Monday, June 20, 2011

#37: LZ-'75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin's 1975 American Tour by Stephen Davis

Gotham Books 2010, 217 pages

I read Stephen Davis' most well known book, Hammer of the Gods, back in high school. There, along with  every other 15-19 year old male, I went through the "Zep" phase. I could quote most songs, staunchly defended John Bonham as "the greatest drummer of all time" and thought Robert Plant was a D-Bag because of the Honeydrippers. I thrilled to the accounts of groupies being violated by dead sharks (made famous by the Frank Zappa song, "Mud Shark"), TVs being thrown off balconies and general mayhem. Zep were, no doubt, misogynistic, booze addled creepshows, but....chicks loved them!

That book caused a lot of consternation with the surviving members of Zeppelin because Davis got most of his info from the sleazebag that sold heroin to the band and the groupies. The 1975 tour was the only one that Davis went on with Zeppelin, and he says at the beginning of LZ-'75 that "around then (2007) I began to look through my notes of the '75 tour" which he claims he had not looked at for 30 years. (4-5) Maybe Plant and Paige were right when they claimed he did not know what he was writing about in 1985.

Anyway, perhaps it is because I am old. Perhaps it is because I am much more fascinated by the likes of Bukka White of the original "Shake 'em on Down" or The Jeff Beck Group or The Yardbirds. Perhaps I agree with Pete Townshend's assertion that Zep was "just not a very good band." Well, not really. Zeppelin III is still one of my favorite albums, and "The Ocean" from Houses of the Holy is still one of my favorite songs. While this book presents much about the trials of Arena Rock Gods of the 1970s, there is too much of the author. I am on the waiting list at my local library for a copy of Davis's book about the Rolling Stones, Old Gods Almost Dead, and I might change my mind.

Throughout, the author cannot mention any woman without some comment on her "attributes". The name dropping is almost as bad; I mean, who could not be reduced to swooning over "Mrs. Todd Rundgren". You know who that is, right kids? Bebe Buell? Ring a bell? In Playboy back in the 1970s? Well known to most CBGBs bands? Friend of Patti Smith? Wait a minute...what's that? Who the fuck is Todd Rundgren? You commies.

Zep was awash in "chicks", "groupies", "bimbos", "slutty girls" and "local talent", as well as heroin, coke, liquor, kimonos, bowler hats. Bonham was usually awash in stomach ailments, gas and unwanted turds. Could it be because he was drinking nearly a fifth of whiskey a day? In one chapter, entitled the "Prairie Princess", Davis scores a groupie who "looked like Mrs. Nebraska, only more wholesome." (138). Awwwwwwwww, that makes me feel all warm. She was pissed not to get Plant, but had to settle for a Feisty Rock Critic writing for....The Atlantic Monthly? She put out, but....The Atlantic Monthly? Were The Carpenters busy? Was The Kingston Trio on hiatus?

I kept track through this book about which shows Davis said were "shit hot". I took this to mean warm to the touch, somewhat mushy, steamy and more than a little uncomfortable to be around because of the stink. There were about 6 or seven, most toward the end of the tour. One cool item: Zep played on a good night for 3-4 hours. Yes, yes, there was the obligatory 30 minute drum solo on "Moby Dick", the obligatory John Paul Jones 20 minute keyboard jazz experiment, and Jimmy Page playing a guitar with a violin bow, rubber chicken, his own penis and a cast of Aleister Crowley's johnson. All this could be yours for...$10. Nowadays, that is about $35, or roughly $15 less than most Sheryl Crow Concerts.

I don't know. It is easy to make fun of bands like Zeppelin for their antics and hotel destruction, but they were an incredibly influential band. And, like it or not, Page, Jones and Bonham were very strong musicians. Plant's voice by '75 could not hit high notes because of throat surgery in 1973, but he could still belt it out. I would have liked more about the music and less about the author, who manages to track down an old girlfriend "who he never saw again" (155). This book, like many on the subject of Old Gods Long Dead, is a maudlin exercise. I wasn't there, and one gets the feeling through most of the book that the boys in the band did not want to be there either. The excess and the drinking and wanton sex were for the entourage.

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