Listen: Dave Thompson talks with BBC Radio Suffolk

BBC Radio Suffolk chats with Dave Thompson about his new book, Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin!

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Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin follows the iconic singer through his heights of fame with classic rock giant 00120813Led Zeppelin, his second life as a multimillion-selling solo artist, and his more idiosyncratic pursuits. A wealth of former associates lend their voices and recollections to an account that steps far beyond the tried and tested tales of Zeppelin’s life and times.

This all-new biography details Plant’s early years as an unknown in Birmingham, England, with fresh depth and insight. It likewise tells the Zeppelin story from new and unexpected angles, focusing on Plant’s contributions to the band’s success and on the toll/effect of that success on him as a performer and an individual.

After drummer John Bonham died in 1980 and Zeppelin broke up, Plant went solo two years later, in time becoming the only former band member to maintain an unbroken career to this day. His single-mindedness in meeting this challenge might well be his greatest personal attribute, enabling him to push forward without regard for his past or any related expectations. Dave Thompson shows how it is Plant’s determination alone that ensured Zeppelin reunions would not become a routine part of the classic rock furniture, as he created a body of work that in so many ways artistically rivals what he recorded with the band.

Interview with Dave Thompson

The Cleveland Music Examiner posed a few questions about Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin. Read more of Dave’s responses here!

Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin by Dave Thompson

Rock journalist Dave Thompson doesn’t care how many women Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plantseduced in the Seventies, or what drugs he might’ve consumed during the band’s halcyon years headlining arenas around the 00120813world.

In his latest well-researched biography, “Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed The Zeppelin” (Backbeat books), Thompson focuses strictly on the music. More specifically, he hones in why Plant was as integral to Zeppelin’s sound as guitarist Jimmy Page, and how the determined singer forged his own distinct path as a soloist after the seminal quartet splintered.

Thanks for talking with us, Mr. Thompson! So, could you tell us a bit about the back-and-forth approach you took for “Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin?” One would think it’d be off-putting, but it works well, and the chapters dovetail nicely between Plant’s past and present.

I think—as I explained a little in the introduction—life, and a career, are not always just A-B-C-D. Things loop around. People always arrive back in the same place they were in before, but hopefully with a little more wisdom and ability to know what to do. And I was just noticing that a lot with Robert Plant. The story has been told. There are Zeppelin books out the wazoo, and there are a few good Plant books around as well. The idea always is, “Robert Plant was born…and he did this, that, and the other thing.” So boring! Because he has not lived his career in what anyone would consider a responsible manner. He’s been very much what he wants, with incredible little regard for the conventions of the music industry. When he left Zeppelin—here’s a great example—he should have done more of what Jimmy Page wanted to do, which was get together with the guys from Yes, and gone off and become The Firm or something.

You mean XYZ (ex-Yes / Zeppelin), the group Page was going to join with Yes bassist Chris Squire. Yeah, that’s probably what Plant’s manager and record company might’ve wanted. A new band, same kind of sound.

Yeah, form any of those horrible super-groups. Because the ‘80s were just littered with those ghastly four-people-from-four-huge-bands thing. And it’s like, “Why are you together? Oh, so you can be a super-group.” He should have done that, and people would have said “Hurrah!” very loudly if he had. But he didn’t want to. You’ve got to admire that. And it was with that admiration, that’s why I didn’t want to write a straightforward beginning-to-end story.

South Park FAQ

New season of South Park starts tonight! Dave Thompson, the author of the South Park FAQ travels through the lives, times, and catastrophes that have established the tiny mountain town of South Park, Colorado, as America’s favorite dysfunctional community. There are few modern animated television shows that could survive over a decade and a half and remain as funny… or as stupid… or as sick… or as depraved… today as when they started. Read an an excerpt below!


Increasingly, we live in a world where opinion is pinioned by the need not to offend, nor even risk offense, by saying—even lightheartedly— something that someone might feel belittled by. Including people who aren’t actually present when the remark is made.

The soccer manager who told his charges the old joke about a monkey and an astronaut, and was promptly accused of racism by somebody else entirely.

The teen playing a video game who made an off-the-cuff remark about shooting up a school and eating his victims’ hearts. A fellow player over- heard the exchange, and the kid was arrested and threatened with eight years in jail.

