Years ago, after packing away most of my old 45’s, I gave several to my friend Steve for prosperity’s sake. Among them was Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song,” one of their greatest triumphs from their third album, released in 1970. However, the treasure of this particular single was the rare B-side, “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” unavailable on any Zeppelin album (until the release of the first Led Zeppelin box set in 1990). I would never call Steve a big Zeppelin fan. (This may have something to do with an incident when his mom scrutinized “Whole Lotta Love” blasting through the tape deck. There’s nothing worse than having to explain Robert Plant’s sexual moans to your mother.) Steve preferred the angst and teenage wastelands of the Who, anyway; always a lyric guy. Being a drummer, I was drawn to the rhythm and blues, and the grunge and the groove, of Zeppelin. Like all of our friends, we discovered Zeppelin and the Who on our own, before there was a format known as “classic rock,” instead relying on the tastes of our peers (or peers’ older siblings). At a time when Zeppelin was only beginning to receive renewed radio airplay, it was quite unusual to hear “Hey Hey What Can I Do” on the radio. Luckily, I was able to track down “The Immigrant Song” at a record store so I could give it a spin whenever I liked.
On a warm summer night in June 1985, Steve and I bunkered down in my house while the parental units were away for the weekend. That night, we sat through Ken Russell’s interpretation of Tommy, sampled the booze from the decorative liquor bottles in the wet bar (replacing the missing contents with water, because, you know, parents never notice) and wound up meeting a couple of girls at the city park around the corner from the house. One of the girls was my ex-girlfriend. No, we didn’t hook up; in fact, there was no hookage that night, just some innocent flirting between my best bud and the ex. I didn’t mind. She had broken up with me back in the fall — my first break-up (complete with embarrassing Favreau-esque/Swingers-like phone calls on my part… ugh, painful). I realized I’d never have another shot with this particular beauty. What kind of friend would I be if I stood in the way of Steve’s teenage bliss? That night I basically gave him permission to date her, nullifying the guy code about dating your best friend’s ex-girlfriend. Eventually, Steve and I returned from the park and switched on the video of Zeppelin’s concert film, The Song Remains the Same. Giddy from our moonlight encounter, we pranced around the house like idiots, using my old crutches as guitars, imitating Jimmy Page drooling on himself during his killer solos.
There was something magical about that night, like it was the last night of our childhood before graduating to the high school training ground of adult relationships, at least for Steve. As the summer drew to a close, I made a crude bet with Steve, the prize being a six-pack of Molson Golden. When he won his bet a small celebration was held, again in my basement. The celebration wasn’t so much that he done something sexual with his girl, rather that one of us had taken a major step forward in the world of “guys.” And if he’d taken that step, I wouldn’t be that far behind. Late in the evening, the two of us staggered out of my house back to that same city park. Only this weekend it wasn’t pitch black and deserted. The city’s annual homecoming fair was taking place, with rides and a games and greasy food and music coming from the band stand. With our arms draped around each other, we somehow made it to the park, but lost each other in the crowd.Â To feel that invincible again. I miss it.Â No, not the ability to drink yourself stupid and not worry about the consequences, but just that feeling that everything is going to be okay, that’s the feeling I miss; the feeling of protection.
Sometimes I wonder if Steve still has that 45.Â I don’t even think he had a record player when I gave it to him; I have a way of forcing nostalgia on people.Â Â Who’s to say why this particular song triggers the recall of that particular summer and the bonding Steve and I did?Â Perhaps it’s because “Hey Hey What Can I Do” was so obscure and only a select group of us knew about it.Â Perhaps it’s because it isn’t blanketed on the radio like “Heartbreaker,” “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Over the Hills and Far Away” are today.Â To be honest, I don’t want to know.Â Analyzing the how and why diminishes the songs’ hold on me.Â If a song as old as I am can make me feel 15 again, then there must be magic involved.