Led Zeppelin is a formative experience. They’re the kind of band you discover early on, that kicks open the door to a whole bunch of other things. It’s hard to separate those experiences, eventually. I can’t tell you the last time I listened to Nevermind or Appetite For Destruction the whole way through, and for a while that was becoming the case for Zeppelin as well. They were my favorite band for a while, at a time where I primarily listened to classic rock and ’90s alt-rock, and then at some point I abandoned them. Distantly, I could acknowledge they were one of the absolute Greats, one of the legends, one of the most important bands in rock music (and for the way we think of large-scale touring and live performance), etc., etc. But I’d reached a point where I had zero patience for blues rock, where I really didn’t want to hear all the solos and big riffs, where I’d simply come to prioritize different things in the music I liked. I basically started to look at Zeppelin like this important phase in the development of me as a listener and a music fan, but a place I couldn’t go back to. My guess is that there are a lot of others out there that had a similar experience. Zeppelin becomes the band you loved when you were a teenager, but that also becomes part of the problem — it starts to feel a little weird to be an adult in 2014 and still be sitting around talking about Zeppelin obsessively.
Well, that was my arc at least, and mistakes have been made. Because revisiting Zeppelin for this piece had me floored by their catalog all over again, had me scouring YouTube for some of the insanely powerful live performances I recalled from the Led Zeppelin DVD released in 2003. (I mean, good God.) Part of this is attributable to the way the band has been so thoroughly canonized at this point, but their body of work somehow feels entirely unassailable even with plenty of evident flaws along the way. (We’ll get to this, but — “Hot Dog”? Come on.) Though it was John Bonham’s death that made Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones decide to disband, it wound up cementing the band into the big narrative of things. They started at the tail end, the fall of the ’60s, and then conquered and defined the ’70s, only to spool out and, eventually, hit tragedy because of their own participation in the decade’s hedonism. Eight records released over ten years, and then it was over. When the output was this good, this game-changing, how was there any way the band and all their work wouldn’t become a symbol?
Of course, as it’s been said again and again, the band was initially hated by the critics of the time. (If you want to talk to crazy people, poke around the internet and you’ll find those who try to apply this “Zeppelin Rule” to Creed and Nickelback, as if those bands are headed toward some sort of critical reckoning where we all realize they were geniuses all along.) This only contributes to the mythos of the band. As we get further and further from the ’60s and ’70s, we reach a strange point. The best of those eras continues to be reaffirmed by endless Rolling Stone or other Boomer-related retrospectives, but the reality is that they’re still touchstones today. Everything is accessible now, and you can discover this stuff alongside Cocteau Twins or the Roots or Sun Ra. Legends like Zeppelin continue on because the people who lived through it don’t want to let it go, but also because they’re right there still kicking on the screens in front of those of us who didn’t.
Zeppelin in particular, though, feels like some unattainable legend, some myth. Even amongst the other greats, there are precious few who feel quite like this. Aside from Springsteen, the Stones are probably my favorite classic rock artist, but there’s no denying they have uh, altered their legacy by continuing on into what is essentially self-parody. This is different than how Robert Plant or Paul McCartney are still around, still doing their own thing and playing some of the older favorites. Groups like the Beatles and Zeppelin are left to rest as they were, the story allowed to become part of this ether where it will define itself. I’m talking about the groups who essentially sustained one genius streak for a closed amount of time, and never revisited it. That latter part, in this age of reunions and most musicians absolutely needing to tour to make money, is getting increasingly rare.
The members of Zeppelin will be asked about reunions until they or all the people who interview them die, whichever comes first. That’s the way it goes. Over the years, there have been small gestures. Little one offs, Page and Plant collaborations, that 2007 concert in honor of Ahmet Ertegun with Jason Bonham filling in for his dad. That was enough for Plant, and that’s good for him; a lot of his recent solo stuff is really interesting, and is a far better look for an aging rock singer than strutting out to “Black Dog” ad infinitum. Page seems less willing to let Zeppelin rest, whether it was the rumors of he and Jones considering touring with another singer (Steven Tyler, or Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge, and I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit), or whether it’s the extensive reissue campaign he’s currently embarking on, the latest iterations of which were released this week. I like Zeppelin how they are. Something kind of mysterious and lost to time, but also undying and ever-present, a perennial reference point, and one of the finest gateway drugs pop music has ever yielded.
There’s no reason to try to revive or relive it. But, it is time to revisit it. Start the Countdown here.