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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

If Led Zeppelin reformed they'd be playing for people who don't "remember" them

Interesting piece by Michael Hann about the chances of Led Zeppelin getting back together again. He think they're slim. I think he's right. Robert Plant doesn't need to risk being called mutton dressed as lamb. It's different for the blokes in the band. They're operating machinery. They're not advancing towards the microphone and singing "you need cooling, I'm not fooling, I'm gonna send you back to schooling'". The singer is the one who's most exposed. Here the line between worship and ridicule is a thin one.

This must be made more difficult by the fact that in rock, unlike in almost every other branch of human endeavour, the audience for what you're doing continues to grow as your ability to do that thing diminishes. It is amazing that all those years after Led Zeppelin gave up you can still write pieces in serious newspapers about them getting back together again. In fact the level of interest in Led Zeppelin is higher now than at any time since they started in 1968. That's not because of anything they've done. It's because of the relentlessly retrospective nature of popular music. Let that be the new law of rock. Most of it's in the past.

Bands may stop but their music stays there in the canon to be taken up and championed by successive waves of fans. The remorseless march of demographics mean that those latter-day fans soon outnumber the originals. If Led Zeppelin reformed and played Wembley Stadium this year I would guess no more than 5% of the people who went would have seen them first time around.  Most of them wouldn't have been born when they broke up. Even a 50 year old fan probably wouldn't have been old enough to have gone to Knebworth in 1979 without a chaperone.

This flies in the face of all the theories about rock - that you live it, that it reflects the moment and when the moment's over people throw it away. All around us is the evidence that they don't. What's more the audience is boosted by millions of people who aren't even aware what that moment was like because they weren't around. It's a truism to point out that people like to hear old music because it reminds them of their youth. What's interesting is that most of the time it's not their youth they're reliving.