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.


  1. Having seen them in '75 (my first rock show) and '79, I rather hope they really have called it a day. Mind you, I also refused to go to see The Stones in '82 because they were, "past it". So what do I know? Because when I finally saw The Stones 20 years later, they were fabulous.

  2. It would be horrible.

    By the time I was 20 (ish) it was impossible to overlook the awful cock rock lyrics and the vile and callous behaviour. I saw them 6 times, each time close up! I left Knebworth before the memory of those 6 shows could be sullied (Empire Pool, Ally pally both nights and 3 of the 5 Earls Court shows - we queued all night for tickets). It was an Alec Guiness “Bridge on the River Kwai” moment - "Oh My God What Have I Done"- a moment that came amidst a hail of piss filled, airborne Party Eight cans. A moment when I thought that this compromises everything the last few years of The Clash etc had meant. Music in a field? No! Music in a cultural vacuum or even worse a cultural context I despised.

    I turned down a ticket for the O2 reunion on the basis that a) I will never go to the O2, b) It would probably be crap - Pages playing had seemed to be in decline for years c)I was too old for all that cock rock d) they were told old for all that cock rock e) I didn't want to go to an "event" that R4 and Newsnight were spouting about f) I didn’t want to spoil the/my past and don’t want to re-live it, and e) through whatever a myriad of other un-thought out reasons.

    There is a time and a place for most things. Led Zeppelin’s was the early 70’s in concert halls.

    Good on Robert Plant for turning his back on all that Zeppelin would be now. The show I saw of his at the Roundhouse a few years ago had maturity, integrity and a whole bunch of top Nashville cats.

    ‘course those riffs are immortal and monumental……but please, enough

  3. Robert Plant, in particular, also has to overcome the existential quandary of having to play the part of the singer in a band that have been apart for longer than they were together.

    It may feel strange to a 66 year old man to be singing the stamina sapping 'every inch of my love' stuff but that hasn't stopped Mick Jagger; then again he never stopped doing it.

  4. They have to reform - to earn the royalties they owe me!

  5. "The remorseless march of demographics mean that those latter-day fans soon outnumber the originals."

    Really? Is this always the case? Are there now more latter-day fans of, say, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, than there were at their height?

  6. PS It was you Dave, and the other mangers at HMV, who were influential in my re-education! "Less Zep more Fairport" was the cry!

  7. Fairport are a classic case of this syndrome in action. I doubt that they could have attracted the number of people who go to every year to Cropredy back in 1970.

  8. Interesting point, Dave. It would be tempting to think there might almost be a mathematical equation in there somewhere, but I think the indefineable variable - an 'x factor' about which acts prosper exponentially in retirement, vis a vis clamours for reunions, and which sink into forgotten-ness - would sink it. I met Bruce Dickenson in the early 2000s at a BBC Folk Awards and he told me, re Iron Maiden, 'The less we do, the bigger we get' - seemingly as surprised as the next man that they were being offered colossal sums for the odd enormo-show every couple of years. But to how many acts who had, say, a defineable heyday/career in the past and then stopped would this massive growth of latter-day after-the-event fans apply? Apart from LZ one could say Abba, the Smiths (probably), the Beatles (or Paul/Ringo and relatives of the others in the unlikely event that they chose to go out under the name)... and is there any more? Are millions of teenagers waiting for reunions of the Dave Clark Five, the Teardrop Explodes or the Happy Mondays? As far as I could tell, the most 'mythical' act of the 90s, the Stone Roses, had their reunion gigs attended by beery nostalgists from the first time around...

  9. I don't think it's to do with retirement, Colin, because the fact is that, having noted the money to be made by staying out there, most bands don't retire. I just had an email about a new BBC radio programme about Leonard Cohen. He's a classic case. When he was making his reputation in the late 60s and then building on it in the 80s nobody was making radio programmes about him and he certainly wasn't playing for hundreds of thousands of people and getting paid handsomely for it. He hasn't changed - the audience has. Of course, the other factor is that we could be dealing with a "golden generation" here, a generation whose impact will never be repeated. I can't see an Oasis reunion getting people as excited as a Led Zeppelin reunion.

  10. Another good point - the 'golden generation'. I have this theory that one can define roughly 1965 to some point in the early 90s as the 'rock era' and thereafter as the 'information era'. The former is where popular music is a predominant factor in popular culture, a binding agent for the generation(s) that grew up in that time; the latter is the time, still current, where the means of transmission - keeping up with the Joneses with the endless stream of communications gadgetry - and the constancy of feeding the beast is in effect more important than whatever aspect of popular culture is being transmitted. Culture is fragmented and attention spans - to absorb and become truly connected (in a way that will later fuel massive nostalgia for this or that musical artist) - are not what they were.

    But yes, the 60s-70s-even-80s were, I think, a special time in popular music. As Noel Gallagher says in Mark Ellen's memoir, there are only so many notes and chords [this side of jazz, anyway] and he set about borrowing as many sequences of the things as he could from the 'golden generation'. Pop music had, by Oasis, arguably run out of tunes!

    Another factor, in mythologising artists, is the 'rarity' aspect. The golden era is recent enough for the artists to be often still with us, but far enough back - and operating in a now quaintly primitive way - for it to feel exciting when some piece of detritus, like a new Nick Drake song or (topically) a few old Led Zeppelin studio try-outs, are released. The marketing of these things - the Ultra-box formats preferred by Universal, at prices that make Fifty-Quid-Bloke seem like a cheapskate - are pretty clever: the pricing itself only adding to the allure of rarity and exclusivity. It's interesting that an expensive Frankie Goes To Hollywood box set is being tested via Pledge Music currently - to see, presumably, if there's enough interest for such a thing to actually be manufactured. The LZ marketeers would never have had that element of doubt.

  11. I've never been interested in seeing reformed bands or bands on the nostalgia circuit. When did it start? The mid 90s? I wouldn't want to see Kate Bush doing her old stuff any more than I'd pay to see Pamela Stevenson repeat her Not the Nine O Clock News sketches on stage. Same with Led Zep.

  12. Led Zeppelin were always going to be mythical. Their powerhouse music and live performances , their lack of publicity when releasing those albums that served to change the face of rock. Their awesome unified talent that will never be the same again following the death of John Bonham - he was irreplaceable.

    Zep fans always want more. New fans exploring the Zep catalogue, rifling through their Dad's music collection, wondering what they were really like live and wondering if there's a chance of a reunion in order to find out.

    Records, like film, capture a moment. If the record is good, then we want to revisit that moment again and again. Age means that is impossible to capture the quality of the moment again. We all want something we just cannot have. But if there is a chance to see the artistes have another go then we want to be there.

    A personal case for me was the band Family, whom I saw for the first time around 40 years ago on their farewell tour. They were just superb and I remember that concert fondly. When a number of Family reformed to do a gig, I didn't hesitate to get tickets. But I was worried that they might not be able to deliver. The sell-out gig was excellent, but they were not as good as in their younger years. Yet their songs held up well and we all had a great time.

    It's the quest for the grail with Zeppelin. Arthur is somewhere, sleeping, waiting to return to save us. He's not coming folks!

  13. Michael Evans10:08 pm

    We have one life, I think. These bands should get out there and play. Well done Kate Bush.

  14. Anonymous12:56 pm

    Well sorry I got to change the subject I just have one question - Do you heard about the new released deluxe editions “Led Zeppelin”, “Led Zeppelin II” and “Led Zeppelin III"? Does any of you know where can I find at least one of these?