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understanding Led Zeppelin

A while back, I wrote about Led Zeppelin, Genesis and my teenage struggle to find meaning within their lyrics.

There was a time when I considered Led Zeppelin to be gods. Most people my age went through that phase. We quoted lyrics left and right and debated the meaning behind each song. Plant and Page were geniuses, deep thinkers, philosophers.

Yea, right. What passes for deep thinking to a 14 year old mesmerized by heavy guitars and pounding rythms and Robert Plant's hair turns into foolishness and pretension when you take away the haze of few joints and flights of teenage fancy.

Yes, I just blockquoted myself. Had to give you the context.

Anyhow, it seems that I am not the only who searched for meaning within those words. Nor am I the only one who received flame upon flame for daring to take the name of the lord god Robert Plant in vain (see what happened when I posted the Zeppelin article on Blogcritics).

Michael Klassen interpreted the lyrics to that "greatest song every created in history bar none and if you say it's not true I'll stab you with a fork," Stairway to Heaven.

Klassen decided that Stairway is an ode to shoddy construction work on Jimmy Page's castle and I must say, he makes a convincing argument.

I can't believe that Zeppelin's fans are still so numerous and so rabid in their loyalty that they write hate letters to people who disagree with their taste. I mean, they were a good band - I loved them once upon a time, and yes I had teenage girl dreams about Robert Plant. But all these years later my passion has diminished as I realize I was being had by the greatest lyrical con-artists in history.

A letter sent to Kassen:

i find your interpretation of stairway to heaven absolutely sickening. i did not bother to read the entire thing, because i was so disgusted by it. can you not appreciate anything? it is people like you that destroyed this song. it is the most powerful message ever sent in a song, and you have reduced it to nothing.

You really need to read the rest of these letters. I'm sure some of the writers are the same people who berated me on Blogcritics.

Well, that was my enjoyment for the day. Laughing at people who take something like that so seriously.

It's not as if they were talking about Mike Patton, you know.

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» But when you hold me in your arms, I'll sing it once again. from Buzzstuff
I was reading Michele's post regarding Led Zeppelin and it reminded me of something that has happened to me just recently. It is only within the last year or so that I "got" Janis Joplin. I have spent most of... [Read More]

Comments

I remember hearing the lyricist of Stairway to Heaven (not sure if it was Page or Plant) explaining its intended meaning on Nicky Horne's radio show in London in the 1970s. This suggests two things:

1) It was supposed to mean something
2) Whatever it was supposed to mean was so uninteresting that I forgot it.

"It is people like you that destroyed this song"?

I wasn't aware the song was destroyed.

Charter Member of the Get A Life Brigade, I think.

By the way, loved the song in my teens and twenties. Began to get tired of it in my thirties.

Now I think it's pompous and tiresome and cliched. Yawn.

On the other hand, Zep wasn't NEARLY as pompous as the Moody Blues. I can't even LISTEN to their music today.

I always thought "Stairway" was just the result of Plant and/or Page reading Spenser's "The Fairy Queen" while freaked out on acid. (But my favorite Zeppelin What's-Really-In-That-Pipe-You're-Smoking-Frodo song has to be "Ramble On," where Plant breaks into a segment on how Gollum stole his girl and carried her off to Mordor.)

i've written on a former blog, since discarded, how i came to recognize that poetry was poetry, and rock lyrics were mostly inseparable from the music and in general, pale, sentimental crap.

it was a saddening but liberating moment. saddening because it closed off rock music for me, but liberating that it opened up poetry.

in my case, my "awakening" was when Van Morrison included a poem by William Blake on an album. there was such a difference in depth, rhythm, weight and hell, wisdom, between Blake's and the rest of the lyrics, well, it was pretty clear I'd been had.

It was also a bit worse in my case. Led Zeppelin included enough myth and evocation of nature to be obscure, and thus pass for poetry to a 14-year-old.

I thought Bruce Springsteen was a poet. Good God. now last bit is a secret. I'll deny this if you ever repeat it.

2 things...

1) Yeah, interpreting Mike Patton's lyrics, while it might be dissertation-worthy work, seems pretty futile when you hear him talk about how he wrote some of the songs.

