"When you've discovered your true will, you should just forge ahead like a steam train. If you put all your energies into it there's no doubt you'll
London: The overriding first impression that emanates from both Led Zeppelin's music and the legendary self-isolation the band and its entourage
maintains is one of power. Something akin to a mega-sized armour-plated rhinoceros moving relentlessly - and often, one suspects, humourlessly -
through contemporary rock music.
In what seemed initially to be thoroughly in keeping with this assumed tradition, it soon became apparent that endeavouring to be placed in an
'Interview Situation' with Jimmy Page would not prove to be the easiest journalistic task I had ever undertaken. Indeed, there were moments when
scoring this interview seemed to be taking on all the elements of a parody of The Quest For The Rap With The Big Name Rock Star.
Negotiations commenced at the end of November last year. They were consumated in the second week of February at Swan Song's offices on London's Kings Road. In the interim, Page had cancelled two scheduled appointments, though we had actually met on one of these occasions. There had been a further meeting at Emerson, Lake and Palmer's converted cinema rehearsal studios, where Zeppelin was rehearsing for their first tour since Robert Plant has sustained severe injuries in a car smash on the Greek island of Rhodes in the summer of '75.
Almost predictably, when the interview did actually take place, six days before the band was due to fly out to Texas (where the first dates would be
postponed because of Plant's tonsilitis, though that's another story), Page revealed none of the superstar arrogance or aggression one might expect,
talking at length of Led Zeppelin with an almost religious fervour.
We also discussed his fascination with the occult and, in particular, with the self-styled 'Great Beast,' Aleister Crowley (whose former Scottish home,
Boleskin House, Page now owns), and his related interests in ecological matters. The guitarist seemed more content and at ease when dealing with
these subjects than when talking about the band; though by the time they were raised he had warmed to the task of being interviewed.
For the first fifteen minutes of the interview he sat on the edge of a couch, huddled over and shivering into the cup of tea he was holding in both
hands. His speech was frequently little more audible than a whisper. Indeed, he seemed so fragile and it appeared to be such an exhausting emotional
effort to talk about Led Zeppelin, the impression remained that it might completely upset his thought pattern - or he might actually call off the
interview - if he were asked to speak up.
Later on in the interview I would look up from my notebook and see Jimmy Page lying back on the couch and looking at me through his legs. Or
stretched out with both eyes firmly shut and a hand stuffed down the crotch of his frayed jeans as he delivered his semi-audible soliloquy.
Notwithstanding an acute bronchial cough that punctuated his speech, he chain-smoked throughout the interview.
His eyes were ringed with the kind of wrinkles that some would describe as laugh lines and others might attribute to the effects of constant nervous
tension. In fact, in the fall of last year Page spent some time as an in-patient at an exclusive health farm near London. This was supposedly to
recuperate from the effects of having become dangerously underweight. Now, though, as he told me in his soft accentless Home Counties voice, "I just needed to get away for a while and see things from a different perspective. There was nothing sinister. I needed to get into a regular pattern. A
regular schedule. And it seems to be working."
What sort of. uh. line do you want to take on this?" he asked me with what seemed to be a slight edge of suspicion.
I summarized the majority of my questions. After that, he seemed a little more comfortable: "Okay. Well, fire away. You can always edit out what you
Okay, then. So how have the rehearsals been? Pretty rigorous?
"The rehearsals started a month before Christmas and with the Christmas period off we've been working consistently ever since. They've been going
well. Really well.
"Of course, the first task was to clean off the rest which is obviously going to set in after eighteen months without being on stage. Although we
recorded Presence some fourteen months ago it's not quite the same because a tour is a concentrated series of dates. We'll have three days on and one day off. And we have like a three and a half hour concert to contend with.
"Consequently there was a stamina aspect involved apart from anything else. Plus the constant dilemma that appears from tour to tour about the repertoire as such. What to drop, what not to drop. Which is always a great problem when you've seen everything go down really, really well for its own merit, for its own vibe, so to speak, and the atmosphere that that particular number's portrayed and evoked. As has been the intention.
"As far as our playing goes, the way it ended up was everyone was just a hundred percent confident and really bursting to go."
Have you dropped any numbers that were in the last live set?
"We've dropped a few things. But nothing of great importance. None of the epic things but."
What have you added?
"Stuff from the new LP. 'Candy Store Rock,' 'Achilles,' 'Nobody's Fault But Mine'. We've also added 'Ten Years Gone,' a number we never did in the past.
