The cult of celebrity is a strange beast in the era of social media. Everyone can be journalist and critic once they find a forum for their opinion, and every artist wears a target when they step into the light. Hell, you don’t even need to be a celebrity, just saying something contradictory to the wrong person and the twitter verse can go all crazy on you. The smallest scrap of information can have its context twisted and reformed into an excuse to for a vicious commentary on whatever subject fits a petty narrative. Hence a friendly article on the remastered catalogue of Led Zeppelin has the comments section going nuts with accusations of a most nasty nature; starting with ridiculous nonsense and ending with a similar point – cash grab. As if Jimmy Page or any member of Led Zeppelin has need of your money.
Yes, they want to sell records and climb album charts. Yes they would love to have their work remain relevant and important to the people who have purchased it. But, and I admit to only speculating on this point, with the kind of wealth they attained back in the 1970’s, money would become secondary to their art and the appreciation they have received for it.
With that in mind, here’s the story of how Jimmy Page spent a couple days in Toronto promoting the last three studio albums of the remastered Led Zeppelin catalogue. Evidently he made quite a few people happy, and to use that most annoying and obvious cliché, he made the haters… well… hate.
On July 20th Jimmy Page did a radio interview with host of “Legends of Classic Rock” Jeff Woods live on Q107. It was a pretty cool interview if you care to hear it. The next day, Page did a book signing (stamping) at Canadian ‘big box’ book store Indigo that saw some fans lining up early in the morning to purchase his book and meet him. This is where some of the internet flaming started.
Some people complained about having to purchase a book for the signing, and others objected to the fact that Page was using a stamp of his famous individual Zeppelin symbol rather than a signature. Oddly, the people complaining were not the ones getting to meet Page himself but people that heard about it on the news.
To the first complaint, of book purchase for signing – this is pretty common practise by the book store itself and anyone attending any event at Fan Expo, Comic Con, or well, anywhere, usually expect that a signature will cost you a few bucks. There is an entire “collectors” industry built around it; people who are not fans get signatures and get dump loads of money selling it to fans that have missed out. This very blog spends some time looking at collectibles and their value – it’s just I don’t sell it! Maybe my estate will after my passing, but I love the stuff too much to give it up. I buy with one of two intentions: gifting it to someone who will love it as equally as I would or keeping it for my family’s private use.
The second complaint of stamping instead of signing might seem a little strange, but I believe fans don’t go for a signature. It’s the experience of meeting one of the biggest rock legends on the planet, and walking out with something cool in the process. Believe me, if someone gave me a copy of Page’s book with his personal Zep stamp, I would be a very happy camper.
It is about here where I start to enter the picture in my own little way. On my birthday, of all days, I received an e-mail asking me if I would like to attend “An Intimate Listening Event” hosted by Jimmy Page, which was invitation only and open to fewer than 200 people. I was more than a little shocked to be asked as it was only going to cost me a few typed words to listen to some Led Zeppelin stuff I had never heard before and watch his interview from only a few feet away from where he was sitting.
I can’t stress enough the difference between listening to a radio, and seeing (or doing) an interview with someone live. Magazine articles can relay atmosphere, but not tone and inflection. Televised interviews can relay tone, but atmosphere and surroundings are missed. Think of it as the difference between a phone call, a video chat, a letter or being in front of someone for a conversation. They all work well in their own way, but clearly you would rather be there to take it all in and experience it for yourself.
However, if you weren’t there, let me do my best to tell you about it. (Or, if you want to hear it in its entirety, you can tune into Q107 on August 2nd to hear the full interview with Jeff Woods.)
The Masonic Temple played host to Led Zeppelin’s first Canadian show back in 1969 when it was named the Rock Pile. It is a pretty cool place to see a concert at any time although it is now owned by a communications company that have converted most of the backstage areas into meeting rooms named after famous artists that have appeared at one time or another. In other words, there are no more concerts.
When I arrive at the venue my phone and tablet are confiscated. In return I’m given a return tag for my stuff, and a cool lanyard resembling the backstage pass of years past. It’s a drag losing my tablet, not because I want to make shitty recordings of songs before their release date, but I really want to record the interview. Fortunately, a piece of paper and pen can do wonders to catch a couple points.
Long before the days of rock concerts, the Masonic Temple was exactly what its name suggests, home to the Freemasons. One room still holds to that history – the Red Room. Take an antique elevator up to the fifth floor and you walk into a wee bit of the past. The walls are lined with elaborate wooden chairs with a higher throne in the centre of each row in addition to the freemason symbol hanging on the wall. The ceiling still has chandeliers that once might have held candles, giving the whole room a bit of a medieval feel. The fact that the room lighting is red also adds to the eerie appeal. Contrasting this scene is those “hard on your ass” metal chairs with minimal padding you find in school libraries. The kind that look comfortable until you stand up and your tail bone screams a whole different story.