2) The local classic rock station, KQRS, has a drop from an interview with Robert Plant which basically sums him up (paraphrased): "I just want to play tennis and fornicate." This is not a deep guy, something he shares with more musicians than people seem to think. I've always been bothered when people (including yours truly) try to read too much into lyrics and then (not including yours truly) try to force others to believe the same interpretation.

[/rant]

"it is people like you that destroyed this song. it is the most powerful message ever sent in a song, and you have reduced it to nothing"

Ive always been amused how people [earnest, yet silly sorts] claim that various ditties by members of rock's classic pantheon [Dylan, Lennon, Led Zep, Jagger, zzzzz] possess some sort of 'powerful message' that will enrich mankind if heeded. Think Imagine, Stairway to Heaven any of Cat Stevens' pukey drivel.

But they always forget to actually let on what the incredible 'message' is.

Instead people quote these songs endlessly at funerals and graduations is if they were saying something deeply profound.

These songs actually say very little -they are pop songs after all and pop lyrics aren't really meant to be listened to in depth. And the rock elders of the 60's were almost entirely crap poets who hid their lack of talent behind a wall of guitars. It helped that their fans were safely stoned and could merely sway gently while solemnly intoning "Deep" as Jim Morrison squawked about being the Lizard King and Led Zep wailed about Hobbits or something.

Take 'Imagine' for example- what was John Lennon on about?

It sounds pretty in passing-like a Hallmark card- but ultimately Imagine [sung by coerced schoolchildren worldwide] is deviod of sincerity- also like a Hallmark card.

Ive heard the standard peace anthem interpretation and the far right Christian one that believes it to be a paean to unlimited decadence. Both sound wrong to me. 'Lets all Chant' is a true paean to decadence. Imagine is a paean to John Lennon's hyper-engorged ego and self obsession- its all about Him. Which isn't very much.

Its high time we made our children sing Blake hymns in music class and quoted Dorothy Parker instead. Dammit.

When I got here there were no comments and then I found someone else had referred to Blake too. Freaky man...

Whenever I hear "Stairway to Heaven" I can't help thinking about Dana Carvey's "She's Buying Broccoli" where Dana playing a "deep" rock star is obviously making up the words as he goes along.

The thing I hated worst about the song was the up tempo ending. So here you are at a school dance (the weekly non-date kind, not Homecoming or the Prom), finally getting up the nerve to ask the girl you've had a crush on for the past few months. You here the opening chords to "Stairway..." and think: "Hey, this is a pretty long slow song". You've got time to ease your way closer and closer to her body until your fingers on opposite hands can touch in the small of her back. She, in turn, might just shift her hands from your shoulders to around your neck (Don't laugh kids, this is how we danced in the late 70s).

You're in luck! She doesn't give you the "go away geek" line: "No thanks, I'm too tired to dance right now." Sure enough, everything is working to plan, heck, she's even got her head on your shoulder and her finger is stroking your neck!

Then the up-tempo hits. No one knows what to do. The "going steady" couples leave the dance floor. Some try to slow dance to the new pace, looking kind of stupid. You notice this and in a last ditch attempt to look cool, break contact and go into "fast" dance mode.... Forgetting you can't dance.... Especially to this beat that is neither slow or fact. She looks at you funny, your confidence is shot, the song ends and you mumble "thanks" and sulk back to your lonely corner of the cafeteria floor.

Curse you Plant and Page and your stupid song!

poetry was poetry, and rock lyrics were mostly inseparable from the music and in general, pale, sentimental crap.

The lyrics to a song aren't MEANT to be separate from the lyrics. Saying that they're crap without the music is like saying that a novel would be crap if you took out all the verbs and adjectives. It may be true, but it's not a very useful point. The key point is this: most lyrics, like most poems, are crap when taken by themselves. But with lyrics, the music can make up the difference; with poetry, there's nothing else to carry the weight.

Which probably explains why I like thousands of songs, and approximately three poems.

Anyway -- to the best of my knowledge, Page and Plant have never pretended that "Stairway to Heaven" was incredibly deep and meaningful (I mean, it's got meaning, just not all that much). So I don't really see the justification for dissing Led Zeppelin just because the song ISN'T all that meaningful.