It offered such a challenge as far as the guitars went. It's really my baby because I worked it out note for note at home. At one point there were nine
guitars going to present all the harmonies so obviously we lack some of that. But nevertheless the overall feeling of the number comes across. And
comes across very well.
"And we're doing 'The Battle Of Evermore' which I think (laughs) is a very sort of noble challenge really. We'll probably get applause for the sheer guts of the thing rather than anything else.
"But they're coming off good. All of them."
So it's all happening okay, the, as far as live.
Do you get very apprehensive about going back on the road?
"Well, obviously when you haven't played a concentrated tour for two years. well, it goes on for months. And obviously you've got to take into account the fatigue aspect and all this sort of thing.
"But I'm pretty confident. Everyone's confident. As far as the playing goes there's no problems at all. We've got such a variety in there - Oh, 'Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You' is another number that we've been doing. pedal steel guitar instead of the usual. So it sounds pretty different from the original.
"It's very interesting. And yet we've obviously kept in there all the key epics: 'Achilles,' 'Kashmir,' 'Stairway'. things like that.
"But the most amazing thing, really, is that we started nine years ago putting out albums, albums which have been constantly subject to change as far as content goes, to the point where we stuck our necks out only because that's the material that we've got when it comes to the time of recording.
But rather than stick to the previous formula and work stuff around it we've just stuck to our guns. And because of that we've got a wide variety of
"But nevertheless it's marvelous to think that after what is basically a two year break - even though the film's come out - to hit the top of all these
polls (a reference to Zeppelin's having swept the boards of various assorted music publication polls throughout the world) is really quite stunning,
really quite.awe-inspiring. A confident boost beyond all measure, you know, to realize you're still thought of as being really contemporary instead of
a. (laughs) nostalgia-band, shall we say.
"Not that I ever thought we'd become a nostalgia band because we've got too much up our sleeves to fall into that bracket. Nevertheless, it's nice to be reassured. In the warmest possible way."
You obviously feel as strongly about the band now as ever.
"Yes (very decisively). And I feel very strongly about the timeless quality of the songs too. I think that's where it's at. That's probably why we're so
critical about their construction when we start putting them together. So you don't just rest on the obvious sort of clichés that were around in '72.
"I mean, it's so easy to sit there and jam a soul riff and to make a song out of a soul riff."
The reaction that I have to Led Zeppelin's music - and I know I'm not unique in this - is unlike what I get from any other band. On first hearing a new
Zeppelin record it often seems to slightly grate. There are usually edges to it which you have to grow to understand. Also, whenever I haven't played any of the records for a couple of months I'll put them on and immediately get a colossal rush.
There's something there - something indefinable unless you accept that it's just down to the chemistry of the four members - that suggests the band
contains the true essence of rock'n'roll.
"Well, inventive rock'n'roll.it's got the root which is in all rock'n'roll.the earthiness. But it's also got all the other facets that, shall we say, musicians of today have been able to get. You know, finger style, folk areas and things like that. And traces of jazz. Generally the three strong areas. Which is so important."
And also whether it's in the hard rock or the acoustic side there's also this enigmatic sense of power and strength. Yet many people still look on
you as just a heavy metal band.
"Well, they did. I think it's dawned on them now that we are a band that's going to be subject to change all the time. Like it or loathe it.
"But the most encouraging thing about that is that when an LP is announced the advance orders are so great that it seems they automatically assume
there is going to be a certain over-riding quality to it. Which is really reassuring because that's what we've been going for. Which again related to
that lasting quality. Which one can only hope for.
"One can say - and it sounds pretentious - but it's the test of time which shows it."
So was that your idea of the band when you first conceived it after the Yardbirds ended? That it should have incredibly strong quality and inventiveness.
"Definitely, Yeah. I mean, the first album has got the catalyst for so much. You know, the blues and the sort of step off from that. And the working
together between Robert and myself and the acoustic work and the way you can stretch an acoustic number. you know, keep the dramatic quality there. Which is, after all, the atmosphere that you're trying to convey. And trying to, you know, develop the mystery.
"And I hope that's still there. I think it is."
How do you feel about Presence?
"I think it's the most important album myself. In many respects. Because of the amount of time it took to do. Working up against a deadline it took
three weeks: the tracks took about a week. Then we had a slight break in the middle when Robert fell over and he thought his leg had gone again. Then we started again and continued.
"And it was pretty much up to me because after that the group really left it to me. Which is really an honour after so long to have that sort of trust;
that they know you're not going to sort of mess it up, and don't mind if you embellish the thing or whatever. Because some of those tracks changed
immensely by the time all the overdubs and effects had gone on.
