On the first day of May last year, just over one hour after submitting the final drafts of both volumes of BEATLESTUDY, I boarded a plane at the Indianapolis airport with the destination of Denver, Colorado. That flight marked the start of a lecture tour from Colorado through Kansas and Missouri. Reprising the notion from Days in the Life, it was another trip with my Dad, who picked me up at the Denver airport.
On our long drive east, we of course listened to many hours of music. We carefully compared the mono vs. stereo versions of The Beatles' Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper. We listened to the audio book Fire and Rain by David Browne. And at one point, Dad put in The Best of Led Zeppelin. I knew of Zeppelin, of course, but I didn't know much about them. I could hum a bit of “Stairway to Heaven”, but not much more. I realized pretty quickly, however, that I knew a lot more Zeppelin than I thought I did. I'd heard “Immigrant Song” in the film Shrek, but I didn't realize at the time that it was Zeppelin. And I'd heard “Rock and Roll” frequently, but never realized that was Zeppelin, either. Same could be said about “Kashmir”. The more we listened, the more I recognized. And with BEATLESTUDY finally complete (after five years of work), I had my antennae out for something new. Might Zeppelin be next?
A month later, I drove north from Indiana into Michigan for a conference at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. The four-hour drive was long enough to listen to their first five albums. Houses of the Holy was still in the CD player when I gave my good friend, fellow conference speaker, and editor of BEATLESTUDY, voulme 1 David Thurmaier a lift back to his hotel one night. Dave was air-drumming along in the passenger seat as soon as the music kicked in. He was obviously much more knowledgeable about this band than I was. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a tiny bit embarrassed that he knew these songs so well while I didn't know them at all. “You're gonna have to read up on Zeppelin and listen to their albums some more,” I tactitly told myself.
Fast forward to 29 October 2017. I'm eating dinner at Riverside Pub & Grille in Bel Air, MD with librarians Betsy Bensen and Joyce Wemer following my presentation The Beatles' Alter Ego, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at the Bel Air library. In addition to discussing The Beatles, we also debate the musical merits of other rock bands. I put forth a nascent idea for a program titled Stairway to Zeppelin, in which I'd look at how 1960s bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones paved the way for Led Zeppelin in the 1970s. Though not big Zeppelin fans, Betsy and Joyce both expressed interest. I decided to add it to my repertoire document and shop it around to other libraries for future lecture tours. Indeed, I got a bite from the Richards Memorial Library in North Attleboro, MA, and so Stairway to Zeppelin is scheduled to debut on 12 July 2018.
So now I have to get to work! My composition teacher at Butler University, Dr. Michael Schelle, once told me, “A deadline is the second strongest motivator behind a paycheck.” And now I have both compelling me to study Led Zeppelin.
Much like The Beatles literature, the problem with the extant Zeppelin literature is that so little of it focuses on the music. Many books seem more concerned about lurid descriptions of orgies, or Jimmy Page's obsession with the occult and Aleister Crowley, or “hidden meanings” in their lyrics and album artwork than they are about the actual music. Again like The Beatles, it astounds me that so much can be written about musicians while so little is written about the work. It is, after all, the music – not their salacious love lives or hotel-trashing – that makes Led Zeppelin compelling and worthy of study and criticism a half century later.
Indeed, I've been painstakingly transcribing Zep songs for the last week or so, and the more I study the more I respect their musical artistry. Yet again like The Beatles, the compositional sophistication balanced with accessibility never ceases to amaze me. And so today I launch a new blog dedicated to Led Zeppelin. Just like my Beatles blog, it'll be a workshop for me to develop my ideas as I digest their catalog.
Aaron Krerowicz, pop music scholar
An informal but highly analytic study of popular music.