My favorite was when New Jersey was considering making Born To Run the state anthem. Robert Wuhl did a great comedy bit on that little proposition.

I used to mow my lawn to Stairway to Heaven, and I'd make up mowing lyrics to make the time go faster. I wish I could remember my many permutations, but one does stick out:

There's a lady who mows, because her lawn it just grows.
And she borrowed her Lawn-Boy from Kevin
And it will cost her, she knows, and Kevin likes when she blows
Yes, she'll be giving a hummer to Kevin.

Ohhh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Yes, she'll be giving a hummer to Kevin.

And she'll tickle his balls, of that she's quite sure
Even though sometimes Kevin's balls need a cleaning
And she'll work up and down, on Kevin's man thing
Sometimes a blow job simply has to be given.

Ohhh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Yes, she'll be giving a hummer to Kevin.

There's more, of course, but it's rather kind of personal.

I'm supposed to like Zep. I started buying music in the 70's, I play bass, I've done time in a few bands and even covered some Zep material. Hell, I even worked at guitar store and sold the Implements of Doom to our next generation of wannabe groupie-molesters. And I've listened to lots of this stuff, and not just Zep - I've been obliged to quaff down the full glass of "classic" rock, especially since it became nostalgia rock.

Fuckin' drug-addled, poxied, brain-fried, scab-dicked hippies, all of 'em. If I NEVER hear a Zep song again in my lifetime I may die a happy man after all. Alas - I'll have to wait until the baby boomers all die off and "nostalgia rock" is dictated by the kids whose first boner memories include peeling off the leg warmers of the chicks they met at the Duran Duran concert. That day can't arrive too soon.

I frankly loath Zep. Except for the bass lines. If I could keep those, but remove Plant's nails-on-a-chalkboard screeching and made-up nonsense words, maybe, just maybe, I could be a little more generous.

Actually both Plant & Page loath that song. I have to say Stairway is one of my least fave songs of theirs. I am much more a Kashmir type. I really like LZ, but their fans can be um trying at times.

Well, I .. uhhh ... HATE Led Zeppelin. I have from the first song I heard of theirs. Stupid druggie boring crap. And it is out of rhythm too. And his voice sucks. The guitar work is good tho.

I hate the rest.

Go ahead, call me names - I'm used to it.

JFH: I am STILL laughing. Thank you so much for that one.

That one gets a link. Damn. Can't breathe.

On the other hand, we enjoyed it while it was out there, and you can't deny its entertainment value.
I went to the Physical Graffiti concert, and between the special effects and the instrumentation, it was one of my favorite all time concerts(though it didn't stack up with any of the 7 or 8 Yes concerts; Renaissance(about 4), Triumvirat(1) or Focus(2) concerts I went to.
I think the important thing is that at the time, we identified with it and it gave us pleasure.
I think today's young people will look back in a couple of decades and laugh about what they once considered significant music/ lyrics also, and a future thread on a future blog will echo this one.
I still listen to old Renaissance, Focus and a year ago, attended a Yes concert in Mountainview with Rick Wakeman on keyboards, where they played all 1970s material(most of us there had salt & pepper to grey hair, and it was fun watching a lot of little granny types leaping around and screaming with joy), and I enjoyed the concert more than I'd enjoyed any since the early 1980s.

I never got the Zep thing at ALL. Sure they may be great musicians, but who can tell with all that godawful caterwauling going on.

But, to each his (or her) own. It's a terrible mistake to try and explain to people why the music they like isn't good.

D

Ryan-

That was abosolutely hilarious. I laughed so hard my chair shook.

I was heavy into Zep and other 70's "classic rock" bands -- Pink Floyd, Stones, King Crimson -- and maintain that those who don't like them should be forced to name the music they do like, just so we can all laugh at them.

But I was one of those rare breeds who liked 80's music (Psychedelic Furs, Smiths, Siouxsie, Wire) just as much. Used to piss my friends off to no end.

Anyway, my favorite Zep song is still "When the Levee Breaks," just because it sounds like Bonzo's playing the drums with friggin' baseball bats.