So here we are in this weird spectacle. There are aging rockers, mixing with suits, contest winners and music journalists. Some suits have brought instruments “to the office” in hopes Page will jam with them. I over hear three separate conversations to this effect. A couple fans bring their guitars into the venue itself hoping for a signature. People are jockeying for aisle seats just to shake the “Rock Legend’s” hand. There is such a taste of the bizarre surrounding me I’m half expecting Rod Serling to start the proceeding by giving a monologue that finishes with “and you’ve arrived at your destination – The Twilight Zone.” Instead the evening’s events begin with the host of “Legends Of Classic Rock” Jeff Woods introducing Jimmy Page who has arrived with a T-Rex size bodyguard.
Clad in leather jacket Page explains that he has selected a few songs found on the companion discs on the Deluxe Versions of the Led Zeppelin remasters. It is to be a “musical journey.” The lights dim, velvet drapes open and a screen depicts the image of a reel to reel and the music kicks in. Some heads begin to sway, but mostly, the audience sits transfixed not by the photos of the band as they once were in their heyday, but by the re-examined sounds of familiar songs. More evident than the individual musicians in the band is Page’s production. Like Zeppelin in the live setting, Page improvises and experiments in the studio and the results are startling. “If it Keeps On Raining” (the working title for “When The Levee Breaks”) from Coda, changes from desperation into a song of darkness. Robert Plant’s voice is both haunting and menacing, draped in a distant echo effect.
The familiar high pitched vocal burst that starts “In The Evening” instead rumbles like an oncoming storm as Page’s guitar enters you have the dramatic impact of a nearby lightning strike.
I’m left thinking that this isn’t a box set of half-baked songs and unfinished ideas; instead it a fully realized creation of songs that exist in an alternate universe; tunes that may very well have sounded this way originally if not for some twist of fate. It becomes quickly apparent that Led Zeppelin could have sounded different on record had Jimmy Page on a whim decided to explore a different sound technique.
This becomes evident in the interview portion of the evening as he discusses “Bonzo’s Montreux” and the perceived steel drum sound that is a song highlight. Page clarifies that in fact it was a studio effect he came up with. Apparently, John Bonham loved the effect as it made him sound like he could play steel drums right in the middle of his personal drum orchestra.
This is how the interview goes for its duration. Little anecdotes reveal the larger picture and add to the Led Zeppelin mythos. The music may have stopped being made back in 1980, but Jimmy Page has never stopped being a part of it. For him, Led Zeppelin is not simply a legacy, it is the air he breathes. Since the O2 reunion concert in 2007, he took control of Celebration Day and followed it with the complete remasters of the entire Led Zeppelin studio catalogue. This required him to go through miles of analogue tape and re-examine every last detail. Included on the remastered Coda companion disc is “Sugar Mama” a song originally recorded during the Led Zeppelin I sessions; which isn’t some demo; it’s a completed song that just didn’t fit with the vibe of the debut record.
As the last notes ring, the Woods and Page interview portion of the evening begins. At once Page’s personable storytelling grips the audience, with various stories revolving around the Led Zeppelin mythos.
Woods then pulls out the question that everyone wants answered – why did it end? We all know that Bonham died, but Woods goes further, using the example of the Who continuing after the death of Keith Moon.
Page replies with an explanation that continues to build on the legacy of Zeppelin as both a unique and influential band, suggesting a “synchronicity” “synergy” and a virtual “ESP” that existed between band members. That if you look back at concert bootlegs, you see that the band’s penchant for improvisation made it so that fans never got the same show twice. The result was a group of musicians who had fun and remained relevant for their entire duration. His voice begins to drift off a bit as he finishes “ten years of these concerts, all of the improvisations, that when you have lost one of the key members of it, you wouldn’t be able to continue.” Snapping back, he then jokes about training a new drummer on the many ways to play a single Led Zeppelin song.
A few minutes later and it is all finished. Page offers a wave to the crowd and then vanishes. Passing by me with little more than a foot between us, I swear I catch a smile from him. Then again, maybe I’m just imagining that part as it could have been the folks behind me.
Five floors down, on the same Masonic Temple floor Zeppelin played 45 years ago, an offering of hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine is served to attendees… there are shared reminisces about the evenings events and smiles all around. It might not be the epic “Rock ‘N’ Roll backstage pass party” of a bygone era”, but it is a good way to end the night.
P.S. I’ll post the “published” review when it appears next week.