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The Power and Excess of Led Zeppelin
by Barney Hoskyns
At the end of the 1960s, with the dissolution of the Beatles, a void was left in popular music. America was crying out for something new, and Led Zeppelin, whose music was brutal in its brilliance and whose image was one of a dangerous, mystical sexuality not only filled that void, they created a thirst for loin-thrusting, ear-bullying long-hairs that has never been sated. While they are now written of in the highest possible terms, in the early 1970s Zeppelin were deridedby the British media to the point where a poisonous mistrust grew up between the two parties. But as Zeppelin grew ever more huge, and the money began to flood in, it became clear they could buy, manipulate, coerce and intimidate anyone into anything at any time.
It is a testament to the undimmed appeal of the band and the forthright way their story is told in Barney Hoskyns's book that such long raked-over ground should still have such emotional power. With a singer (Robert Plant) and a drummer (John Bonham) from the Birmingham beat-group scene, and a bass player (John Paul Jones) and guitarist (Jimmy Page) who were among the cream of London's session musicians, Zeppelin were put together by Page and overweight gangster-manager- supremo Peter Grant - a man with carrier bags full of cocaine and a ladle to dole it out - with the express intention of being the biggest band in the world and, by God, they did it. But at what cost?
Their success was intimately attached to their adopted hometown, the then free-flowing Los Angeles. LA was in love with British rock musicians. As the crowds and record sales got bigger, though, a vortex of violence whipped up around the band, with Page (the mummy's boy from Epsom obsessed with the occult) and Plant (the golden-maned Viking from Kidderminster who was happy with a blow job during each interminable drum solo) battling it out for the soul of the band.
One of the great strengths of Trampled Underfoot is its format - an oral history removes all chance of waffle and hackery - so there are no flights of fancy here, just a series of powerful, succinct and illuminating anecdotes from exes, band- and label-mates, lawyers, secretaries, journalists, roadies and tour managers, many of whom have never spoken out before. The steady decline of the music industry and the sheer number of other entertainment options means nobody will ever have a career anything like Led Zeppelin's ever again. Is that a bad thing? On this evidence, probably not.
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