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Hammer of the Gods Mass Market Paperback – Deluxe Edition, January 1, 2001
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About the Author
Stephen Davis’s many acclaimed books include the Rolling Stones history Old Gods Almost Dead as well as the New York Times bestsellers Walk This Way (with Aerosmith), Fleetwood (with Mick Fleetwood), and the Led Zeppelin history Hammer of the Gods.
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Hammer of the Gods is missing all that. I realize Davis was writing about four people and so could not cover them all as profoundly as he did Morrison, but despite the actual writing, which is quite good for this genre, I think in 1985 he was lacking both the historical perspective and the maturity to be able to give Zeppelin its full due.
Despite the selling one's soul to the devil bit, which is merely a catchy framing device, he starts out well, chronicling Jimmy Page's early musical growth and subsequent session work, understanding that it was a laboratory for his development and his output with the Yardbirds. This portion was fascinating and gave real insight into Page's vision --as well as documenting the intelligent business decisions and transactions he and his manager made, which transformed Rock and the way performers were remunerated.
However, the other three members of the band and their early development are merely glossed over. Jones is given credit as a solid supporting player; Bonham and Plant are depicted as yokels who had the extreme good fortune to be picked up by Page.
1985 was perhaps too soon to understand the social impact of the 1970's - and so Davis makes the band seem particularly narcissistic as the story moves away from their creative process and musicianship and devolves into a series of debaucheries. Though he is careful to document the antics of the roadies and managers and separate those incidents from the bands actual transgressions, he fails to put those events into context. In fact, the seventies were a time of great excess all around: the sexual revolution was gaining momentum ( yes, shockingly, even mom and pop were swinging in middle America), women's liberation was in its early days, the the social movements of the '60's had gone underground and morphed into all sorts of self exploration including those featuring the occult and transcendence.
Again, though Davis details the recording sessions from a technical perspective, there is no insight into the band's creative process, aside from that of Stairway to Heaven -and this is where the lack of first person interview really comes into play. Some pages are spent on the marketing of the band to a mass audience, but there is little analysis why the band was despised by rock journalists who adored the Stones, and older fans who worshiped Hendrix and Cream, for example. Poor lyrics are suggested as the reason, but listening to Zeppelin's powerful sound forty years later, I think a deeper analysis of the social and historical zeitgeist is merited. Though Zeppelin didn't reach a mass audience until 1973-4, they did arrive in L.A in 1969--so it is inconceivable that the more mature audience had already moved on. As an afterthought, although Plant, Page and Jones were exceptionally good looking, they never exploited that fact in their marketing like the Beatles, Stones, Morrison and others did- which might account for their lack of social prestige and lack of interest from the art crowd --and that their appeal remained predominately limited to a younger male audience, which was concentrated on the sound and the intensity of the performances.
Personally I was impressed with the professionalism and integrity of the band in relation to performing for its fans. There is no gross self indulgence on stage [ aside from long solos] - members made it a point of showing up under the most adverse conditions and giving it their all. I don't know about you, but I have to take a nap after working out or doing a bunch of errands--so I can't imagine the kind of stamina it would take to not only tour but to perform night after night raising the kind of energy necessary to whip up the audience to a certain level.
Maybe I am overthinking this and should just uncork the champagne and turn up the volume, but I would like to see a do over by the author and a serious analysis of Zeppelin with less concentration on bedroom antics and more on the music.
And you know what? It was a rollicking good read. I'm not a huge music buff or insane fan of Led Zeppelin or anything, but I do like to listen to their music, and a couple of times when I googled something out of curiosity about one of their songs, this book came up.
So on a whim, I bought it. It sat there for a while after it arrived, and then one weekend when I had nothing to do, I read it. A fabulous tale. I understand that there are some, um, uncertainties and disagreements about just how true it is with regard to every last detail.
Who cares? It's a page-turner, and fascinating as well. Totally apart from the "Do you like their music?" or "Ethos of the '60s and '70s!" genres. It's just a great narrative well told that keeps your interest, with very reasonable character development for something in this genre. I like it. I like it a lot.
First "rock and roll book" I've ever read, but based on this experience, I may read others.
Whether every word is 100% accurate is almost of minor importance since most of the main points seem to have a ring of truth to them; the book generally appears credible. Sure, a few sentences were probably embellished to elicit a certain shock factor, but hey, the legendary stories contained in Hammer of the Gods are exactly why it reached the top of the misty mountain as the classic legendary rock biography.
No music fan or fan of biographical works can neglect to at least skim through it as just like LZ themselves, the book was a major catalyst for a subsequent wave of similar copy-cat musical artist tell-alls that definitely have as first priority titillation, with secondary billing going to conveying some of the more specific aspects of the music biz.
Hammer of the Gods really comes through in that while never disappointing in the jaw-dropping department it also weaves a fascinating picture behind many of LZ's hit recordings and the American Blues history underlying several of them. How Plant, Page, Bonham and Jones ultimately first fell into place in post WWII U.K. is an interesting story in its own right. Cole and Grant's managerial maneuverings, camaraderie, intimidations, violent beatings and in some cases business acumen make for just as enthralling reading as the band and roadies' wild exploits on tour. Grant leaves an impression.