Posts from 3rd October 2000

3
Oct 00

THE REAL REASON LED ZEP WERE RUBBISH

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THE REAL REASON LED ZEP WERE RUBBISH

The Zep war flaring twixt Tom and Fred is of course ridiculous to an extreme. Of course ver Zep were excrable, that was pretty much their raison d’etre. By way of proof I need merely offer one salient fact. With most bands, the reason for their success is not wholly musical. Instead much is often tied up with individual band members – and the kind of cool they exude. (The exception which proves this rule is Genesis. Pre and post Peter Gabriel.) Nevertheless, nearly all great bands have in them a cool member. Some have more than one. This is where the Zep fell down. Now ostensiably, if anyone was cool in Led Zeppelin it would have been Jon Bonham. He hit things hard, which is at least to cavemen and other lower forms of human life, pretty cool. Now its already a no-no if your coolest member is your drummer, but he was certainly more interesting than the god botherer, the poodle or the really, really dull guitarist.

But Bonham was not the coolest member of the band. The fella who had all the good stories about him, the person everyone wanted to be was their cricket bat weilding manager. Let us examine that statement for a second. This was a group who had so little personality that their manager, skulking lowlives that they are, was actually preferable in a social situation than themselves. And really, if your manager is cooler than you – then you should call it a day.

Progressive rock sought to expand

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Progressive rock sought to expand the language of rock music, and also to raise its artistic game until it achieved some kind of wider acceptance within the grand narrative of ‘proper’ artistic achievement. The successes and failures of this effort are much discussed even now: less commented on was the effort that rock writing went to in order to reflect the magnified status of its host artform.

The problem for most rock hacks was that the musical advances being made by bands like King Crimson were well beyond their analytic powers. Discussion of the technical complexities of the prog bands was impossible: how then could writers best express the colossal (and highly serious) strides being made towards the hallowed ground of ART? They turned in general towards literary criticism – or rather, towards a frothy imitation of Leavisite literary criticism: lots of lyrical analysis and high-minded artistic comparisons (this band was Kafkaesque, these musicians were rock Picassos, this album bestrode music like nothing since Bach, etc. etc.).

It made for gruesome reading, this attempt at a rock High Criticism. And it remained a powerful trend in music writing until quite recently, when an unholy combination of commercial crassness, punky fanzine styles, and a ‘serious’ criticism which didn’t rely on literary leg-ups for legitimacy wiped it out. But it turns out that some writers remember those days with fondness: the new column from Pitchfork is classic High Rockcrit, with Joycean parallels, Kafka references, and a poetry quote or two thrown in for good measure, all dolling up what is essentially a track-by-track runthrough of the new Radiohead album (yes, again).

The question of whether or not this kind of approach is suitable for rock music is too big to get into here (I think, in general, it isn’t, but it can be funny if done with less gravitas). The problem here is that it doesn’t work as criticism. Brent Sirota’s essay treats Radiohead as if they exist in a vacuum, as if no other music is being made today. But Kid A exists in direct relation to a lot of other music – to write an essay this long and inflated about it without even suggesting its current musical context is simply bad criticism. Kid A is interesting because it’s a relatively abstruse record which a lot of people will buy: but its peers are Laughing Stock and For Beginner Piano, not Finnegan’s Wake and William Blake.

HOW TO WRITE A LED ZEPPELIN SONG

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HOW TO WRITE A LED ZEPPELIN SONG

1: Steal an old Robert Johnson blues track. Preferably one about being lonely, or flood defence mechanisms.
2. If the lyrics make too much sense, change them. Nip down the library and get out a copy of Tolkein’s Simarillion (the one where the first twenty pages are thumbed and the rest are as clean as the day the book was bought). Lyrics can be taken verbatim. Alternatively imagine yourself to be a Viking.
3. Beef up the percussion by getting a man who is physically designed only to hit things very hard, and who only wants to hit things very hard, to hit something very hard. Repeat.
4. Add twiddly guitar bits to the song, in case the track had any original emotional merit. Layer a twelve string guitar in the background as well, just to be on the safe side.
5. Try to persuade your bass player to puff a bit of flute over it. If he does, it is a ballad. Repeat step three slower. If he’s off flute this week, it is mid-tempo. If it ever gets fast, you are doing something wrong.
6. Find a castrato with 80 cubic metres of frizzy hair. Tell him to sing with feeling. Tell him also to howl, wail and generally make a tit of himself. If he ever gets round to singing any of the lyrics, its a bonus.
7. Repeat eight times. You now have an album. Name it something clever like – er – after the number of albums you have released. If this gets too high for you to count (say above four) use its name to describe the contents. Such as The Song Remains The Bleeding Same.

Voila. You are now Led Zeppelin. May you rot in prog rock hell.