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Rock Gods displayed as Rock Clods?
on December 24, 2010
Arguably, one of the most influential bands in rock and roll history, no group seemed to mesmerize fans in the manner Led Zeppelin did. There is an undefined mystery/aura associated with Zeppelin that generates interest in the band, beyond its music. While Stephen Davis' "Hammer of the Gods" was a much anticipated and appreciated look into the band, its tale of debauchery only added to Zeppelin's mysterious lore. With LZ-75, Davis returns to give us a closer look at the band during its 1975 American Tour. Based notes and memorabilia that were "lost" for almost 35 years, Davis serves-up a close look at the band that somewhat diminishes the mysterious sheen that has cloaked the band throughout its history.
Halfway through the book, I was ready to pan Davis' work as it appeared Stephen Davis had a grudge against the band. The Godfathers of the heavier version of rock and roll seemed to be finally exposed as ... well ... mere humans. As a lifelong fan of the band, I was not sure if I was ready to have its image decimated by a series of somewhat embarrassing tales that amounted to nothing less than "too much information". However, as I pressed on, I began to appreciate Davis' recollection of the band as an exclusive insider's-view of Led Zeppelin in an era where rock stars enjoyed their decadent lifestyle in relative secrecy.
"LZ-75" starts with Davis discovering an old box full of memorabilia collected from an assignment covering Led Zeppelin during its 1975 American tour. From this point he takes us to the beginning of his adventure trying to secure such an assignment (made difficult by the negative press the band couldn't escape from most traditional music sources like "Rolling Stone" magazine). His early reporting of the band's performance, let alone its members, is less than flattering. Rather than Rock Gods staging yet another blitzkrieg across the United States, we see a group of spoiled prima donnas as unhealthy, homesick, and belligerent drunks with a penchant for drugs and groupies. The performances at the start of the tour are characterized as tepid, not torrid, as one concert in Texas included Robert Plant pleading with an unimpressed audience for some sign of appreciation. Unlike previous tours that followed the release of a new album, this tour featured the band trying to introduce music from an album ("Physical Graffiti") whose release was delayed. The lackluster fan enthusiasm for the new music (including iconic gems like "Kashmir" and "Trampled Underfoot") in addition to Robert Plant's lingering influenza and Jimmy Page's injured hand seemed to cast a funk on the band and its burgeoning tour. The rhythm section of the band (John Paul Jones and John Bonham) weren't devoid of problems either as one became the subject of constant ridicule on stage (Jones) and the other (Bonham) turned into his violent, alcohol-fueled alter-ego, "the Beast". While Davis' main goal was to land a rare interview with the reclusive Page, it began to appear that the futility in getting that interview started to sour Davis' opinion of Led Zeppelin altogether. After all, how many fans really need to know about Bonham's need to wear diapers on stage due to alcohol-induced incontinence or the repeated need to compare Jones' hair to that of Liberace and his keyboard playing as "cheesy lounge music"?
It is once the tour heads to Los Angeles that Davis' reporting of events become more interesting and the band begins to enjoy itself and perform as expected. For it is the city of Los Angeles, with its abundance of drugs and loyal groupies, that traditionally served as Led Zeppelin's life support during American tours. The mood is more relaxed, the album is finally released, the band is happier and the audience begins to appreciate the performances. It is at this point where the reader is given a much appreciated fly-on-the-wall perspective of the band's stay at the Continental Hotel (the "Riot House") and on board the legendary "Starship" (the band's plane). We are exposed to the various people and activities that comprise the burden of that 1975 tour: the hand-assembled, 500 light bulb "Led Zeppelin" sign present at each show, the thuggish antics of band manager Peter Grant and tour manager Richard Cole to the workaholic Danny Goldberg. One interesting moment includes the possibility of Davis witnessing Manson follower Squeaky Fromme's attempt to contact Jimmy Page about a pending omen. Davis finally eases up on Jones' by acknowledging the importance and need of his bass-playing skills and thankfully, the almost daily account of Bonham's diarrhea, comes to an end. With the tour drawing to a close there is a melancholy sense that the author realizes the band's best days may be a thing of the past.
"LZ-75" is actually pretty good reporting, in my opinion. Throughout the book, Davis displays an honest view of what he sees (good and bad) and overall, he comes across as objective. The book is probably best served to Led Zeppelin fans. Although some fans may believe Davis aims to tarnish the band's image, many fans may appreciate a peek behind the mysterious veil that has surrounded the band for so long, exposing its members as mere mortals after all.