Picture a man dressed in the tightest jeans you’ve ever seen and a silk jacket that has flowers sewn into its skin, blooming. His chest is bare and long golden curls roll off of his head vigorously as he sings in shrill falsetto a tribute to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Wait, now he’s singing about Thor’s hammer; and now we’ve hit Viking mythology.
The ‘70s rock ‘n roll legends Led Zeppelin are often celebrated for being champions of masculinity by the rock dogs of our boomer generation. But they were also pretty feminine and massive fantasy nerds at the same time as being the greatest masters of their instruments of their time – and kudos to them for pulling all of that off.
Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening is about to tour Australia, with John Bonham’s prodigiously talented son carrying on the band’s legacy with an incredible live show that capture the spirit of the band in their prime.
Having chatted to Jason ahead of the tour and hearing some brilliant stories about his father and the personalities behind the band, we were reminded of a few other tales that help to paint the picture of a complex and legendary band, and the unmatched legacy they’ve left behind.
Raucous, honest, controversial, and brilliant
On Andrew Denton’s new program Interview, Denton brought up the time Plant said he wanted to “fuck the entire front row” of the audience at his shows. Plant ducked his head behind his hand and sank back in his chair, yet the smirk on his face also indicated that maybe he was a little proud of it. It’s certainly not the first time he’s said or done something, well… a bit suggestive.
…to interrupt one of my friends who was practicing that time-honoured tradition of premature ejaculation…
In typical ’70s rock spirit, Plant was never known to have many boundaries. While Led Zeppelin were notorious for destroying hotel rooms, and Jimmy Page was once chained to a toilet in order to stop him from breaking shit, Plant mentioned his worst hotel deed to an interviewer at Rolling Stone in 2005.
“I think just taking a cordless drill to pry through a dividing door to interrupt one of my friends who was practicing that time-honoured tradition of premature ejaculation,” he quipped. Plant was just twenty at the time.
That said, Plant is admirably honest, and known for sticking to his artistic integrity. In 2014, when Virgin CEO Richard Branson approached Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham to reform Led Zeppelin for nothing short of 500 million pounds, Plant famously ripped up the paperwork in front of them, shocking his band mates and the late Bonzo’s son – although he hasn’t stood in the way of the young Bonham paying tribute to the band with his own performances.
Reinventing the wheel, or making off with it?
Many of Led Zeppelin’s songs are derived from traditional melodies or influenced by acts who came before them, and like many of their contemporaries, they weren’t always explicit in giving credit.
Their version of ‘Dazed and Confused’ was pulled from Jake Holmes’ song of the same name, reusing the lyrics and all – bold move LZ! – and led to a lawsuit being filed in 2010. Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon and Anne Bredon have since had their own claims made on their behalf, and even ‘Stairway to Heaven’ came under fire recently, although they won that lawsuit.
a good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique
As pointed out by the New Yorker, however, it was commonplace for some of the most celebrated classical musicians to reinvent music previously written by their predecessors – Bach included. Meanwhile, Shakespeare recycled, and poet T.S. Eliot once said that “a good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique.”
And Led Zeppelin certainly managed to reinvent the wheel time and time again. When inspiration was brought to the table, the four minds were able to twist and turn it into something completely new and thrilling – inspiring generations of musicians to keep the wheel turning.
Bridging the east and the west
Page and Plant were influenced by the sounds of Morocco, Northern Africa and the string musicians of India, while Plant shared artists like Janis Joplin’s obsession with the blues, leading to a one of the strongest connections between East and West in
Professional musician and professor of Middle Eastern history Mark Levine told Al Jazeera that Led Zeppelin went beyond what other rock artists were doing at the time. They didn’t just mine the blues, they went straight to its roots, which stemmed partially from the chants and prayers Muslim Africans.
rock ‘n roll at once more spiritual and more hedonistic than any before or since
“There were hints of the Arabic ruba’ (quarter tone) and Persian koron (neutral third) which, like the unsettling dissonance of so many Zeppelin songs, resolves itself into the most harmonious interval in Western music, the perfect fifth,” Levine explained.
He claimed that, “for a New Yorker born in New Jersey, hearing Led Zeppelin as a young child initiated a life-long love affair with the music and cultures of the Muslim world.” The widespread accessibility of Led Zeppelin’s music meant that those who resettled in the west from the east were able to hear the sounds of their cultures on most radio stations, while otherwise they may have been alienated from it.
Pakistani musician Salman Ahmed mentioned in the same article that “Zeppelin channeled the Sufi music of South Asia through the blues to create rock ‘n roll at once more spiritual and more hedonistic than any before or since.” And Led Zeppelin have even reached conflict zones. Some Kashmiri youth even started their own bands to protest the territorial conflict in Northern India with influence from Led Zeppelin’s style of songwriting.
The legacy lives on
Ultimately, the reasons for Led Zeppelin’s batshit-crazy presence and ongoing demand comes down not just to their unquestionable musicality, mythical lyricisms and a willingness to bridge cultures, but also their unique character.
It’d be nice to get together to see if we have anything to argue about
Plant said of seeing his bandmates again in Rolling Stone, “It’d be nice to get together to see if we have anything to argue about,” and their public bickering has always been endearingly relatable; it makes them feel more authentic, almost reachable.
And, while Plant has most certainly moved on, meaning they may not be reuniting any time soon, Led Zeppelin’s music and legacy carries on thanks to musicians like Jason Bonham, and an army of devotees.
Jason Bonham continues to fly the flag for Led Zeppelin and his father with his Led Zeppelin Evening shows, touring Australia this month – check out the dates below.
Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Evening 2018 Australian tour dates
Wednesday, 23rd May
State Theatre, Sydney
Thursday, 24th May
Palais Theatre, Melbourne
Saturday, 26th May
Concert Hall, Perth
Tuesday, 29th May
The Tivoli, Brisbane