The … and so on and so forth. All it takes is one person who doesn’t understand, appreciate, or maybe even acknowledge the existence of humor (however humorless the humor might be), and it doesn’t matter if he is the only person in the world who doesn’t sneak a smirk at the gesture. One complaint is worth a thousand chuckles, and the only positive that comes out of the experience is the possibility that maybe one day, the rest of the world will tire of these petty-minded dictators and start complaining about them instead.

Which is why we love South Park so much.

For there, exaggerated political correctness and microscopically focused nitpickery are already like a red rag to a bull in the eyes of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Like Cheesy Poofs to a big-boned eighth grader.

Totalitarianism is totalitarianism, no matter how loudly you condemn the people who actually point that out, which is one of the reasons why South Park has never rested in its campaign to highlight humbuggery wherever it may dwell.

True political correctness means respecting other peoples’ right to say whatever they like, no matter how much it might offend you, because that is the only thing that guarantees your right to say whatever you want to. Chip away at other people’s right, no matter how worthy your intentions may be, simply opens the door for other, perhaps less worthy people to take the process to its logical conclusion and outlaw free speech altogether.

Matt Stone outlined South Park’s approach.

“On one hand, it’s really fun when you flip off the principal and the principal yells at you. But in general, we do the show because we want people to like it. We are entertainers. We’re trying to entertain people. At the same time, we’ve been doing it long enough to realize we’re still not a mainstream show … we’re still on cable, we still consider ourselves an alternative show.” Far more people, he acknowledged, dislike South Park than enjoy it, but unlike most television shows, that was fine. “Twenty percent of people got this joke, and they love us for it, and we’ll piss off the other 80 percent just for them.”

The very best of South Park teases, as well. But it’s a knowing tease, a worthy tease, taunting the viewer with just enough information that you think you know where the story is going … but you cannot believe anybody has the balls to take it there. Again, a lot of the targets are as ephemeral as the headlines they are drawn from, but that is not an issue. The fact that … to draw a cultural irrelevance at random from the stockpile … Honey Boo Boo is even sufficiently well known to be considered a worthy target for the South Park sniper is itself sufficient condemnation of the culture that the show so gleefully ridicules, and of course she is not alone.

To concentrate on South Park’s status as the devourer of worthless worlds, however, is to overlook its other primary purpose, to act as a mirror to what we might call everyday society. South Park itself is Anytown USA, as accurate a reflection of small-town life as any live-action television series has ever mustered, and a lot more honest as well.





Happy Birthday, Arthur Conan Doyle!

Arthur Conan Doyle is widely regarded as one of the world’s best storytellers. Although the author dabbled in various vocations during his life, such as medicine and sailing, Conan Doyle showed an inclination towards storytelling since his early childhood that was passed down from his mother. “In my early childhood,” Conan Doyle once remarked, “as far as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life.” This passionate response to fiction grew with Conan Doyle into his teenage years, although the style he developed wasn’t exactly the sophisticated and eloquent one we are most familiar with! This excerpt from Sherlock Holmes FAQ gives some insight into Conan Doyle’s affinity for “Penny Dreadfuls”:


00117258It was during his final year at Stoneyhurst [his Catholic school] that Conan Doyle first became aware that his youthful love of storytelling had grown into a teenaged ability to captivate audiences. While editing the school magazine, he also threw himself into the composition of serial stories, lengthy epics of adventure and derring do more appropriate, perhaps, to the pages of a penny dreadful than the august halls of a Jesuit college.

Penny dreadful were the bane of the faculty’s existence, cheap (as their name implies), lurid (ditto) magazines into which the most sensational, shocking, and horrifying fiction imaginable was shoehorned, in bite sized quantities, and every installment ending upon a new note of cliff-hanging calamity, to ensure the reader had no alternative but to return for more in the very next issue.

Fifty years on, radio and movie serials would seize upon a similar notion to keep their audience coming back; today, television offers the same diversion. Different crimes for different climes. In 1870s England, with radio and television still far off in science fiction-land, penny dreadfuls were the public enemy number one. And Conan Doyle discovered that he had a rare talent for writing them.

He read his tales aloud to his audience, seated on a desk while they crouched on a floor around him, spinning out sagas so suspenseful that he would occasionally threaten to end a tale early because he knew his anxious audience would not hesitate to bribe him with apples and cakes, if only he’d read another page.