"Although it may not be the best track on the album 'Royal Orleans'. the first verse of that is as it was. As a riff. After that you hear all these guitars coming in (hums guitar parts). And that's the sort of thing which I can do to change the whole mood of how a number comes out."
So when you did Physical Graffiti, for example, you'd work in the same way whereby you'd just be left alone to produce the tracks?
"Yeah. Pretty much. There'll be the tracks and then Robert will come in and do his vocal parts and sometimes Jones will come in and do a little synthesizer work on the tracks. But usually it's down to me and (laughs) I'm quite happy with that.
"As I say, it's an honour to have that sort of relationship with the band.
"The time spent on Physical Graffiti was really because of work that came in between time and there was the problem of studio availability. We just
couldn't get in.
"And there was the new material which related to that point and I wanted it to have a sort of chronological touch about it. And that's why there are all those tracks that go way, way back and reflect the development of the band. And then you have the apex of 'Kashmir'."
What do you feel in retrospect about The Song Remains The Same film?
"Well, I think the film's successful in so much as it is a frozen celluloid statement of an evening.
"And the soundtrack as such. (pause) I wouldn't call it a live album because we've got so much live stuff in the bag going back to '69 at the Albert Hall. We've got some fabulous live stuff. And, it wasn't necessarily the best live material we had but it was the live material that went with the footage so it had to be used. So, you know, it wasn't like A Magic Night. But it wasn't a poor night. It was an honest sort of mediocre night.
"You know, I've always thought of the band as being reasonably consistent as far as the concerts go. I think we always start off shaky and it's at the
end when the whole thing builds. Which we build up between ourselves. We build up the - I don't know what you might call it - the ESP aspects of it
where when you do start jamming and entering areas which are open to free form and you start coming across the different rhythms and you might just stop it and start and stop. And use some shock tactics.
"A lot of that is just off the cuff, you see. And that's where everybody's really working. You can just anticipate what's coming. And a lot of bands don't manage to be able to do that. a lot of larger bands anyway. They play it safe with everything just about note for note perfect apart from some change in the solo or something.
"But they don't let the solos go on for a long time on purpose so they can really get their teeth into improvising and showing what can really be done.
"And consequently you hear a number one year and so much has changed from a few years before. Because there is that quality.
"Again Presence by the way. We really needed that as a band that has been together for such a long time to prove to ourselves that. You know, we've
always spoken of the instant chemistry and how the band get together and start jamming and within those jams, riffs come out. And it doesn't take
long before you've got the framework of a song which often gets reviewed but nevertheless it's there from the inception.
"Whereas you do hear stories of big bands that get together for two or three weeks and they can't get anything together. There's like two or three
different strong frameworks every rehearsal. And that sort of three week thing proved that it can be done.
"Mind you, there was a helluva lot of emotional anxiety and frustration related to that as well. You know, the uncertainty of Robert's position and
one thing and another. And the way that the band really stuck together during this whole thing because of the loyalty between the band and each
other. And that was the emotional release of getting it all out.
"That's why it's an important album to me. Because it reflects all the spontaneous aspects."
How did you personally react when you heard about Robert's car smash? What were your immediate reactions?
"Well, I was shattered. (profound concern in his voice) I'd been with Robert the day before and I'd just left to go to Sicily. And I was in Sicily when I
heard the news."
So did you hear what state he was in or did you just get garbled reports?
"No, I just heard that he was hurt very seriously. A doctor had to come out from London immediately and put him on a plane because the medical
facilities there were so impossible."
Was there any time when you thought 'Well, what happens if he doesn't get better or if he dies? What happens to the future of the band?'
"Well, I've always felt - and this has been discussed - that no matter what happened, provided he could still play and sing, and even if we could only
make albums, that we'd go on forever.
"Just really because the whole aspect of what's going to come round the corner as far as writing goes is the dark element, the mysterious element.
You just don't know what's coming. So many good things have come out of that that it would be criminal to interrupt a sort of alchemical process like
that. And we're aware of that and we wish to play forever.
"There's a lot of important work to be done yet anyway. It's only just started."
You're obviously very confident of the future of the band now. Have you always been so?
Never any doubts at all?
"No, no, no."
But there does seem to be a contradiction in that you're so into the music.
"It's the all important thing, yeah."
But at the same time Led Zeppelin is a colossal business empire.
"Well, that's just one of those things that happened to snowball up behind us really. But nevertheless the music is the most important thing. If we'd
been conscious of trying to sustain a particular sort of market then we'd have stuck to a formula. Which is a terribly dangerous thing. When you know you're going through changes it obviously reflects on your music - lyrics, especially. If you try and suppress that, then you get into trouble. If you
suppress it for the sake of a formula.
