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Led Zeppelin, “Immigrant Song”

My high school was pretty rigidly segregated when it came to music fanship. There were a very few new wave kids who liked Duran Duran and Squeeze and other cuddly British bands; one boy in my class had a “Frankie Say Relax” t-shirt. The enormous middle population, the kids who didn’t fall into any particular camp, liked relatively bland stuff like the Police and Genesis, maybe a little Madonna. The jocks liked Journey. The burnouts, who hung out between classes and during lunch in our school’s outdoor “smoking area”—this was the mid-’80s, remember—liked Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Rush. In my senior year I switched from bland to new wave, but I was pretty certain that I was never going to listen to Led Zeppelin in my lifetime.

A few years later, in college, I read somewhere that Let’s Active, a band that I liked, was covering “Dancing Days” at live shows. I was at my new waviest then, and I thought, really? The point about bands like Let’s Active was that they were underdoggy; they were supposed to be for the kids who were intimidated by Led Zeppelin, by all that noise and satanism. I wanted to hear what there was about this song that attracted Mitch Easter, my hair care idol, so I bought a cheap used copy of Houses of the Holy. I played “Dancing Days” a bunch of times, and thought it was actually pretty good. Then I went out and bought the album with the symbols for a title—this was thrilling; me buying Led Zeppelin albums! I picked out some favorites on that, like “Going to California,” which I had heard was about Joni Mitchell. I liked these songs okay, I should say; I didn’t like them nearly as much as I liked, say, Aztec Camera or the Three O’Clock; I probably convinced myself that I liked them more than I did. But mixed up in this liking was the feeling that I was playing outside of type—that I could effortlessly cross into the high school camp of kids who liked bad, scary music. (The badness was confirmed for me when a friend and I played “Stairway to Heaven” backwards and heard the warpy—but genuinely chilling!—devil-worship messages that might be real or might be some kind of mass delusion.) I became pretty proud of the fact that I liked Led Zeppelin, and another part of this was probably a kind of straining to be not so typically gay, because, you know, at the time I really liked Erasure a lot too.

I can’t even say that I’m completely over this phenomenon twenty years later. The other day we went to a stoop sale in our neighborhood. A young couple were transferring all of their CDs onto iTunes and getting rid of the actual discs, an act of questionable wisdom, but we picked up for two bucks each Pedro the Lion and Mount Eerie—which, truth be told, are still sitting here unlistened to. And then the couple didn’t have enough singles to give us back the dollar in change they owed us for the Fiestaware teacups we bought, so they said, why don’t you pick out another CD? I took Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin Volume One. Mostly I wanted to hear “The Battle of Evermore,” in the more recent context of being a Sandy Denny enthusiast (I find the song a little grating, actually), but also there was a little bit again of, ah, the loud music that the good kid likes! I’ve skipped around on the disc while cooking dinner, and I still don’t know where I stand with this band. Do I genuinely like them, or do I ironically like them, or is it somewhere in between, that they’re just pretty good if I’m in the mood? I love the massive drum sound at the beginning of “When the Levee Breaks,” but then there’s a lot of caterwauling after. The first half of “Stairway” is a little ridiculous. And I just don’t want to hear “Whole Lotta Love” again, ever—I had to hear it so many times blasting on boomboxes from the back of the school bus. Mostly, the songs exhaust me.

Not “Immigrant Song,” though. “Immigrant Song” is awesome.

Written by peterterzian

August 20, 2010 at 9:50 am

Posted in Led Zeppelin


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