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by Jim Jerome

It's not a bird. It's not a plane. Instead it's Led Zeppelin, the super group of rock history. It sells more LPs than such countrymen as the Rolling Stones and has even outgrossed the Beatles on tour.

The figures do not yet include proceeds from the Zeppelin's new double album, Physical Graffiti (sure to be come the sixth and seventh out of seven albums to go platinum), nor earnings from the 26-city U.S. tour now in progress. The 500,000 available seats were sold out virtually overnight, even with the rescheduling necessary when the group was banned in Boston after over-zealous ticket buyers trashed the auditorium. That success and its heavy metal, brain wasting image aside, the group Is uniquely unexploitative and respectful of the audiences that have made It so immeasurably rich. With no Immodesty intended, Jimmy Page, the Zeppelin's guitarist (he and Eric Clapton are generally rated the best rock guitarists in the world), states: "We know it's a bit of a pilgrimage for many people to come see Led Zeppelln and we like to give them all we've got that's the spirit of the group."

Actually, Page began the tour having to give a little less than all, and quickly proved he is the world's nim blest nine-fingered virtuoso. Shortly before leaving Britain, a train compartment door closed on his left finger, crushing the top joint. Concerts can be canceled; pilgrimages never.

The rest of the group Includes lead vocalist Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham, bassist-key boardist John Paul Jones and manager Peter Grant, a sumo-sized ex-pro-wrestler who must be thought of as the fifth member. Without his mastery of a planetary Pavlovian tease, which carefully times the group's tours and LP releases and shields it from TV and other media potshots, the Zeppelin might be just another Jefferson Airbag. It is the extraordinary Page who dominates the group's gargantuan sound system and enables it to generate a colossally kinetic musical release narrated by Plant's poetic strivings. "The actual chemistry or is it alchemy of the group," says Page, "is that everything just always fits together. I can go roaring off on a solo, then suddenly break off into staccato. I look up at Robert and somehow we're all there. It's like ESP."

Page is an explorer on guitar, creating many of the group's pieces, as he says, by returning an acoustic guitar in some unfathomable way, listening as I sit in my garden, and building from there. Despite the Zeppelin reputation for relentlessly heavy rock, he weaves delicate phrasings on both six and twelve string guitars into many of the group's tracks. The effect is Zeppelin's unique capacity to lull and soothe Its fans, then pulverize them, as on its classic, Stairway to Heaven.

Page, the son of a corporate personnel officer, was born near London, totally isolated from kids my own age in the neighborhood. In school, Page boasts that he had a really tine education from 11 to 17 on how to be a rebel ‹and I learned all the tricks in the game. His best trick was teaching him self the guitar in his early teens. When I first heard Elvis sing Baby, Let's Play House, I said to myself, That's it, I'm off. He soon became England's most sought-after player, adding his licks in sessions with the Kinks, the Stones, Donovan and Burt Bacharach. Page's exhausting, roaring live performance belies his gentle manner. There is a lot of aggression in my music, he admits. It's a marvelous thing to have a way to take it all out. A frail-framed, 31 year-old gypsy, he wistfully ponders a different sort of itinerary from the pun ishing rock tours: I've always wanted to get a caravan, one of those horse drawn medicine shows with drop-down sides, and do concerts with dancing la dies and acoustic instruments. It would sure beat sitting in a hotel room.

Page, the only single member of Zeppelin, has a home in London, a moated mansion over a lake in Sussex and a 15th century Loch Ness retreat. As for his love life, Page smiles: Let's just say I'm like a ship passing through storms, resting in ports now and then until it's time to continue the journey. I once told a friend, I'm just looking for an angel with a broken wing - one that couldn't fly away.
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