"But then that's our philosophy of what we're up to and other people have a different way of looking at it.
"But it's only the test of time which can lay down the importance of what you're doing. You see, there's been so much flak directed towards us. I knew that it would take a time before a proper perspective was reached about what we were really doing. The fourth album probably being the first milestone in that respect, even though the third should have been.
"When the third LP came out, Crosby Stills, Nash and Young had just toured. They'd done an acoustic set followed by an electric set. And, of course, our third album having more predominant acoustic work on it then the reviews related it to Crosby, Stills and Nash and said 'Well, obviously they've been influenced by them.' And missed the point altogether. They forgot that we'd used acoustic guitars very heavily on the first album. Not quite so much on the second but it was there.
"And, you know, after we'd been on the road after second album had been released we really wanted to have a rest and consequently sitting around a log fire in Wales you don't put up a 200 Watt Marshall set-up but you get your acoustic guitars. Consequently acoustic numbers came out.
"And if they've got a validity you owe it to yourself to lay them down."
Oh, incidentally, I've always felt that John Paul Jones' situation within the band was exceptionally important, especially in the way he seems to cloak a lot of the changes. Do you not feel that he's underrated?
"Underrated? Well, quite possibly. Yeah, as far as a bass player relative to a rhythm section. Yeah.
"But as far as the writing goes everybody has an equal share of coming forth with the ideas they've got. But it always seems to end up with myself when it comes to most of it. And I think Robert and I are sort of very sympathetic to the sort of loony vibe because we've always been working
Yeah, there is a sense of you and Robert as The Terrible Duo, the Inseparables.
"Yeah. Yeah. But it's not to the point of a Jagger-Richard thing where nobody else gets a look in. It isn't a cut-off situation. It's just developed from the early days where, say, Jonesy may come up with one riff for one section and Bonzo the same whereas I'll probably come up with the whole framework. Or piece together all those little bits and pieces."
How is Robert standing up to the stagework?
"Fine. Fine. He's been rehearsing ten hours a day. Ten hours on the trot."
I understand that a changed Robert Plant who has taken to reading Nietzsche on plane journeys has emerged since the accident. I know that you were ill for about nine months prior to joining the Yardbirds and I've heard you're supposed to have spent much of that time reading. Was that when your interest in the occult began?
(Fifteen second pause) "My interest in the occult started when I was about fifteen."
Do you agree that whereas Western society tends to see occult matters as a very dark - a very black - thing it is, in fact, a very light and enlightening thing?"
"Well, there has been a major revival, a spiritual revival, throughout the world and it reflects all over the place. Not just within the West.
"And there's a great interest in the Celtic mysteries and the Dark Ages and the areas where a lot of these truths were just erased for the sake of the
Church, you know. But I'm quite fascinated by these things."
So obviously the folkie Traditional English side of Zeppelin all emanates from one logical area of interest, no?
"Yeah. Well, a man's a product of his environment. It depends how much he wants to educate himself in that framework. You know, in relationship to his craft. There should be no boundaries, so just carry on as far as you can and do it."
Page, of course, is an ardent aficionado of occultist and magician, Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). Indeed, the guitarist owns Equinox, an occult bookshop situated off London's Kensington High Street, which has a large section devoted to Crowley's works as well as having his birth chart pinned to one wall. And, as already mentioned, Page spends most of his time on British shores at the home that Crowley once owned, Boleskin House.
Not unexpectedly, such matters are beginning to arouse the interests of the more sensational end of the British press. In fact, only a few weeks ago a
National Enquirer-like weekly magazine featured an aerial photograph of the house on its cover along with details of collapsing staircases and the
appropriate 'Dark Man Of Pop' blurb about Page.
"Well," says the guitarist, "They should have gone into the history of the house and Crowley would've come out like a shinning angel compared with what else went on.
"I mean, it's had a history of suicides and con tricks. Plus the site of the house is on the site of a church and a graveyard, and the church was burnt
down by an arsonist with the whole congregation in it. So the actual foundations of the house are built on hallowed ground.
"But I'm not really interested in going on about Crowley in so much as, say, Pete Townshend does about Meher Baba. I'm not interested in trying to turn anybody on in any way whatsoever. You know, there are a thousand paths and they can choose their own.
"All I know is that it's a system that works. (laughs) Although, of course, there's not much point in following a system that doesn't work."
