Happy Birthday, Jimmy Page!

Jimmy Page, the legendary founder of Led Zeppelin, turns 70 today. Below is an excerpt from Led Zeppelin FAQ, by George Case, as well as the book trailer.

Page is one of the most famous rock musicians ever, both for his enduring music and his still-shadowy private predilections. He was the founder and producer of Led Zeppelin; the main of collaborative composer of almost all the quartet’s songs; the man who selected the other three players for membership; the final authority on Zeppelin’s official recorded output, tour schedules, and set lists; a guitar hero; a star concert attraction (considering he took no lead vocals and rarely spoke to the attendees); the curator of the band’s post-breakup archives; and the key figure in Zeppelin’s occult legendry. His skills on electric and acoustic guitar led many other professional and amateur plays to emulate (or further) his techniques, and his ingenuity and improvisations in the studio are some of the most crucial developments in the science of recorded pop music. Photographs of Page as the long-haired, open-shirted instrumentalist with his Les Paul slung to his thighs; as the backstage emperor guzzling Jack Daniel’s whiskey; as the spotlit soloist triumphantly hoisting his double-neck; or as the black-, white-, or SS-uniformed rock ’n’ roller taking adulatory center stage are some of the most iconic visions in popular culture. To sum up the artistic and intellectual ideal of “rock star,” it would be hard to find a better illustration than Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.

It is ironic, then, that Page was perhaps the least proficient musician of the group and the remaining member with the least adventurous track record after 1980. Though obviously a talented guitarist and a dynamic live performer, his actual playing from cut to cut and from concert to concert was erratic; though he instigated many of Led Zeppelin’s most indelible songs, they were immeasurably improved by the others, in some examples far beyond Page’s initial ideas. For a shrewd and sensitive industry professional, he, too, like the naïve Brum John Bonham, suffered badly from overindulgence in drugs and alcohol through the Zeppelin years, and the group’s final records and shows reflect the depths of his personal decline. His offstage pursuits of esoteric religions and sexual kinks, though verified well enough, have been repeated and exaggerated to the point where they have taken on a mystique disproportionate to Page’s substantive involvement with either. Strip away the fable and urban legend, and Jimmy Page emerges as a good but seldom brilliant artist smart and lucky enough to have placed himself in the middle of phenomena that have added to his renown more by passive association than deliberative action.

As an electric guitarist, Page had a knack for creating memorable sounds that was superior to his actual agility at playing, and many of his signature riffs – “Communication Breakdown,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Immigrant Song,” “The Ocean,” “The Wanton Song,” “In the Evening” – are marked more by their infectious hooks than by any fingerboard complexity (beginning players can get the hang of them with little difficulty). He was in fact a more advanced acoustic player, inventing a range of unusual tunings and demonstrating some quite delicate finger-style work on “Black Mountain Side,” “Bron-y-Aur Stomp,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “The Rain Song,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” and “Bron-yr-Aur.” This diversity of ability, moving from idiosyncratic acoustic strumming on “Black Mountain Side” to solid electric boogie on “Communication Breakdown,” or from distorted guitar on “Rock and Roll” to pretty mandolin on “The Battle of Evermore,” helped Page sound more accomplished than he would have had he confined himself to any single genre – the songs and the styles change before his shortcomings become apparent. More than anything, Page’s strength was in isolating and perfecting (abetted by Jones and Bonham) the progressions or rhythmic figures he hit upon by chance, with his training as a session player instilling in him the ear and control required to go over tryout performances and shape them into something more striking or monolithic. Contemporaries such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck; later hard rock heroes including Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, Black Sabbath’s Tonny Iommi, and AC/DC’s Angus Young; and virtuosi such as Eddie Van Halen, Al Di Meola, and Leo Kottke were better than Page at executing their own parts than he was at his, but Page was the master at recognizing effective notes when he heard them and then maximizing their impact.

