trying to go back to 1980? Another one-off show is the most that we should ask for.

  3. Though it would be nice to see Page/Plant/ Jones and Jason Bonham do something new together, it would be compared by the public to past efforts. Plant is wise to let sleeping dogs lay and let us reflect on what was. Perhaps the Rolling Stones and The Who should take a hint from Plant.

  4. Hey Steve,
    I think you hit the nail on the head.

    He can hide behind Bonzo's death all he wants, but I think Robert is afraid of failure.
    He usually brushes of the Zepp questions saying that it is not a challenge, but in reality, isn't the comeback the greatest challenge of all?

    Can lighting strike twice? Wouldn't you want to know?
    That would be a great challenge and a great reward.

    If you fail, you fail, but at least you tried. That is not going to tarnish any so called legacy that you have, or think you have. The word "Legacy" is an old word. It's just a pomp and circumstance word that went out with button shoes. Know one really cares about that stuff anymore these days. All they want is their Iphones, Ipods, email, and video games.

    Is it not better to try it, than to avoid it?
    Because if you don't even try it, the regret will bother you for the rest of your life, and in reality, there's not much of that left for some of us (and them).

    You might go down in a blaze of glory, but at least you gave it a shot.


  5. I just caught this poignant viewpoint posted by blogger D.R. Scott at on Feb. 12:

    "Rock ‘n’ Roll stars do have second acts in their careers sometimes. Incredibly, unlike his greedy ex-bandmates, Plant didn’t want to lock himself inside a time machine and microwave stale Led Zeppelin leftovers anymore. Instead, the lead singer of The Greatest Rock Band In History chose to travel on the road less taken. Robert Plant had enough faith in himself to know that his experience would keep him from getting lost.
    "When an old fart takes on a new challenge and succeeds, that’s how you stay young, not plastic surgery or a supermodel girlfriend."


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