Wednesday, July 24

‘Stairway to Heaven’ really leads to hell


‘Stairway to Heaven’ really leads to hell

Led Zeppelin’s music reveals Faustian pact

Contrary to the opinions of many a fundamentalist gelatin-head,
the influence of Satan on contemporary culture is not on the rise,
but in fact, is enfeebled almost to the point of expiration. For
the archfiend enacts his wicked machinations not on a moral plane,
but an aesthetic one.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in a simple juxtaposition of
the present decade’s jejuneness to the sheer terror of our salad
days, the 1970s. No "Brady Bunch" reunion, no wide-leg jeans, no
frat house "disco party," – no half-slice of kitschy twaddle served
up to us in recent times can erase the occult savagery that was
"Jesus Christ Superstar," "Up With People" or the casts of naked
Italian neo-hippies performing Greek tragedies in the desert.

In cinema, one can frame the devil’s reign from Polanski’s
"Rosemary’s Baby" (1968) to Kubrick’s "The Shining" (1980);
previous and subsequent attempts to conjure the spirit of Lucifer
to the silver screen have been weak and unconvincing, and certainly
not enacted with his collaboration.

In the realm of popular music, the rise of genuine occultism is,
not surprisingly, contemporaneous with the advent of heavy metal,
in all its epic manifestations.

It is relatively simple to trace the genealogical connection of,
say, early Sabbath, to the hokey clown-metal of King Diamond,
Slayer and others of the 1980s. And from there, it can be traced to
the "neo-paganism" of current rockers, such as Soundgarden and
Alice in Chains.

Yet, rock though they might, none of these bands comes close to
capturing the demonic essence of metal communion as consummately as
the British group Led Zeppelin (1968-1980).

By the end of the ’70s, despite the rise of the punk and new
wave movements, the popularity of Zeppelin had reached, especially
in this country, a unique level of domination. Whereas other
bloated "supergroups," such as the Beatles and the Stones, had
relied heavily on the mechanisms of tabloid journalism and massive
advertising, this wizardly foursome could pack stadiums and go
platinum on word-of-mouth power alone. Their following was immense,
and their three-hour-plus psychedelic performances the object of
pilgrimage.

One is tempted to see an analogue to the psychedelic, "live"
Zeppelin in the recently defunct Grateful Dead. However, the two
share only superficial similarities.

The Dead’s domain was "open" – the outdoor stadium, the
amphitheater – a rural, "natural" realm where the sonic diarrhea of
Jerry’s kids could trickle freely through the majestic purple
mountains and golden valleys of our great land, forming a folksy
watering hole and sanctuary for thousands of filthy flower
children.

The acoustics and architectonics of Zeppelin, on the other hand,
demanded closure. Those dark and smoke-filled sports arenas that
housed the band’s performances were boding, unholy cathedrals, and
the sacraments therein were completely severed from outside
phenomenological reality.

Led Zeppelin is peerless in the rock universe in its dual
capacity to provide the soundtrack for a sloppy lovemaking session
in the back of a Chevy Nova, and to scare the living shit out of
the solitary and vulnerable listener.

The centripetal force of the music can be so strong and the
symbolic magnitude of the lyrics so immense in their numbing
meaninglessness, that the weak or underdeveloped psyche runs the
risk of being drawn in forever.

The sheer number of socially dysfunctional Zeppelin fans may
well exceed the relatively benign Deadhead population.

The man who, as far as I know, possessed the largest number of
bootleg Zeppelin recordings in the world was living with his
parents well into his 30s, and dealing grams of marijuana to school
children before he died of AIDS, which he allegedly contracted in
prison. The demonic, destructive power of the Zeppula is certainly
not to be taken lightly.

Some scholars have, in fact, postulated that Led Zeppelin’s very
existence was conditioned by a Faustian transaction between Jimmy
Page and the Duke of Deception, and that Page’s welshing on the
deal resulted in the premature death of drummer John Bonham (and
perhaps the unfortunate career of son, Jason).

Whatever the case, there can be no doubt that "Plant and Page"
are but the palest reflections of their former selves; gone are the
golden sun medallions, gone are the rune-encrusted, wide-leg
jumpsuits, gone are the 13-year-old groupie-lovers and gone are the
castles of Alistair Crowley.

Page is merely another unbalanced rock dinosaur obsessed with
past accomplishments and devoid of present inspiration, almost as
old as the black blues legends he ripped off to begin his
career.

If one can speak of a Led Zeppelin "legacy," it is not to be
found, then, in the persons of these two living relics. Though
thousands of bands claim the group as a major influence, the more
ardently they try for a Zeppelin sound, the further away they end
up from the essence, the power and the threat of the solar
deities.

It appears most unlikely that anyone will ever approximate the
studio genius of Page in the ’70s (not to mention the violin bow
and theramin sorcery of the live performances). And the fact that
Yale English students waste their time reading the adolescent
drivel of Jim Morrison only testifies to the fact that the
extemporaneous, Coleridgean lyrical prodigy "Stairway to Heaven’s"
Plant will not likely be repeated in our epoch.

There was a time when the Butthole Surfers (whose recent album
was produced by Zep’s John Paul Jones) hinted at a kind of
hallucinogenic, communal ritual. But their scatological fixations
draw them away from the proud and image-conscious Lucifer toward
Ahriman, the demon of stagnation and putrefaction. Doctor
Dementoish potty humor has rendered them merely another alternative
sideshow in the traveling circus of Lollapaloser.

In sooth, the modern demonologist must look hard to find traces
of infernal intervention in contemporary texts. We are mired in an
era of naked realism: Serial killers and bad lieutenants supplant
the existence of sun-blinded seekers of forbidden knowledge. The
cheap thrill in a film seems preferable to the all-pervasive terror
and doom conveyed in ’70s horror and Watergate-era conspiracy
dramas.

Is all of this dead, just as Led Zeppelin appears to be? Where
is the "Kashmir" of the New Age? Whither has gone the Funkadelic of
"Maggot Brain?" For God’s sake, we’re living through another fin de
siècle, so bring on the devil! He is why we continue to love
arguably the most perfect rock outfit of all time.

Colbath is a graduate student in Russian literature. His column
appears on alternate Tuesdays.

Christopher Colbath

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