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Book Reviews

Continuumís 33 1/3 Series

By Published: April 29, 2005

Central to this discourse, as in all great Southern fiction, is a stranger, an interloper who insinuates herself into the American psyche. It is not Flem Snopes or Thomas Sutpen. It is Mary O'Brian, AKA Dusty Springfield, Britain's foremost female pop singer, the Madonna of her era (sans the sexual and gender liberation). She was a talent that transcended appearance, period and genre. She, perhaps should be considered the white Aretha Franklin, but that may be taking the comparisons too far. She was a beautiful, insecure, neurotic mess who spent hours with Jerry Wexler listening to demo tapes of songs to include on her recording to be made in Memphis. The final choices produced "Son of a Preacher Man and "Breakfast in Bed. Zanes illuminates this perfectly, while never becoming overly academic.

Led Zepplin
Erik Davis
ISBN: 0826416586, 177 pages

Okay, now dig this:

Zeppelin enjoyed acoustic music for its own sake, but the primary function, served on their records, was to deepen the elemental contrast of light and shade. Instead of the modern Promethean buzz of electrical djinn, acoustic guitars announce the more ancient powers of wood and bronze — descriptions of Bron-Yr-Aur, for example, usually emphasize that it was without electricity. The musical polarity is, unsurprisingly, also generated. In contrast to electrical aggression, acoustic ballads allow the boys to cozy up and show their gentler, more intimate and sensitive sides. (Bron-Yr-Aur, it should also be mentioned, means, "golden breast. ) These softy moves complicate the cock-rock cartoon that dominated Zeppelin's gender profile. Acoustic music did not just help Zep craft great make-out soundtracks, thereby increasing the pleasure of boys and girls everywhere; it also let the band further "feminize themselves and their music. Such gender blur was important to Zeppelin, who enjoyed their New Orleans tranny bars and appeared in drag on the cover of Physical Graffiti three years before Some Girls. Sure Plant has his cock on display, but that's the point: he parades around the stage like a trophy wife. With "sensitive Jimmy Page at his side, the two frontmen for what one gay Zep fan described at "a more dangerous and more androgynous 'version' of Mick and Keith.

Is that not the biggest pile of pseudo-intellectual bullshit you have ever read? Maybe not — compare this to the extended quotation from Bill Janowitz's Exile on Main Street, below. Cultural critic Erik Davis has certainly done his homework for Led Zeppelin IV, though I still cannot feel that the quartet's intentions were near that complicated. Davis accurately traces Page and Plant's fascination with heathen lore and pagan ritual ad nauseam. Regardless of Page and Plant's intellectual proclivities, I suspect the musicians wanted only to make good music, get high, and steer their merry way through a load of willing groupies. That is about as complicated an analysis as is required. Sorry, college boy, "Black Dog and "Rock and Roll remain the greatest one-two punch to open a vinyl LP and sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Regardless, Mr. Davis's essay on the pinnacle of Led Zeppelin's art is the best writing of the series. Once he gets beyond the philosophical, Mr. Davis cuts a fine argument with a sharp edge. Take for instance, Davis waxing downright poetic on the Zep's albatross, "Stairway to Heaven :

Stairway to Heaven isn't the greatest rock song of the 1970s; it is the greatest spell of the 1970s. Think about it: we are all sick of the thing, but in some primordial way it is still number one... Stairway to Heaven is not just number one. It is the One, the quintessence, the closest AOR will ever get you to the absolute.

After much machinations about Satanism and the Lady of the song, Davis cleverly closes the "Stairway section with:

Moreover, these sonic simulacra are buried in a tune that, for a spell, ruled the world. I'm not just saying that supernatural forces are afoot. I'm just saying it makes you wonder.

Exile on Main Street
Bill Janovitz
ISBN: 082641673X, 169 pages

Okay, now dig this (also):

If there was any doubt about the subject of Jagger's lyrics on some of the albums earlier tracks, it is crystal clear on "Shine a Light. At first glance, the song is ostensibly about a party girl, but upon deeper examination and within the context of the record, this seems to be the most overt of Mick's "worried about you Exile songs for Keith. As implied, these songs didn't start or end with Exile on Main Street: "Worried About You, "Waiting on a Friend, "Sway, "Live With Me — there is a litany of songs that either make explicit or passing references to Keith and his relationship with Jagger.

The urban myth states that the only person Jagger ever loved was Keith and vice versa.

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