Thursday, 4 April 2013

Why I (sort of) hate Led Zeppelin

I'll get to why I sort of hate Led Zeppelin, but I have to digress for a moment. For context. And so you don't think I'm a bitch.

In another life, some years ago now, I managed 20 or so miscreants at a hair salon. I was a poor college student who needed the job. I was also young and I put up with a lot -- too much -- from the staff.

Hairstylists, in general, are an interesting bunch. Societal misfits, artists, and amateur counselors for their clients, they live life on the fringe of moral acceptability and like it. Moody and dramatic, fascinating and frustrating, I loved working with them slightly more than I hated it.

Every single one of these hairdressers drove me a little crazy. A typical day involved at least two of the following:

  • A fight in front of clients, leaving me to smooth things over. 
  • Recreational drug use in the bathrooms. 
  • Loud, slanderous gossip about their prominent clients.
  • Theft of each other's commissions/tips, often using me as a scapegoat and feigning innocence. 
  • Calling in "sick" when I knew -- and they knew that I knew! -- that they'd been out partying the night before, leaving me to call their angry clients. 

And so, needing employment badly and having no other outlet for my frustrations, I behaved as you'd expect a consummate music nerd to behave: I burned passive-aggressive CDs for my coworkers in a show of "goodwill", and in a desperate attempt to get them to stop being such narcissistic assholes to me.

Here are three of my musical responses and the shenanigans to which I was responding.

EXHIBIT A: One female stylist I worked with was once a robust woman in her late 40s who used meth (or something like it) to lose over 100 pounds rapidly. Her change was so dramatic that I was confronted by an irate (bigoted, massive bitch) customer who thought that we had hired a drag queen.

"I know you hire those people in this industry," she hissed at me, "but this is too much!"

Patrick Swayze would have kicked her ass, God rest his soul.

Anyhow, this particular stylist was occasionally so strung out ("I'm hypoglycemic!") that she would pass out cold in the middle of cutting hair, horrifying her clients and causing two or three of her fellow stylists to stop what they were doing to pick her up off the floor, drag her to a shampoo bowl, and hose her off. No big deal.

RESPONSE: I made her a CD filled with songs about the dangers of doing drugs. She loved it.

EXHIBIT B: Then there was the especially promiscuous stylist who, one sunny afternoon, ran screaming out the front door of the salon when he discovered that his itchy eye was the result of crab larvae wriggling around in his eyeball.

To cleanse you of that visual, here's a puppy. 

RESPONSE: I made him a CD filled with songs about self-love, with euphemisms about the act written all over the disc. He thought it was hilarious.

See, this was the reaction I got from the stylists -- none of them had any clue that I was poking fun at them or, if they did, they didn't care. They would just thank me profusely for making them such cool CDs and they'd be extra nice to me for a day or two before they'd be back to their usual behaviors. So, I decided to be more brazen just to see what would happen and because, well, fuck 'em.

Here is, finally, where Led Zeppelin enters into it.

EXHIBIT C: Okay, so there was this stylist who was head-over-heels for Led Zeppelin. She was a super cute blonde and had lots of borderline creepy male hangers-on.

No, she wasn't Robert Plant.

When her birthday rolled around I, naturally, made her a CD called I Love Jimmy Page, full of obvious, pointed examples of what a talentless group of thieving hacks Led Zeppelin were. The idea was that she'd put the CD on, thinking that it would be a bunch of Led Zeppelin "bootlegs", but would instead get 80 minutes of all the songs that her favorite band in the world had so shamelessly ripped off.

Now, before you convict me for crimes against rock for ripping on Zep so hard, hear me out.

The Zep-loving gal was one of the worst offenders of calling in "sick" at the very last minute, and her creepy clients would have meltdowns when told of her absence. I spent many a morning getting screamed at and/or talking her clients down from their bizarre metaphorical ledges. And this bullshit happened at least once a week, which is why I decided I'd make my first brazenly passive-aggressive CD especially for her.

Problem: I had no idea how I was going to prove that Led Zeppelin sucked, since I was firmly of the mind that they didn't suck. Not even a little bit.

Solution: With the gusto of a cherry-picking cable news pundit, I went straight for the minor, seemingly insignificant details: I checked song credits.

True Fact: Jimmy Page invented the blues.

Score! It is well known that Jimmy Page went far beyond "appreciating" old blues numbers to downright ripping them off AND, in a staggering display of kicking one when they're down further than he would ever be, he gave HIMSELF (and bandmates) songwriting credits! What a complete bastard. Here are just a handful of examples:

Howlin' Wolf - "Killing Floor"
Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor" is one of the more obvious examples (right up there with "Sweet Little Sixteen"/"Surfin' USA") of outright theft perpetrated against black musicians by white musicians; if nothing else, Howlin' Wolf should have at least throat-punched Jimmy Page for "The Lemon Song".

Just like that, I had my first track. 

And then there was the matter of Robert Plant. Who can deny that his vocal range is at the very least iconic?

But it turns out that even he stole his chops from another British bluesman, only this guy had more talent in his pinky than Robert Plant has dreamed about while dressed up as a white knight atop his steed. Don't believe me? Watch and learn from Steve Marriott:

The Small Faces - "You Need Loving"
At least The Small Faces had the class not to claim they wrote "You Need Loving", nor to change it up "Surfin' USA"-style and cause legions of their fans to try to convince their blues fan college roommates that the Small Faces were NOT a bunch of rip-off artists.

But Led Zeppelin's thievery didn't stop there, of course: Jimmy Page even stole his whole cello-bow-on-electric-guitar move!

The Creation - "Painter Man"
Yeah, it's mimed, but he's drawing the bow on the recording and that's what counts. The Creation got lost in the shuffle of British R&B bands who turned psychedelic, but at least one of their gimmicks found a home forever in Led Zeppelin lore.

I was able to dig up half a dozen or so more examples of questionable song credits to round out the first half of the CD. And then something very unexpected changed my trajectory:

It turns out that Jimmy Page, session musician, gave more than a few British rock bands a lift!

Including The Kinks:
The Kinks - "Revenge"

The less-well-known pysch rockers, Les Fleur de Lys:
Les Fleur de Lys - "Circles"

And, perhaps the most disputed of all his credits, The Who:
The Who - "I Can't Explain"

But even if he didn't play on "I Can't Explain", Jimmy Page found time to record with at least one of the guys in The Who (see if you can guess which one):
Jeff Beck Group - "Beck's Bolero"

The girl, of course, loved it and I learned a hell of a lot, which is the goal of any good music nerd, right? And while I was severely annoyed at all the outright thieving bastardry I uncovered in my passive-aggressive quest, I couldn't fully turn Jimmy Page into a villain. He's too good, too cool, and too everything that rock 'n' roll once was and should be again.

You magnificent bastard.

TL;DR: The reason why I sort of hate Led Zeppelin is simple: Like his rock 'n' roll heir apparent, Jack White, Jimmy Page has the ability to take what's been done before and make it sound like something you're hearing for the first time. I don't know what you'd call that, exactly, but I'm glad a little bit of it still exists.

On a probably unrelated note, I haven't had a decent hair cut since I left the salon. True story.