Still in his teens, Conan Doyle had discovered for himself the secret of great storytelling (if not necessarily great stories). “When I had got as far as… ‘slowly, slowly, the door turned upon its hinges, and with eyes which were dilated with horror the wicked Marquis saw…’ I knew that I had my audience in my power.”

Sherlock Holmes FAQ

On January 19th, PBS aired the long-awaited first episode of BBC’s Sherlock, season 3. Sherlock’s triumphant return to television (and Baker Street) did not disappoint. Before the last episode this Sunday, enjoy a bit of the Introduction from Dave Thompson’s upcoming book, Sherlock Holmes FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the World’s Greatest Private Detective

There are probably as many books about Sherlock Holmes as there are words in all of the stories. Or at least different words.

That may be an exaggeration, but only marginally. There is no single character in western fiction who has inspired more authors to write about him than Sherlock Holmes, with even James Bond and Doctor Who—the two that come closest—lagging far, far behind in terms of simple shelf filling. A complete Sherlock Holmes bibliography could fill a small library, a vision that is made all the more remarkable when one considers that the original stories that inspired this phenomenal outpouring would take up barely six inches of shelf space.

Just four novels and fifty-six short stories constitute the complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes. To this there can be added a dozen or so other writings by Sherlock Holmes’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, whose inclusion in, or exclusion from, “the canon” (as the primary series of tales is known) has fired a debate that might never end. But they would add no more than another inch of published paper, tucked away in a room that is already stuffed with so many other books that it would take a lifetime to read them all. “Never,” one might say, “has so little given birth to so much.”

Neither does this outpouring look like it is ending. The massive success of Sherlock, the BBC’s twenty-first-century reimagining of Holmes has inspired a whole new generation of writers and researchers to immerse themselves in the world of Holmes, and an older one to reacquaint themselves. Indeed, one of the most popular fiction serials of the modern age, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Agent Pendergast, closed 2013 with the publication of White Fire, a thoroughly modern detective tale rooted in a near century-old Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Sherlock’s triumph, however, transcends all of these—that triumph itself being defined not by viewing figures (which themselves are massive) or popularity (ditto), but by the skill with which we are invited to enter a world in which the “real” Sherlock Holmes, the classic Holmes whom we have spent the past century-plus enjoying, never existed. Until today.

The original Holmes was a child of his times, the last years of the Victorian era and the first of the twentieth century. The modern Holmes is likewise a child of his times, the first decades of the twenty-first century. That is, more than one hundred years after Conan Doyle’s original stalked the streets, the intervening century has shaped the modern Holmes just as thoroughly as the prototype was shaped by the years that preceded him. Culture creates the heroes it requires. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes fit his era like a glove. British writers and TV creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s is equally well proportioned.

Conan Doyle’s Holmes studied newspapers and magazines. The modern one harnesses the Internet. The original Holmes was addicted to opium. His successor is addicted to nicotine. The original was partnered by an army doctor, John Watson, recently returned from what was then Britain’s most recent war, far away in Afghanistan. Today’s Holmes is partnered by a man of the same cut and same name, fresh from what is still Britain’s most recent war . . . far away in Afghanistan.

Parallel after parallel pile up, but the fact is, the modern television Holmes is as unique a televisual character as the original was a unique literary creation. The fact that they share the same DNA, investigate the same mysteries, and sometimes speak the same lines binds them, of course. But it also defines their individuality. Were they ever to meet face to face, the nineteenth-century Holmes and his twenty-first-century doppelgänger, they probably wouldn’t even say hello.

Sherlock Holmes FAQ

The Sherlock Holmes FAQ is a one-stop guide to over a century’s worth of mystery, mayhem, and most of all, deduction. Digging deep inside the manifold worlds of Sherlock Holmes, the FAQ is a dramatic and detailed digest of the Baker Street sleuth in all of his many guises, as TV and radio star, movie phenomenon, and, of course, literary giant.

Chapters investigate his predecessors and his successors, and discuss the influence that Holmes has had not only on other writers, but on real-life police procedures as well. The London that he perambulated in deerstalker and cloak is laid bare, plus the life and other fascinations of Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, are mapped out in all their foggy, darkened atmosphere.

We meet giant hounds and fearful foes, common crooks and misdirected souls. Ghosts appear in these pages, and vampires, too – and more puzzles, conundrums, and mysteries than any mortal detective could ever hope to solve. But Holmes, as we shall see, was no mere mortal. And Sherlock Holmes FAQ is the story of his immortality.