Led Zeppelin FAQ

In this exhaustive and insightful reference text, rock writer and cultural critic George Case details the key names, dates, figures, and features of one of the biggest and most mythologized rock-and-roll groups of all time: Led Zeppelin. Here, finally, are the answers to the puzzles that have haunted fans for over four decades – puzzles such as the meaning of Led Zep’s enigmatic album covers; the truth about leader Jimmy Page’s involvement with the occult; a breakdown of the sometimes murky roots of their greatest songs; firm data on their musical instruments, live performances, and studio productions; and sordid specifics of the band’s infamously debauched private lives.

But here, too, is a deeply reflective analysis of why Led Zeppelin’s music has endured as long as it has, and of how Led Zeppelin’s mystique has only grown in the years since their official disbanding. Placing the group in the context of their time and place, Case scrupulously compares and contrasts their achievements with those of their influences, rivals, and followers.Led Zeppelin FAQ is not only an indispensable listener’s companion to a classic rock act, but a considered history of rock and roll as a business, an art form, and a worldwide social phenomenon.

You Can Never Go Back

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGuest Blogger: George Case, author of Led Zeppelin FAQ, Jimmy Page, and Out of Our Heads. To read his entire post on anachronisms in film and television, please visit his blog.

“The past is a foreign country,” runs L.P. Hartley’s famous quotation: “they do things differently there.” Has Hollywood ever heard this? Not, apparently, when it was decided that Cleopatra looked like Elizabeth Taylor or that a US military hospital in the Korean War was staffed with sensitive proto-feminists, and not even in the sophisticated meta-culture of the present. The slew of recent films and TV series set in bygone times carries on the show business tradition of misrepresenting how people looked and spoke decades ago, and in a deeper sense the works even fail to capture the way their characters would have really lived. The loss is the audience’s, and history’s.

Anachronisms abound. In the acclaimed Mad Men, Don Draper’s wife tells him, “I can’t deal with this” during an emotional confrontation – is that how spouses argued in 1962? In another episode Don and a female partner share a passionate embrace at a decadent pool party, while just across the water two gorgeous women are themselves kissing erotically. Same-sex amour and faux-lesbianism are no big deals nowadays, but were they so openly conducted fifty years back?  Recently, Don has even reflected to the psychedelic strains of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” in 1966 – a great song, we now know, but would a Brylcreemed ad exec really take an interest in an experimental album track at the time?

In Mad Men and elsewhere, the common mistake is in depicting the past with the sensibility of the present: costume dramas are appealing enough as long as the costumes are the only foreign element for viewers to take in…

Keep reading this post on George Case’s blog!

 

Led Zeppelin FAQ is not only an indispensable listener’s companion to a classic rock act, but a considered history of rock and roll as a business, an art form, and a worldwide social phenomenon.

Four or Five Lads Who Shook the World

George CaseGuest Blogger: George Case is the author of Led Zeppelin FAQ , Jimmy Page , and Out of Our Heads. Below is an excerpt from his blog.

Four or Five Lads Who Shook the World

I have close relatives who listen attentively to One Direction, the popular boy band from the UK, and after observing the phenomenon I can confirm: One Direction are the new Beatles.

Before the protests pour in, I hasten to say I don’t believe 1D (I know the lingo) will have anything like the long-term success and influence of the Fab Four. Yet it’s precisely such a dismissal that links the two groups. Where One Direction and the Beatles resemble each other is in the contemporary mainstream responses to their music, which was, and is, pretty skeptical. One Direction will probably not end up like the Beatles, but they’ve started from the same position.