I liked Zep then and I like Zep now. After 30 years, I get tired of them from time to time but when the mood strikes, I'll wake up some brain cells with Kashmir. The radio has played STH to many times that I've come to loath it when it comes on but I keep listening because I know that guitar is going to kick it up in just a minute or so. For many years my cure for some hideous pop song getting stuck in my head was to crank up Rock'n'Roll. Now Rock'n'Roll gets stuck in my head. When that happens, I listen to The Heart Will Go On. The thing is, I never let myself get stuck in one period of music. I still listen to music I liked in the sixties and I just bought the yeah yeah yeahs.

I can't comment about music on Michele's site without bringing up Clutch. The thing I like about Clutch is that they create rock music with the appropriate level of seriousness and respect. That is; not very and not much.

I'm sort of a second generation fan of LZ, being that I was a little kid when they were out doing their thing and too young to really get into them when they were touring as a band and making records. I've got the DVD, which totally kicks a$$, and the new live CD and all that stuff.

Most die-hard Zep fans do not like the song "Stairway to Heaven". If you were to ask a diehard Zep fan what song defines that band, you will get a variety of answers, everything from "Kashmir" to "When the Levee Breaks" to "Achilles Last Stand" to "No Quarter". Very few will say "Stairway". The main reason they will give you for not liking "Stairway" is that it has been played to death on the radio, and I agree with that. "Stairway" is not my favorite Zeppelin song.

I get the feeling that the flamers are not the same people who I see on the Zeppelin forums I go to. Most of the people I know there would look at this and go "Eh, whatever." The people I know from the forums have thicker skin and they do discuss whatever shortcomings the band had and don't apologize to newbies and non fans for them. I get the feeling that the flamers are the people on the other forum I used to go to, but stopped going to because it was filled with teen-aged boys who weren't even born yet when the surviving members did Live Aid, who flew off the handle if you even dared to suggest Zep were less than perfect.

"Stairway" has grown on me some, due to me seeing the performance of it on the live Zeppelin DVD. I like the tune, the melody, and how it starts out small and builds. I don't try to analyze the lyrics to it because it's just a song. I don't tend to overanalyze the lyrics to most songs I listen to, I listen to them and enjoy them for what they are.

I'm very disappointed . No one yet has mentioned "Stairway to Gilligan" by Little Roger and the Goosebumps. Seems Little Roger saw some uncanny similarities between the theme for "Gilligans Island" and the vocal melody for "Stairway to Heaven". Anyway Led Zeppelin didn't see the joke and sued, demanding every copy be taken off the market and destroyed. Listen and enjoy or otherwise.
http://www2s.biglobe.ne.jp/~pennywiz/Funhouse/gilliganE.html

Wasn't the main guitar line from "Stairway to Heaven" just another of those songs that Led Zeppelin ripped off straight from someone else? Ah yes, Spirit's "Taurus", it says here. Hey, the lyrics may be lame, but at least Zeppelin actually wrote them.

C'mon, real philosophers with real messages to deliver to the populace have better things to do wtih thier time than get stoned and play roackandroll.

Pop music lyrics (whether it is Dean Martin or Emeinem or anything in between) are approximately as deep and as meaningful as comic books.

Like comic books, the "deep thoughts" they express do not stand up to close examination. That doesn't make them "bad", per se, but they have to be understood for what they are, rock lyrics, not great philosophy.

The only TRUE "rock star/philospher", the greatest there has ever been in either field, was Buckaroo Banzai.

I never really thought that "Stairway" had really deep lyrics, so I don't have the pain of disillusionment. I like the tune though dancing to it was a challenge. (However, by selecting the correct beat, the tempo change is small.)

For me, the band I thought was deep that I now find to be a joke is Kansas. "Carry On My Wayward Son", fer chrissakes!

During Lead Balloon's heyday, I had trouble keeping them straight in my mind from Black Sabbath, Steppenwolf, and (probably later) Pink Floyd.

But since I've been listening to Z93 (Atlanta) in my car, I realize just how many of their songs I heard back then. And now I can even hear the resemblance between Plant's screachy LZ voice and the one from his '80s solo attempt.

And can anyone explain that one to me? "My love is in league with the freeway"? Is that really what he was singing? WTF?

My favorite version of "Stairway" was done by Rolf Harris.