The Doctor’s 50th Anniversary

Long live the Doctor! November 23rd will mark the 50th anniversary of the iconic series Doctor Who. Let us remember past and present incarnations with the BBC’s trailer for “The Day of the Doctor,” as well as an excerpt from Dave Thompson’s Doctor Who FAQ.

On October 29, 1966, two stories and eight weeks into the series’ fourth season, Doctor Who changed forever.

For the past month, viewers had watched agog as the Doctor, played as always by the curmudgeonly lovable William Hartnell and supported by his latest companions Ben and Polly, did battle with a new, terrifying foe, looming metallic humanoids called the Cybermen.

The Tenth Planet gripped from start to finish. The TARDIS had materialized at space tracking station Snowcap Base, deep inside the Antarctic, in the then-impossibly distant-sounding year of 1986. There they discovered all was chaos as the base tracked the course of a shocking new arrival in our solar system, an unknown planet. It was Mondas, a world that was once Earth’s twin but had drifted into the outer reaches of space millennia ago. Now it had returned, weakened and dying. But not for long.

Like some vast globular vampire, Mondas was draining energy from the Earth, rejuvenating itself with the stolen power, and the Cybermen, the cybernetic denizens of the rogue planet, were already on Earth, paving the way for a full-scale invasion. For the Doctor and his companions, the race was not simply to defeat the invaders, but also to eliminate the reason for their invasion. Mondas had to be destroyed.

It took the last of the Doctor’s strength and energy to accomplish the task. The strain was enormous; too enormous. As the three travelers made their way back into the TARDIS, victorious, the Doctor paused and collapsed. Then, with no warning whatsoever, with no precedent on which to base the events that were about to unfold, we witnessed for the first time the ultimate miracle of the Doctor’s own civilization. The regeneration of a Time Lord.

Before the shocked and astonished eyes not only of his friends, but also the nearly seven million viewers tuned into BBC1 that evening, he began to change. His clothes, his face, his entire being. Doctor Who literally became Doctor Who?

It still seems remarkable that an alien menace making its debut on the show should succeed where the older, and far more formidable, Daleks failed. But the Cybermen did it. The Doctor was dead. Long live the Doctor.

More than four decades after that momentous occasion, the idea that the Doctor regenerates into a new body as soon as his old one reaches the end of its life cycle is so deeply ingrained within the show’s mythology that even newcomers to the series think nothing of watching, and accepting, his past personalities.

Blithely, we refer to the different Doctors by number, the First Doctor, the Second, the Fifth, and so forth. At the time of writing, we are in the reign of the Eleventh. And while legend (and the occasional on-screen comment) has suggested that Time Lords do have a finite (twelve) number of regenerations, it is merely legend. The Doctor, and therefore the show, could go on indefinitely.

No more or less than the companions who have traveled alongside him, the different Doctors certainly are not interchangeable, but neither are they utterly unique. Each has brought his own personality to the part, each has borne his own idiosyncrasies, and each has both his good points and his bad. But all remain the Doctor.

Doctor Who FAQ

Doctor Who is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV, and the most watched series in the history of BBC America. Doctor Who FAQ tells the complete story of its American success, from its first airings on PBS in the 1970s, through to the massive Doctor Who fan conventions that are a staple of the modern-day science fiction circuit. Combining a wealth of information and numerous illustrations, Doctor Who FAQ also includes a comprehensive episode guide.

From the Doctor’s most impressive alien foes and the companions who have fought alongside him to unimagined planets and unexpected points in history, from some of the greatest minds ever to have walked the Earth, to the most evil beings ever to haunt the universe, it’s all covered here, including the Tardis, the none-too-reliable “bigger on the inside than the out” blue box in which the Doctor travels.

Lou Reed Tribute

Lou Reed will be missed. In honor of this amazing musician, below is an excerpt from Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hellby Dave Thompson.

It’s 1975 and Lou Reed is a star. The Velvet Underground, the New York band he powered through four years of obscurity, is a legend. “Walk on the Wild Side,” his solo hit from two years back, is an AM radio staple and will one day help sell Suzuki motorcycles. His last album made the Top 10 and now his record label is on the phone, demanding a follow-up.

“Okay,” says Lou. “I can do that.”

He rummages around for a cassette player. “I’ve got something here I wanted to do way back when. I had to wait a while to get the equipment, but now I’ve got it and it’s done.” He depresses the play button. “It’s a double album. Wanna hear it?”