Today John, Paul, George and Ringo are routinely cited as only a little less significant to Western civilization than Mahatma Gandhi, Julius Caesar, and Moses, but throughout the 1960s, and certainly during the Beatlemania years, many outsiders found their songs forgettable and their mass appeal dismaying. “All I want to know is, why?” asked veteran British saxophonist Tubby Hayes of the Beatles’ popularity, after three of them had blithely dropped in at jazzer Ronnie Scott’s nightclub. The New York Herald-Tribune wrote them off as “75 percent publicity, 20 percent haircut, and 5 percent lilting lament.” “These bums are what all the fuss is about?” wondered boxer Sonny Liston after the foursome posed with his upcoming opponent, a young prospect named Cassisus Clay. Though film critic Andrew Sarris liked A Hard Day’s Night, he qualified, “[t]hey may not be worth a paragraph in six months.” In 1964’s Goldfinger, no less suave a figure than Sean Connery’s James Bond told his latest conquest, “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Pérignon ’53 above a temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!” That same year, Paul Johnson described the Beatles as a “mass-produced mental opiate” in his infamous article “The Menace of Beatlism,” published in the New Statesman:

Nowadays, if you confess that you don’t know the difference between Dizzy Gillespie and Fats Waller (and what is more don’t care) you are liable to be accused of being a fascist…Both TV channels [!] now run weekly programmes in which popular records are played to teenagers and judged.  While the music is performed, the cameras linger savagely over the faces of the audience…How pathetic and listless they seemed:  young girls, hardly more than sixteen, dressed as adults and already lined up as fodder for exploitation…At sixteen, I and my friends heard our first performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  I can remember the excitement even today.  We would not have wasted thirty seconds of our precious time on The Beatles and their ilk…

Keep reading this article on George’s blog!

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Led Zeppelin FAQ

In this exhaustive and insightful reference text, rock writer and cultural critic George Case details the key names, dates, figures, and features of one of the biggest and most mythologized rock-and-roll groups of all time: Led Zeppelin. Here, finally, are the answers to the puzzles that have haunted fans for over four decades – puzzles such as the meaning of Led Zep’s enigmatic album covers; the truth about leader Jimmy Page’s involvement with the occult; a breakdown of the sometimes murky roots of their greatest songs; firm data on their musical instruments, live performances, and studio productions; and sordid specifics of the band’s infamously debauched private lives.

But here, too, is a deeply reflective analysis of why Led Zeppelin’s music has endured as long as it has, and of how Led Zeppelin’s mystique has only grown in the years since their official disbanding. Placing the group in the context of their time and place, Case scrupulously compares and contrasts their achievements with those of their influences, rivals, and followers. Led Zeppelin FAQ is not only an indispensable listener’s companion to a classic rock act, but a considered history of rock and roll as a business, an art form, and a worldwide social phenomenon.

Roger Ebert’s Legacy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGuest Blogger: George Case is the author of Jimmy PageLed Zeppelin FAQ, and Out of Our Heads. Below is an excerpt from his blog.

Always At the Movies

Roger Ebert, the famous film critic who died on April 4, is rightly being remembered as an impassioned defender of cinematic art and a fierce opponent of Hollywood’s lowest-common-denominator ethic. He was a champion of the sleeper and the un-blockbuster. If his aesthetic standards were not as rigorous as those of highbrow reviewers like John Simon or Stanley Kauffmann, they nonetheless informed a generation of moviegoers who learned from him that big budgets and big stars do not inevitably produce great films. But Roger Ebert left another, more troubling, legacy – one he surely didn’t intend but which has nevertheless changed, for the worse, the medium he loved.

When it debuted on PBS in 1978, “Sneak Previews,” the program Ebert co-hosted with Gene Siskel, was a unique show that afforded TV viewers the unusual opportunity to learn about new, old, and little-known films. Today the review paradigm it pioneered – thumbs up, thumbs down; five star, one star; I say, you say; he says, she says – is ubiquitous on television and the Internet. Today movies, TV series, music, books, dance, and just about every other art form are subject to instant judgements passed by countless professional and amateur critics, ranging from highly paid celebrities, as Roger Ebert certainly was, to talking heads on the local news and down to anonymous bloggers and online trolls. Today there are cable networks devoted to old movies, websites devoted to new graphic novels, YouTube channels about television and Facebook pages about radio. Today the opinions of Ebert’s descendants and imitators are themselves praised, panned, and deconstructed by ever-expanding circles of commentary. Today the relationship between even the most populist creators and the least discriminating audiences is mediated by leagues of insiders, second-guessers, and full-time spectators. Today the entertainment and cultural industries are, in a significant sense, their own chief subjects.

