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This week, one of rock’s most mysterious figures opens up — to a degree…
Despite a renewed media presence — a new concert film hitting theaters this Wednesday, Brad Tolinski’s new book Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page reaching bookstores later this month — it’s not quite right to say that Led Zeppelin is back, simply because they never really went away. True, it’s been thirty-some years since the band’s breakup following the death of drummer John Bonham, and the surviving members have reconvened only a handful of times since, for one-off events like the 2007 Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert captured in the aforementioned documentary Celebration Day. But the band has remained a staple of rock radio, and lead singer Robert Plant’s solo career burnishes the old mystique even when he’s doing country-blues duets with Alison Krauss.
Guitarist Jimmy Page’s path, by contrast, has sometimes seemed driven only by the pleasures of a steady paycheck. Page began his career as a session player, and post-Zeppelin he has seemed to drift wherever the money led him, from film soundtracks to a stint backing Zep copyist David Coverdale.
Back in the day, Led Zeppelin created its aura of mystery by opting out of the machinery of publicity. They stopped releasing singles; the members rarely gave interviews. If you were to approach Led Zep, it would be on their chosen terms — through the music. In the absence of verifiable fact, rumor and innuendo ruled the day. Tales of Page’s occult proclivities, and of the group’s excesses — chemical, financial, and sexual — have, with the passage of years, attained the status of legend.
But it recent years Page has worked to dismantle the edifice of myth surrounding him. Though still an intensely private man, Page has grown more expansive with age, granting unprecedented access for director Davis Guggenheim’s intriguing 2009 guitar documentary It Might Get Loud and submitting to the occasional wide-ranging interview. In Brad Tolinski, Page has found an ideal interlocutor to share his story on his terms.
The onetime Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine, Tolinski has interviewed Page many times over the last two decades, and figured out early on a simple tactic that had eluded earlier generations of rock journalists: As always with Led Zeppelin, approach the subject through the music. “I had always admired [Page’s] innovations as a guitarist, composer and arranger,” he writes. “As a producer, I believe, he ranked up there with true innovators like Phil Spector and George Martin. As a journalist, I always wondered why nobody ever asked him about that stuff, and I imagine Jimmy wondered the same thing.”
The pure notes of musical discourse, in other words, have been drowned out by the drumbeat of prurient speculation about mudsharks, nose candy, and Aleister Crowley memorabilia. One can hardly blame the journalistic community, though, if discussion of string gauges and amp wattage fail to appeal to more than a niche audience. Let’s face it, sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ trashed hotels are an easier sell to the masses.
But Light and Shade pulls off a very neat trick…
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