One would be hard pressed to submit a more self-assured final word on Led Zeppelin than the one Bob Spitz levies in this 600-page biography. Not only is every corner of the dingy decadence that surrounded the infamous and celebrated quartet exhumed, forensically examined through Spitz’s highly magnified lens, and corroborated by experts, it’s done so with an equally distanced, matter of fact, 21st century hindsight that avoids both the tabloid exploitation or the nostalgic sanitization of the 1970s and its soundtrack of Led. In doing so, the page-turner should spur any and every fan to reassess what they really knew, thought, or felt about the decade-long dominance of the mighty Zep. As Spitz says incisively: these are bad bad boys.
The redundancy of drug use, debauchery, and destructive behavior (to themselves, others, and a lot of furniture) is impossible to dismiss, and would approach reductive, were it not the truth; an incredibly debilitating feedback loop for everyone caught inside it that eventually grounds the dirigible following the death of drummer John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham in 1980. Prior to that, the band runs roughshod over the industry, smashing albums sales and concert attendance records as easily as hotel TVs and critics’ noses. Seediest of all aspects is the detailed and repeated confirmation of the group’s predilection for dicey sexual dalliances, particularly with underage girls; teen temptations- some in eighth-grade- that surveilled Zep and its borderline-criminal crew, and availed themselves, particularly and most often in Los Angeles, to a disturbing degree.
Spitz neither condones nor criticizes the choices of both groupies and/or rock gods. Rather, as he does while tallying the incessant and escalating consumption of alcohol, cocaine, and heroin, he couches the sordid stories in a sign (and sigh)-of-the-times candor that smartly avoids romanticism. In fact, so clear are the unsettling accounts, that it’s easy to conclude Zeppelin exploding in a conflagration of #MeToo accusations and pervasive, perpetual social media revelations had the band existed today.
It’s always hard to separate the artists from the art. Spitz, instead, doesn’t try. He lays out the interconnected relationship not so much as co-dependent but as enabling; the massive success building an ever-larger pile of cash to spend on booze and blow. The success of the music is paramount, and his analysis of the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Famers prodigious catalog and mercurial live performances inspire the author to wax in breathless praise of the triumphs, and provide softer landings for the duds; softer, at least than the quartet’s constant cast of critics ever did.
The critics, in fact, are the ultimate villains for Zep and its dangerously devoted manager, Peter Grant, and the third stone of the band’s motivating trinity: women, intoxicants, and critical recognition. Yes, Led Zeppelin was a band of the people, for the people, governed, as Spitz reiterates, by a law unto themselves. Yet, in the end, for the final word, it’s the chase for good reviews that matters most, and- with a last celebration day in December of 2007 uniting the three greying, somewhat battered, if dignified rock-and-rollers- resolved.