The thing is, I was never a Ledhead back in the day. I think the only Led Zeppelin album (8-track? Vinyl? Cassette? I don’t remember) I actually owned in the 70s was Houses Of The Holy. I remember being in awe of the majesty of “Kashmir” when I first heard it on the radio in 1975, but not enough to buy Physical Graffiti. The rest of the Led Zep catalog was burnt into my DNA from the soundtrack to my early teen years provided by WMEX and WRKO, two AM giants blasting their signals all the way from Boston up to our little rock off the Maine coast – and later on by WBLM (my introduction to free-form furry freak FM).
I knew the riff to “Black Dog” without knowing the song’s actual name for years; “Whole Lotta Love” was as raunchy as raunchy could get at the time and still get airplay; “Ramble On” built a bridge between a place where hobbits dwelt and stacks of Marshalls; and you couldn’t walk into a guitar shop without some young picker hunched over an acoustic they’d grabbed off the wall, trying out their recently-worked-out version of the intro to “Stairway To Heaven”. (That right there was probably enough to keep me from wanting to own a copy of it.)
So there it was: Led Zeppelin was a part of my growing up, but not a part of me, as such. So why was I drawn to watching Celebration Day, the recently-released documentary of their 2007 reunion performance at London’s O2 Arena?
Partly because guitarist Jimmy Page will be 69 in January (he was a month shy of his 64th birthday when Zep played the O2). Bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones will turn 67 a few days before Page, while vocalist Robert Plant is the baby of the surviving original members, having turned 64 this past August.
Those three birthdays represent about 50% of the reason for watching Celebration Day ; the other half of the equation is the fact that I’ll turn 55 this coming February.
It’s a funny spot that the folks of my generation are in. We looked up to the original bad boys (and girls) of rock ‘n’ roll; we witnessed big changes in the world around us as we grew up and the music we listened to was at the very least the soundtrack, if not an influence, on what was happening.
Once the momentum started, of course, things kept evolving and changing. And many of the musical pioneers of the 60s and early 70s resembled rock ‘n’ roll Daniel Boones to the subsequent generations – coonskin caps, muskets, and all – their antiqued albums remastered for posterity; the aural equivalent of “D. Boone Cilled A Bar On Tree In Year 1760”.
Some have aged well; some haven’t. And while Plant, Page, and Jones have continued to create their own music with various projects over the years, there hasn’t been a Led Zeppelin since they disbanded following drummer John Bonham’s death in 1980.
So for me it was a study in the reality of growing older versus the non-database/laboratory-study-defying powers of rock ‘n’ roll. The old blues guys had it made in the sense that they’d played sitting down when they were 20; it was cool to be on a stool when they were 60. Or 70. How does one draw off and let it fly when in the throes of self-produced monstrous riffs without looking “too old to be doing that sort of thing”?
Let’s face it: there wasn’t a big risk involved in going to Celebration Day. Somebody must’ve been cool with what went down on stage at the O2 in 2007, or the documentary would’ve been killed in its tracks. There definitely wasn’t the NASCAR phenomenon that nobody wants to admit to – we weren’t going to see any wrecks. But the question I had as my wife and I headed to the theater to watch Celebration Day on the big screen was: did they do more than simply pull it off? I’m certainly no Zep-can-do-no-wrong hopeless fanatic; I trusted that I’d know the difference between a well-executed performance and a captured moment of inspiration by some old masters.