The record company man can scarcely control his excitement. “Are you kidding? Hey, c’mon, Lou, baby, let me have it.”

At the other end of the line, Lou smiles. “Okay.”


By the time Lou’s ready for side two, the line’s dead. By the time he reaches side three, so is his commercial potential. A lot of lines went dead when Metal Machine Music was released. A lot of loyalties, too. Four sides of eardrum-shattering feedback. Lou could rabbit on forever about it being the ultimate guitar solo . . . tell folks that if they listened hard enough they’d hear all sorts of little tunes dancing around in there . . . he could even say they should be grateful he released it in the first place.

But the fact is, Metal Machine Music HURT. And not in a wimpy “Oh my God, that’s so awful that it’s painful” way, or “If you don’t turn off the fucking Doobie Brothers, I’m going to rip my tongue out.”

It hurt in an “Oh shit, I think my brain just exploded” way. Most people returned their copy before they got to the end of side one. Others got to side four, and then they returned it. “It’s the only recorded work I know of seriously done as well as possible as a gift, if one could call it that, from a part of a certain head to a few others,” Reed’s liner notes mused politely. “Most of you won’t like this, and I don’t blame you at all.”

He first started thinking about Metal Machine Music, he claimed, “as far back as when John [Cale] used to work with La Monte Young. I had also been listening to Xenakis a lot. You know the drone thing? It took a long, long time. It’s way more complex than people realize, but that’s all right.” Originally he made the tape for his own amusement alone. “I wasn’t going to put it out, I made it for myself. John and I were always making tapes; we made sound tracks for underground movies of the time.”

But then he changed his mind.

“There are some frequencies on there that are dangerous. What I’m talking about is like in France, they have a sound gun. It’s a weapon. It puts out frequencies that kill people. They’ve had this weapon since 1945. Maybe that’s why they play such bad rock ’n’ roll.”

Metal Machine Music, on the other hand, had nothing whatsoever to do with rock ’n’ roll, bad or otherwise. It simply was, and in years to come, some remarkably intelligent critics would come up with some remarkably asinine “excuses” for its presence in Reed’s back catalog, four sides of extravagantly, exquisitely packaged vinyl, with a cover pic that looked so close to an extension of Rock ’n’ Roll Animal that even Reed smiled, “It looked like a live rock ’n’ roll album.”

But he wasn’t going to apologize to anybody who fell for it. “Nobody has ever been able to put their finger on me, because I’m not really here,” Reed cautioned shortly before the album’s release. “At least not the way they think I am. It’s all in their heads. What I’m into is mindlessness. I just empty myself out, so what people see is just a projection of their own needs. I don’t do or say anything.” Metal Machine Music epitomized those words.

“Just because some kid paid $7.98 for it,” he said the following year, “I don’t care if they paid $59.98 or $75 for it, they should be grateful I put the fucking thing out and, if they don’t like it, they should go eat rat- shit.” And two years later: “I don’t like any of my albums except Metal Machine Music. Why? Because they’re not Metal Machine Music.”

Such sentiments made little difference, of course, to a marketplace that was simply staring in aghast disbelief at Reed’s offering. Rolling Stone described Metal Machine Music as “the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator,” and that was one of the more complimentary reviews. Lester Bangs was simply grateful to discover that his pet hermit crab, Spud, enjoyed dancing to it.

First-ever look at the intertwining, outrageous lives of three rock legends.

When Lou Reed and Iggy Pop first met David Bowie in the fall of 1971, Bowie was just another English musician passing through New York City. Lou was still recovering from the collapse of the Velvet Underground, and Iggy had already been branded a loser… Yet within two years they completely changed the face of popular music with a decadent glamour and street-level vibe. With Bowie producing, Reed’s Transformer album was a worldwide hit, spinning off the sleazy street anthem “Walk on the Wild Side.” Iggy’s Raw Power, mixed by Bowie, provided the mean-spirited, high-octane blueprint for Punk. Bowie boosted elements from both Iggy and Reed to create his gender-bending rock idol Ziggy Stardust.

Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell is the story of this friendship and the incredible productivity and debauchery that emerged from it. Presented here for the very first time are their stories interwoven in a triple helix of sexuality, glam rock, and drugs – as seen through the eyes of the people who made it happen.