Hilarious! I guess I have always been a little weird because even when I was a teenager I never could understand people getting all worked up about song lyrics. For me it's always been about the music. I've always liked "Stairway to Heaven" but I have no idea what any of the lyrics are. As anyone who reads my blog knows, what I listen to nowdays, if it has any lyrics at all, is mostly in Latin. Translated and without the music it all sounds just as silly as rock and roll or pop lyrics without the music.

what do you people expect lyrics to be? Of a man saying his gonna kill himself and smash his head and take his wife with him or the sappy love crap type music? All Led Zeppelin songs have total meaningful lyrics. The voice of Robert Plant, the guitar riffs of Jimmy Page, the bass of JPJ and Bonham on drums says it all. All excellent musicians of rock and roll history....

Here's an idea.....listen to music on whatever level you like (just for the music, just for the lyrics, or whatever other reasons you have) But for god sakes don't put down what others like. I like everything from Led Zeppelin to Outkast to Duke Ellington to CCR to Big Daddy Kane. You need to listen to music on a per song basis. Every artist/group has his or her "greatest hits" and stinkers. Its up to you decide which is which, don't let some Top 40 DJ tell you what to think. Some groups, I can tell you all 7 of their albums and what song is on which, other groups I may just like one song. enjoy music, thats what its made for. Oh and on the "profoundness" of lyrics, that is also for you to intrepret, whos cares what the artist was thinking, even if they explain themselves. Yuou just listen and make your own meaning.

I reached this page searching for the meaning of led zep songs but i think i made a mistake because i didnt feel good on reading any thing against a band who takes place of music God for me. I am from india, basically a non english speaking community so i dont understand the lyrics much but then also the sheer magic in jimmy page guitar riffs and robert plant's voice enchants me. And particularly 'Stairway to Heaven'- i dont think i will like any other song more than this one.
Recently when i saw Almost Famous which is kind off based on led zep life, i nearly cried when i saw them in their mere humane form with their egos above Music. It really hurts if you know what i mean.

Don't try to take any pop music seriously, if it makes you feel good, great!! Who cares! It is your time and you don't have to feel "guilty" about enjoying mindless lyrics and a good bass/drum bottom. RELAX, will ya?

I am only 17 so I have no first hand recollection of led zeppeln in its "hey day." However, I do enjoy their music and have become rather enveloped by it. I own every song ever released by the band, as well as some bootlegs, and I can honestly say that, with the exception of the introduction to "In the light" I enjoy it all. I think that people need to respect the band not only for their obvious talent, but for their progression over the years. Although the have been accused of "ripping off" old blues artist(although adding something new and different to each song) they didn't dwell in one music scene to long, as evidenced by their progression from the hard, heartache of "LZI" to the softer, more mature "In through the out door."
On the subject of "stairway" I would like to say that the song, while still maintaing the brilliance it had 30 years ago, has become a bit tired due to constant radio play. Taking its place as top dog among zeppelin songs, in my opinion, would be "In My Time of Dying." As for the meaning of the song, it is open to interpretation. Plant's meaning while writing the song has no bearing on its meaning to anybody else, and in fact probably doesn't contain any deep truth that is so often searched for in its words. Or maybe it does, if somebody finds truth in it, so be it. Rock lyrics are poetry, no matter if anybody tells you different. These people who praise poetry while bashing lyrics to rock music are idiots. People who find meaning in "real poetry" are looking for meaning, and those who don't, aren't. The same is true for rock lyrics. One can find meaning in them too, if they look for it, and kind find meaninglessness if they look for that. Its all in the interpreter. One final note. WHO CARES ANYWAY? music is about enjoyment...so lets stop worrying about what things mean and just listen for a change.

I get as big a laugh from the people who take pop music very seriously and that rock music is this great poetic thing. It's not poetry: it's entertainment. That's right...something that doesn't have any meaning at all beyond how much fun you're having listening to it. That's it...no 'brilliance' to a chord from a form of music that was 'in', no 'profundity' to lyrics other than Plant had to be singing something. So discussing the "deeper meaning" of either the lyrics or the music itself doesn't make you a deep or passionate thinker...it simply means you have far too much free time on your hands.

To those of you with a sense of humour, however...I was laughing with you, instead of at you.