My freshman year in high school, I had this advanced English class with a wonderful teacher. And I sat next to a girl named April. There really wasn’t anyone else in the class that either one of us could relate to. We were too smart for our cool friends and too cool for the smart kids in the class. It was so nice to have her there every day. I really have to say that I would not have gone to as many days of high school as I did if it had not been for her. I didn’t have anyone else in my life that reflected who I was. I don’t know if I had ever had anyone to provide this reflection in my life.
“Measuring a summer’s day.”
We never talked about music. We usually talked about books we had read. Considering that none of our cool friends read books and none of our geeky friends were interested in the books we read, we had a lot of ground to cover on this subject. But one day I saw her with Hammer of the Gods which is just a trashy gossip book about Led Zeppelin set chronologically. I asked her about it having only seen the title and not knowing that the book existed. She explained what it was and was sort of in awe about it. I was surprised that she was a Led Zeppelin fan. I was a nut job for Led Zeppelin. I have owned every one of the released records on cassette. Playing them so much that they wore out and snapped. I started playing guitar because of Led Zeppelin.
“I only find it slips away to gray.”
She had this amazing face with really defined cheekbones and red hair. I believe her eyes were blue but I could be wrong. She would draw all of these fashion pictures and wanted to be a fashion designer. Most of the faces looked like hers. The drawings were amazing. And I was always excited to see anything she drew.
“The hours they bring me pain.”
I feel that one of my rules about writing this blog is kind of unfair. The rule about only one song per artist. It’s my rule and I’m going to stick with it, but how do I choose one Led Zeppelin song. I know this might even come off as ridiculously uncool with as much street cred as I keep brandishing with my punk rock experience and my Indie music dedication. But it’s just the truth. I was just so into Led Zeppelin for so much of my childhood. So this entry might be dense. In fact, I was still really into Led Zeppelin when I was really into punk music. It was kind of sacriledge in both circles. You didn’t admit to the punks that you liked LZ, and you didn’t admit to the LZ people that you liked punk. Just another one of those dumb teenage clique rules.
I remember the day I heard Led Zeppelin IV for the first time. My brother had a new stereo. He might have had LZ IV for a while, but I remember when it broke into my consciousness. I was probably about 9 years old. I can see my brother starting the record. The automatic arm on the record player moving to the first song on the record. I can hear the static crackle as the stylus touched the record for the first time. And the opening Jimmy Paige softly on the distorted guitar. Then Robert Plant singing the opening line of Black Dog. Then the snarl of round mid range guitar and heavy bottom end explosions. My life changed. I don’t care what the hell anyone thinks. It was a life changing experience for me.
I didn’t do anything the same after that. I had a whole new soundtrack in my brain. I have always had a really good memory for sound. And I have a constant soundtrack in my head. A lot of it is stuff I have written. Then there is the writing process itself. Just making up sounds in my head and listening to the music. After listening to LZ IV over and over I had to find something else. Led Zeppeling III was next. LZ III is in general rotation in my head. Daily events can trigger parts of LZ III songs. The album is pretty obscure as far as LZ goes, and as far as their hits go, Gallows Pole and The Immigrant Song are some of their more obscure singles. And Tangerine is just out of character for even their other folk rock songs.
And whenever I hear Tangerine, I think of April. What a revelation it is to be so far removed from connecting with another human in this world, and then to find someone you can have a regular conversation with. I couldn’t even have a conversation about things that were important to me with anyone in my family. Truly, I believe they actually cared and still do care about me, but my thought process is just different. Perhaps different from most people. Really I have a whole existential mythology built up around Led Zeppelin III. If you think it’s weird that I can write 1000 words about a 3 minute song. Let me tell you that this is rushed. Given a week or two, I could probably write a book or two about Led Zeppelin III. This is one of the most important and understated records of the 20th century. And yes, I’m a freakin’ nutcase.
“Thinking of how it used to be.”
And so much of youth is rushed. I think we forget about the idea that we are only alive once. So much pressure to succeed. So much pressure to have a plan. To be moving from one thing to the next. So much of what is beautiful about life just moving on by in a blur. In most cases, the things we thought we were after are unsatisfying or we never attained the level of success we desired. Then it’s like looking through a telescope across the universe to try to capture some of the light of an event that happened ages ago asking ourselves how much we missed.
“Does she still remember times like these?”
I thought too much about the outcomes of any risk. I paralyzed myself with fear of making the wrong choice. The product of too much thought. Perhaps I still think too much. If I can get a book out of LZ III, I’m sure I do think too much. But I really can see so clearly how afraid I was of doing the wrong thing. But then I would just do the stupidest things in the world. Like develop a meth habit. April was so patient with my drugged out ramblings. Perhaps she was impressed, but I’m sure it was just annoying after awhile. Especially the class trip to the Museum of Fine Arts where I wandered around with her in a drugged out haze. But the biggest casualty of my drug habit was that it never let our friendship progress. I know now that I just didn’t want anyone in the way, but I made all kinds of hurtful excuses. What an asshole!
“And I do.”
Tangerine is a song that touches on regret. It is so lyrically sparse. And I have often thought that it was an afterthought. Some filler on a record that Jimmy Paige had left over from The Yardbirds. Perhaps it was. Perhaps its nostalgia and its emotional significance built up over the time between writing and recording it for release. But I can’t imagine anyone else singing it. That’s the beauty of an LZ song. Every part of it is essentially only a result of those present at the time of its recording. It may have been an older Jimmy Paige composition, but it’s a Led Zeppelin song. Iconic and yes, dated. So much of the sound that they helped create is iconic for its time, and the over-commercialization of that sound has taken a lot of the edge off of it making the sound impersonal. But the concepts are so intimate and sparse. And what’s so exciting to me as a teenager is how much is unsaid.
It always surprises me that more discussion isn’t generated about songs like this. These are essential human emotions. Chinese characters tend to have deeper significance than their literal Western translations. For instance, you could write a book in English about the character for sky. And I tend to think of music like this. There is so much waiting to be explored here. But it’s significance rushes past in a blur of current events. And then one day we find ourselves looking through a telescope at even the art that defined our time trying to determine its significance in our psyche. We seem to only find the art of other times significant. We miss all of the art right under our own noses in our own lives.
And April is as significant a person as has ever been in my life. Making possible the type of things that are possible in my life right now with my family. It’s funny how some things end up resembling other times and circumstances. And I have basically recreated that friendship over and over again.
“Living reflections from a dream.”
I have this type of friendship with my wife. We make up entire mythologies around nothing. Sort of evolving jokes and narratives that are blatantly farcicle. We have restless minds. And we overcome the monotony of daily life with a constant mutation of reality. The real hurdles in life are met with complex mythology and adaptations of cultural rituals.
“I was her love she was my queen.”
And it’s almost like Led Zeppelin is completely lost to me. I don’t sit around listening to Led Zeppelin records. They are just a piece of who I am. Although there is one story of how my son, Iggy, had to sit in the car seat a lot as an infant. He would get sick of it and throw a fit. But we could count on Ramble On from LZ II to put him to sleep every single time.
But it’s funny how one mythology derives from another. How significant and poignant certain events can be. How tangible and graphic a memory can be. I am here and there at the same time. I sometimes wonder how a conversation would go between us as adults. If it would be just one of those dumb uncomfortable conversations that you hoped would go much better. Who knows?
“And now a thousand years between.”