Barney Hoskyns: Trampled Under Foot - The Power and Excess of Led Zeppelin
Faber and Faber
It takes little for a band of such stature as Led Zeppelin to start a raging wildfire or to cause tsunami-like shockwaves every time this behemoth shakes its tail. Literally, in 2012, when the band announced the release of its momentous reunion gig at London's O2 Arena it stirred waves of joy for millions of fans across the globe, further fueling the perennial discussion amongst fans and press about a possible reunion. Celebration Day (Atlantic, 2012) showed that interest in the band's music has never waned and, much more than that, it proved once and again that this is a band whose music and musicianship is a yardstick against which all others are measured. Furthermore, on December 2, 2012, the band's surviving members were recognized with the United States' highest arts award by President Barack Obama, for a lifetime contribution to American culture through the performing arts.
These days, Led Zeppelin belongs more in the realm of myth. The interest in the myth and its legacy grows with each new reissue of its catalogue, box sets, archival releases, new bands that talk about its importance and influence, and books that tell stories about the time when Led Zeppelin roamed the earth. Trampled Under Foot, by renowned journalist and author Barney Hoskyns, provides unprecedented access into the inner life of one of the greatest rock bands of our time. For this purpose, Hoskyns personally conducted close to 150 interviews or sourced excerpts from other interviews at Rock's Backpages in order to assemble a vivid and colorful mosaic of testimonials and quotes by insiders, witnesses, close associates and band members themselves, relating the events that are part of the Led Zeppelin story.
Hoskyns approached this book with the aplomb and eye for detail of a documentary filmmaker. The book is not your mere garden-variety biography, but a true scholarly tome in the best sense of the word. It traces the band's history chronologically by portraying each member's personal history, background and music tastes prior to the band's formation, thus providing the chance to get a taste of and understand the climate and circumstances out of which not only Zeppelin came out, but also all those blues-inspired musicians like guitarists Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, and The Rolling Stones. By going to the earliest moments, the author also gives a glimpse of what each member brought to the band that made it so unique and the music varied and colorful.
What follows is an epic journey that takes the band from its humble beginnings as the New Yardbirds to stadiums all around the world. Led Zeppelin sold hundreds of millions of albums, revolutionized live performance, had sell-out tours in packed stadiums, and ultimately changed the course of popular music, its audiences spellbound by its sound. However, while fans adored the band, the critics thought of its music as overhyped and too loud. Yet, all along, even as guitarist Jimmy Page led Zeppelin to the pinnacle of rock preeminence, the band was beset by bizarre misadventures and tragedies, hotel trashings and groupie fests. When singer Robert Plant and his family narrowly escaped death in the summer of 1975, all of the band's activities were overshadowed by the crash and a series of other setbacks that some attributed to Page's occult interests.
From that moment on the book reads as if dark clouds hang over it. It is full of revelations and insider information about shaken relationships, drugs, destruction, money, and the mayhem that eventually ended tragically with drummer John Bohnam's premature death. At times, all these distressing details are overwhelming. Still, these stories are never portrayed one-dimensionally, but are approached and investigated from different angles, with speakers sometimes having contrasting and conflicting impressions or memories. As much as it gives info about the crazy times the band lived in, what that part of the book lacks is insider information about the creation of the music. That it just glosses over this subject with very little information leaves it somewhat lacking. However, the book does not stop with the band's tragic end, but goes beyond its active life and traces each member's life and solo career, giving accounts for all those reunions including the famed 2007 O2 performance.
It is hard to know what more there is to say about Led Zeppelin with the plethora of books available on the subject but Hoskyns must be commended for a meticulous job in constructing the story of how this band trampled the rock world underfoot and became the stuff of legend.