Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The 12 days of Zeppelin: Unauthorized biography of Led Zeppelin by Mick Wall

On the tenth day of Zeppelin, my true love gave to me:
Biography of Led Zeppelin by Mick Wall

When Mick Wall's "When Giants Walked the Earth" was published in a hardcover edition last year for the U.K. market, it contained some timely commentary about their highly successful one-night show staged at the end of 2007. The author notes that Plant, who had been interested enough in the making of a re-released The Song Remains the Same movie and soundtrack that year to actually sit in, thought the Led Zeppelin reunion show ought to be a proper farewell from the band. Wall says Plant had a bigger say in what songs would and would not be included; gone were songs that were "too heavy metal," and he would do "Stairway to Heaven" but only buried in the middle of their two-hour set, not as a finale or an encore.

Of course, the others had learned by then to cater to his wishes; after all, the last time a Zeppelin reunion had been seriously considered with Plant going along with it had been back about 16 years earlier. He even cites a remark made in 1993 by Peter Grant to Dave Lewis: "You've got to realize Robert always wanted to be the boss of the band anyway. He finally got his own way." This appears to be Wall's thesis, that the band was, in essence, hijacked over the course of time by Robert Plant, stolen from the reins of founder Jimmy Page. To illustrate this concept, Wall starts by going to the very beginning of the story: Page as a child learning from the earliest rock 'n' roll in existence and wanting to be a part of it, and eventually wanting to do certain things with a band of his own. Wall, leaving no part of the story unturned, lists it all.

"When Giants Walked the Earth," now available in paperback and hardcover editions in the United States, is quite perhaps the most detailed a book has been in attempting to uncover the mindsets of the men behind Led Zeppelin. The most unique part of this book is one very irregular style of writing that helps the reader understand the bigger pictures as presented. Wall writes long odes to the characters of the story, as if somebody were speaking to them at a certain period of time but with knowledge of the future. This style of writing is definitely jarring at first, but once accustomed, the reader can learn the larger context of the story.

Wall, who was editor-in-chief of Classic Rock magazine, has been somewhat criticized for questionable sourcing of information in the book, but to his credit he has logged many hours with the Zeppelin members over the years. Further, he notes there are some sources who "for reasons of privacy do not wish to be named." Still, he says he has taken heat for the book; he wrote in August 2008: "I appear to have lost the 20-year friendship of Jimmy Page (how dare I try and write a better book than the bog-awful Hammer Of The Gods), Robert Plant (he'll change his mind when he sees it) and related friends like - apparently."

While some biographies of Led Zeppelin delve briefly into the topic of Jimmy Page's alleged interest in the occult and the works of Aleister Crowley, Wall devotes 28 entire pages to unravelling that mystery. In a manner that probably no other author has attempted, Wall goes long into details about precisely what teachings of Crowley's might have most appealed to Page. Here, Wall attempts to represent Crowley's teachings in a manner that separates the original intentions from the way they have been conveyed popularly. It's a lot of information, more than this particular reader enjoyed although other opinions and levels of interest may vary considerably. The author discusses the possibility of a curse alleged to have been placed on Page by filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Wall notes that the hardships Led Zeppelin experienced in the second half of the 1970s began around the time Anger was supposed to have made this curse.

One bias of Wall's appears to be that the second half of Led Zeppelin's existence contained nothing but bad experiences, in sharp contrast to the mostly good experiences of the first half. He does go too far in dismissing the efforts on the albums Presence and In Through the Out Door, and his opinions of the judgment that guided Led Zeppelin in the later years are not high either. Taking these biases into consideration, the biography still does much to demystify the personalities behind Led Zeppelin as the years progressed. This is one biography that should not be overlooked.

A much more meticulous analysis of this book than mine can be found at the enlightening Peromyscus blog.

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