By the time Led Zeppelin got to their seventh album Presence the band sounds tired. Still good, still Zeppelin, but starting to show signs of wear. How could they not? How many bands make seven perfect albums like that? Less than 50? 20? The cover has a photo of a family sitting around a table by a marina admiring a black obelisk, 2001 style. It’s weird. Going back, the album art from the first three records is standard fare for the time (the black and white blimp from the first, the Beatles-esque, illustrated brown on the second); it wasn’t until the fourth album they got more artsy, with what looks like a figure from the Tarot on the cover, a bent-over countryman with a bundle of sticks on his back, hearkening the mood of that record, that spans their roots with the first two songs, to new directions the band was exploring and would develop in the coming years.
Presence is basically the end of that run (1969 – 1976), and fact-checking myself on Wiki I realize now why they sound tired: Plant was in a wheelchair, recuperating from a car accident on some Greek isle, and Page stayed up all night doing the guitar overdubs, and the band recorded and mixed it all in just 18 days, surprising the Rolling Stones who had the studio space next, when they turned up to hear it was all done.
I owned most of these records in the ’80s, back when you could join the Columbia Record Club and pay like a buck to get 10 albums, and then there was some subscription thing you were loosely bound to, that most people my age found a way to get around.
I first heard Led Zeppelin at my friend Loren’s house in Allentown, when his mom was away, and it was just the two of us 14 going on 15, 1984, after a Saturday night high school football game in the fall we were too young for, but there was the smell of woodsmoke in the air and jean jackets and our breath you could see, the sound of marching bands, the feel of chaos and energy…kids nearly not-kids but still kids, out in packs in the dark, some drinking, et cetera.
It was the first time I had Sun Country wine coolers and we drank from a two-liter plastic bottle at Loren’s, that resembled the same bottle you’d drink soda from, and Loren had a wooden pipe he got somewhere and some weed somehow, so that was pretty much the night, not much I can remember, apart from falling asleep to that music, a kind of corridor between a kid’s past and some unknown, vastly better future.
In the morning I regarded myself in the hallway mirror, my face seemed many years aged, the first signs of dark hollows around the eyes. And I walked home in the sun that Sunday morning feeling darkly ashamed and tainted, as if God himself regarded my acts…and when I met my parents at home I was sure they could tell I was different now. It was Led Zeppelin II that made me that way.
I grew up in some ways and not in others. I hired a career coach and we met at Starbucks and talked about his travels around Ireland, and he mentioned the Giant’s Causeway up north, which we’d wanted to see when we were in Belfast but didn’t, and how the band had made that weird cover from Houses of the Holy there, with the nymphlike creatures crawling on the rocks, and the strange orange filtering…and I was happy I knew immediately just what he was talking about, and played it on my way home from work today: for the first time in what seems like months, the sun came out.
My friends Mark and Kevin submitted stories for ‘Anthony’s Navel,’ a new Saturday guest post series I announced last week — details here.