When Giants Walked the Earth Playing Guitars

“When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin” (Mick Wall)

Yet another gossipy book about the tabloid years of Led Zeppelin, ignoring, again, the actual music, its influences, how it was created, how it shaped music that followed, yadda yadda.

Rick Moody writes:

Young rock enthusiasts! The thing that this sensational material neglects is the music. In Wall’s biography you will learn that Page has voted Tory repeatedly, and you will learn that Peter Grant, the Zeppelin manager, also snorted mountains of cocaine and was very large, and you will also get very many italicized second- person portions of the text — the deep history — passages that are more showoffy than necessary but easily skimmed. What you may not get enough of is the astonishment of the music. Because, no matter how horrible they were as people — and, frankly, they do seem as if they were rather unlikable people who wasted immense talent in a spendthrift fashion — the music is still remarkable, even when borrowed. What enabled that spooky end section of “When the Levee Breaks,” which used to give me the chills when I first heard it in the eighth grade? What about Robert Plant’s amazing harmonica solo on “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” on the considerably underrated “Presence”? And what about the Indian strings on “Kashmir”? Whose arrangement? And beyond saying that Page and Bonham banged out most of “Kashmir” by themselves, what accounts for this mesmerizing and timeless composition? And is it really possible that John Paul Jones has nothing to say, though many of the really interesting frills and ornaments are his? The tamboura on “In the Light,” or the electric piano on “No Quarter” or the lovely faux-Cuban piano riff on “Fool in the Rain.” Should we not, young rock enthusiasts, use language, use paragraphs, to account for these splendid moments?

Maybe this is arcana. And maybe the time for arcana is past, the time for the picayune details of dinosaur rock — such that it’s the dirt, not the song, that remains the same. Maybe some publisher was looking over Mick Wall’s shoulder saying, “Put more about the shark incident in there!” Or maybe the members of Led Zeppelin are themselves somewhat to blame, as Robert Plant muses aloud at one point, despairing of the true story ever getting out: “We thought it was time that people heard something about us other than that we were eating women and throwing the bones out the window.” Indeed! Wall is conflicted enough about the facts that he allows this mythologizing title to be appended to his work: “When Giants Walked the Earth.” But these were no giants, these were just young people, like you, who for a time happened to have more power and influence than was good for them. In the midst of it all, they made extraordinary music.

[Click to continue reading Book Review – ‘When Giants Walked the Earth – A Biography of Led Zeppelin,’ by Mick Wall – Review – Rick Moody NYTimes.com]

So far, the best book I’ve read about the band and its music is the 33.3 book by Eric Davis, though even this dwells1 on a discussion of Satanism and the occult as far as it related to Led Zeppelin.

“Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV (33 1/3)” (Erik Davis)

  1. amusingly, actually, and one of the highlights of the book []

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