But what about the hassles you've had with Kenneth Anger? (Page wrote the score for film-maker occultist, and author of Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger's imminent film, Lucifer Rising, but was turned down by Anger towards the end of last year and replaced by none other than Mansonite Bobby
Beausoleil. Since then Anger has denounced Page on every possible occasion.)
"I think it's more the problems he's had with himself. All I know is that at the end of the film I promised him - as I had before - the loan of a three speed projector which makes the editing so much easier. I said to him 'well, it's just going to be your own time invested'. And I also told him that he
must put the music on after he put the footage together so I was just waiting for him to contact me, really. He had other music that I'd done instead of the stuff that I'd delivered which he said he wanted to use. Nevertheless, I still needed to hear from him. And I never heard anything."
Didn't he come down here and stick things onto the door of this record company?
"Oh, that was his curse. That was pathetic. His curse amounted to sending letters to people. Silly letters saying 'Bugger off, Page' and this sort of thing.
"How can you take that sort of thing seriously? (Sounds quite deeply disappointed). A man you had thought to be a genuine occultist and it turns out to be just. theatre. It's a shame, really."
Although it's quite acceptable these days, do you wish your occult interests weren't known about?
"I just don't want it rammed down people's throats as though I'm saying it's the be-all and end-all and the only way you'll be able to put things together. I'm not saying that at all. You might go off and study the Gurdjieff system and be equally.
"But what I can relate to is Crowley's system of self-liberation. In which repression is the greatest work of sin. It's like being in a job when you want to be doing something else. That's the area where the true will should come forward. And when you've discovered your true will you should just forge ahead like a steam train. If you put all your energies into it there's no doubt you'll succeed. Because that's your true will. It may take a little while to work out what that is, but when you discover it, it's all there.
"You know, when you realize what it is you're supposed to be here for. I mean, everyone's got a talent for something. Not necessarily artistic but
whatever you care to say. And it's just a process of self-liberation. I mean, I just find his writings to be twentieth century. As a lot of the others weren't.
"And there's really nothing more to say than that. I find him quite a curious, highly enigmatic character. Consequently I enjoy my researches into him. But it doesn't want to be blown out of all proportion, though, because that would be. silly, you know. I'm just another artist, too."
Yeah, it's an interest in all things occult and, as you said, all things English or, rather, of Albion. And that's just one area, right?
Uhh.Returning to the music for a moment do you feel any great responsibility in your position as one of the ruling triumvirate of rock'n'roll along with
the Stones and the Who? Do you feel any great responsibility towards rock'n'roll?
"Well, I've always felt a commitment, shall we say? Because I got into it because I was so turned on by the sounds that I heard when I was really young and I just wanted to be involved in it. It was just something thrilling that could send chills up your spine."
Presumably your parents told you you'd grow out of it.
"No, actually they were very encouraging. They may not have understood a lot of what I was doing but nevertheless they had enough confidence that I knew what I was doing; that I wasn't just (laughs) a nut or something. "
Do you and the rest of the other three members of Zeppelin see much of each other socially?
"Not that much. But we do. We don't live in each other's pockets so it's always a great joy to see each other again."
Do you by any chance find the rock'n'roll lifestyle a strain in anyway?
"What side of it?"
Well, and, taking into account your stay at the health farm, the irregularities of the hours, for example?"
"Well, that taxes you physically."
And inevitably, therefore, it must tax your mental powers.
"Well, in a way, yes. Except that when I'm very tired I can do my best writing. You know, late at night because there's nothing to distract you and all those day to day problems have gone. And I can just start concentrating on the guitar and get lost within it and I find that all these things are coming out."
But there are those who bemoan rock'n'roll as being vastly uneconomic in terms of both financial and human terms, especially human terms.
"But the willpower gets you through. And the adrenaline and the feedback from the audience at live concerts - which is maybe what we've been
missing - is the thing that charges you up like a battery."
You really enjoy playing on stage, do you?
You don't prefer recording from playing live or.
"Both. And things have been out of balance in that respect. And one knows something's missing and gets edgy about it. But it's not until you play
again - when you rehearse - that you know what it is.
"Of course, a lot of it has been done by Robert's recovery. And certainly not even wanting to breathe a word of the subject of a tour until nature had dictated her terms and things became good.
"But then there is that bond between us that gives enough confidence to just wait and see. Not just go off making solo albums or kicking with others, as they do.
"There's incredible dedication in what we're doing. Be that rightly or wrongly. Subjectively, that's just the way it is. That's the way it's got to be. There's nothing complacent about things. The minute you start not criticizing what you're doing then you're in trouble.
"And if you start thinking everything you're doing is a master piece (laughs) then you're in trouble."
© Chris Salewicz 1977
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