Chuck Klosterman on Led Zeppelin

I have been reading a lot of Chuck Klosterman lately. I love his writing because, while it may not be teaching me a lot, it provides me with the solace that there are other people out there over-analyzing life's (insignificant) minutiae as much (if not more) than myself. Plus, he pretty much relates every relationship/situation in his life to music, or music to every relationship/situation in his life...either way...he's right up my alley. I recently came across the following passage in his book, Killing Yourself To Live, in which he (tries to) deconstruct the young male's love for Led Zeppelin. I enjoyed it so much, that I thought I would post it here. It is perfect because, like most anything that is perfect, it is true.


"Whenever I find myself in an argument about the greatest rock bands of all time, I always place Zeppelin third, behind the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. This sentiment is incredibly common; if we polled everyone in North America who likes rock music, those three bands would almost certainly be the consensus selections (and in that order). But Zeppelin is far and away the most popular rock band of all time, and they're popular in a way the Beatles and Stones cannot possibly compete with; this is because every straight man born after the year 1958 has at least one transitionary period in his life when he believes Led Zeppelin is the only good band that ever existed. And there is no other rock group that generates that experience.

A few years ago, I was an on-air guest for a morning radio show in Akron. I was on the air with the librarian from the Akron public library, and we were discussing either John Cheever or Guided by Voices, or possibly both. Talk radio in Akron is fucking crazy. While we were walking out of the studio, the librarian noticed the show's 19-year old producer; the producer had a blond mullet, his blank eyes were beyond bloodshot, and he was wearing ripped jeans and a black Swan Song T-Shirt with all the runes from the Zoso album. The librarian turned to me and said, 'You know, I went to high school with that guy.' This librarian was 42. But he was right. He did go to high school with that guy. Right now, there are boys in fourth grade who do not even realize that they will become 'that guy' as soon as they finish reading The Hobbit in eighth grade. There are people having unprotected sex at this very moment, and the fetus spawned from that union will become 'that guy' in two decades. Led Zeppelin is the most legitimately timeless musical entity of the past half century; they are the only group in the history of rock 'n' roll that every male rock fan seems to experience in exactly the same way.

You are probably wondering why that happens; I'm not sure, either. I've put a lot of thought into this subject (certainly more than any human should), but it never becomes totally clear; it only seems more and more true. For a time, I thought it was Robert Plant's overt misogyny fused with Jimmy Page's obsession with the occult, since that combination allows adolescent males to reconcile the alienation of unhinged teenage sexuality with their own inescapable geekiness. However, this theory strikes me as 'probably stupid.' It would be easy to argue that Zeppelin simply out-rocks all other bands, but that's not really true; AC/DC completely out-rocks Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC is mostly ridiculous. Whatever quality makes Led Zep so eternally archetypal must be 'intangible', but even that argument seems weak; here in Big Sky Country, I'm listening to 'Heartbreaker' at rib-crushing volume, and everything that's perfect about Led Zeppelin seems completely palpable. There is nothing intangible about the invisible nitroglycerin pouring out of the Tauntaun's woofers. Everything is real. And what that everything is - maybe- is this: Led Zeppelin sounds like who they are, but they also sound like who they are not. They sound like an English blues band. They sound like a warm-blooded brachiosaur. They sound like Hannibal's assault across the Alps. They sound sexy and sexist and sexless. They sound dark but stoned; they sound smart but dumb; they seem older than you, but just barely. Led Zeppelin sounds like the way a cool guy acts. Or - more specifically - Led Zeppelin sounds like a certain kind of cool guy; they sound like the kind of cool guy every man vaguely thinks he has the potential to be, if just a few things about the world were somehow different. And the experience this creates is unique to Led Zeppelin because its manifestation is entirely sonic: There is a point in your life when you hear songs like 'The Ocean' and 'Out on the Tiles' and 'Kashmir', and you suddenly find yourself feeling like these songs are actively making you into the person you want to be. It does not matter if you've heard those songs 100 times and felt nothing in the past, and it does not matter if you don't normally like rock 'n' roll and just happened to overhear it in somebody else's dorm room. We all still meet at the same vortex: For whatever the reason, there is a point in the male maturation process when the music of Led Zeppelin sounds like the perfect actualization of the perfectly cool you. You will hear the intro to 'When the Levee Breaks', and it will feel like your brain is stuffed inside the kick drum. You will hear the opening howl of 'Immigrant Song', and you will imagine standing on the bow of a Viking ship and screaming about Valhalla. But when these things happen, you don't think about Physical Graffiti or Houses of the Holy in those abstract, metaphysical terms; you simply think, 'Wow. I just realized something: This shit is perfect. In fact, this record is vastly superior to all other forms of music on the entire planet, so this is all I will ever listen to, all the time.' And you do for six days or six weeks or six years. This is your Zeppelin phase, and it has as much to do with your own personal psychology as it does with the way John Paul Jones played the organ on 'Trampled Under Foot.' It has to do with sociobiology, and with Aleister Crowley, and possibly with mastadons. And you will grow out of it, probably. But this is why Led Zeppelin is the most beloved rock band of all time, even though most people (including myself) think the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are better. Those two bands are appreciated in myriad ways for myriad reasons, and the criteria for doing so changes with every generation. But Led Zeppelin is only loved one way, and that will never evolve. They are the one thing all young men share, and we shall share it forever. Led Zeppelin is unkillable, even if John Bonham was not."

- Jameson



Michael said...

it's currently 10:10 pm in boston and i just got back from visiting two books stores to purchase the two klosterman books that i don't currently own (fargo rock city and killing yourself to live) thanks for the little preview. can't help but feel as though in some way i facilitated this post by giving you cocoa puffs. thanks for the entertaining post as usually jimmy


Anonymous said...

If only I could show you a drawing I made from eighth grade that completely proves this guy's point...



Anonymous said...

I guess we both just proved Chuck's point. I finished his book today, and posted the exact same excerpt about Led Zep on my facebook page. Oh, and the 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 years part...I fall into the 6 years category.

Anonymous said...

I teach at a university in Texas. I see, on average, about ten people a day wearing Zeppelin t-shirts. I smile. I have a Bonham symbol tattooed on my right arm. Whether they know it or not, we've got something in common. Thanks to Klosterman for putting it coherently in to words.

Mark Balthazor said...

I mostly agree with Chuck's analysis. Where I disagree is that I think Led Zeppelin was better than either the Beatles or the Stones. But admittedly, I've been in my Led Zeppelin phase for about three decades, so I may be a bit biased.