Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Problem of Led Zeppelin

As a guitar teacher I have a frequently recurring problem with Led Zeppelin which isn't as simple as you might think. 

On the face of it, it's straight-forward enough: any number of spotty youths want to learn to play "Stairway To Heaven". If they're prepared to put the work in, I can make this happen for them. Like any old whore I think of the money and get stuck in. The funny thing is, "Stairway To Heaven" is not particularly easy to play. In fact, to play it well (ie, all the way through without making any mistakes) is quite demanding. Fortunately, most of my students are content with a serviceable approximation. Mostly they just want to play The Intro and The Big Chords just before The Solo and thenThe Big Lick just before the vocals come back in at the end. Armed with these, it's easy enough to fake the rest of it (after all, I did, when I was 15.) 

No, my problem is the more seasoned Zeppelin fan who wants to learn things like "Heartbreaker" and "Since I've Been Lovin' You", "When The Levee Breaks", "Black Dog", "The Ocean", "Out On The Tiles" etc. etc. As I patiently explicate the monstrousness ofThe Riffs, I find I am enjoying myself. I try to rein it in by lecturing firmly on the theft of sources, the provenance of the blues; I poke fun at the risible Spinal Tap-ishness of it all - but this is like shooting fish in a barrel with Zeppelin and I become aware that my student sees through me, that my discourse reveals far more about me than my subject. I see through myself. I squirm. I want there to be rawwrk, I want to wear my guitar low round my knees, I want a vintage black Les Paul, I want a wall of Marshalls and a drummer who bites chunks out of brick walls for breakfast. 

Is this a form of musical Stockholm Syndrome? I long ago realised that Zeppelin's strength was John Bonham's. Their success the result of Peter Grant's bullyboy gangsterism. That Plant's lyrics were ridiculous, his histrionics absurd, that Jones's bass playing was the epitome of professionally dull, that Page never plays from the heart, always the head, but damn... Sometimes those riffs sneak up on a person. 

If I didn't teach it, this problem would go away. I would listen to more worthy music and put aside this childish foolishness. But I'd miss it. Guilty pleasure? Yearning for lost youth? Anyone recognize the problem?


  1. Yep Recently I bought the remastered CD’s of LZ 1,2,3and4. One day I found myself stuck at traffic lights outside a college full of young students who probably only ever listen to rap or ColdPlay so I cracked a window and played Black Dog really loud “just to mess with their minds”!! Someone has to educate these kids! Shame it wasn’t Are You Experienced” or “What’s the Ugliest Part Of Your Body”!

  2. You hit the nail square on the head with 'listen to more worthy music'. The music of Zep is NOT from the heart; Page is boring - agree about Bonzo. I doubt you'd 'miss it' much. At great risk of contradicting myself (no you didn't), No Quarter and Kashmir are fantastic riffs that still do it 30 years later. You can throw the rest away.