Finish the article on George’s blog

 

Led Zeppelin FAQ

In this exhaustive and insightful reference text, rock writer and cultural critic George Case details the key names, dates, figures, and features of one of the biggest and most mythologized rock-and-roll groups of all time: Led Zeppelin. Here, finally, are the answers to the puzzles that have haunted fans for over four decades – puzzles such as the meaning of Led Zep’s enigmatic album covers; the truth about leader Jimmy Page’s involvement with the occult; a breakdown of the sometimes murky roots of their greatest songs; firm data on their musical instruments, live performances, and studio productions; and sordid specifics of the band’s infamously debauched private lives.

But here, too, is a deeply reflective analysis of why Led Zeppelin’s music has endured as long as it has, and of how Led Zeppelin’s mystique has only grown in the years since their official disbanding. Placing the group in the context of their time and place, Case scrupulously compares and contrasts their achievements with those of their influences, rivals, and followers. Led Zeppelin FAQ is not only an indispensable listener’s companion to a classic rock act, but a considered history of rock and roll as a business, an art form, and a worldwide social phenomenon.

40 Years of Led Zeppelin IV

George Case
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Guest Blogger: George Case, author of Led Zeppelin FAQ, Jimmy Page, and Out of Our Heads.
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Forty years ago today, Led Zeppelin released their landmark fourth album – commonly known as Led Zeppelin IV, it’s the one that contains some of the band’s best-known songs, including “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” “Going to California,” “When the Levee Breaks,” and, of course, “Stairway to Heaven.”
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Led Zeppelin IV was Led Zeppelin’s masterpiece, and the culmination of their first breakneck three years of almost non-stop travel, performing, and recording.  By many estimates, the quartet was never as inspired or as cohesive afterward.  Although later albums such as Houses of the Holy, Physical Graffiti, and Presence were all strong additions to their catalog, IV was a peak of commercial and critical success they could not quite surpass.  “Stairway to Heaven” became their anthem, and “Rock and Roll” their volcanic show opener or mandatory encore.
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What makes the album so special?  The material, certainly – ranging from heavy electric blues to lilting folk, from the dense rhythm of “Four Sticks” to the exuberant drive of “Misty Mountain Hop,” and from the ethereal mandolins on “The Battle of Evermore” to Jimmy Page’s soaring guitar solo on “Stairway.”  The production – producer Page’s careful, crystalline use of his “light and shade” effects to highlight every instrument and vocal line.  The album cover itself – a wordless sleeve that offered listeners only cryptic imagery and a puzzling set of sigils that stood in for the band members’ names.  It all adds up to a near-perfect package of songs that cohere into a single, irreducible work as few rock albums ever do.
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Four decades later, Led Zeppelin IV has sold some 40 million copies around the world, regularly makes reviewers’ All-Time Best Album lists, and “Stairway to Heaven” is a Classic Rock staple that is as familiar to average fans as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”  However many times you may have heard them already, today’s a good day to fire up your turntable, CD player, or iPod, and crank up this collection of eight brilliant pieces of popular music that have together stood the test of time, and which will still be with us until the Levee Breaks.
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Led Zeppelin FAQ by George Case (Backbeat Books)
In this exhaustive and insightful reference text, rock writer and cultural critic George Case details the key names, dates, figures, and features of one of the biggest and most mythologized rock-and-roll groups of all time: Led Zeppelin. Here, finally, are the answers to the puzzles that have haunted fans for over four decades – puzzles such as the meaning of Led Zep’s enigmatic album covers; the truth about leader Jimmy Page’s involvement with the occult; a breakdown of the sometimes murky roots of their greatest songs; firm data on their musical instruments, live performances, and studio productions; and sordid specifics of the band’s infamously debauched private lives. Available here.
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