led zeppelin

Bonerama

Jim Nix / Nomadic Pursuits / Travel Photos / CC BY-NC-SA

During the interminable lead-in to this past Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, I heard Scott Van Pelt, and Ryen Rusillo on their ESPN radio show make several glowing references and mentions to a local funk brass band called Bonerama.  I think most people wouldn’t think too much about a couple of sports talk radio guys giving their musical recommendations, and I admit I am one of those people.  However, I have been to New Orleans many, many times, it is one of my favorite cities in America, and through those many, many visits I have come to truly appreciate the actual culture that thrives in New Orleans that is so much more than the revelry of Bourbon Street.  One of the biggest pieces of New Orleans culture is music, so when Van Pelt and Russillo continued to speak of how awesome Bonerama is, going so far as to want to make this band the house band for their show, while in New Orleans (due to their proximity to other media sets though their want was not able to happen) I began to think that maybe I should check this band out, and see what the fuss is all about.  So, four days after the Super Bowl, I finally did just that, checked out the band Bonerama, and let me tell you, they are well worth the fuss.

As they describe themselves, they are a brass funk band, the brass in question though is the trombone – thus the bone in Bonerama – and are accompanied by drums, electric guitar, bass guitar, and synthesizers.  They play/produce both original and cover material, and let me tell you, this band brings the funk AND the noise.

Since I am a big Led Zeppelin fan I have to share Bonerama’s covers of two of Zep’s songs, first is The Ocean:

Then there is one of my favorite Zeppelin tunes, When the Levee Breaks:

And finally let’s close this out with one of Bonerama’s originals called Big Fine Woman, in which you can definitely hear much of that New Orleans sound:

The Wheel of Time

Wheel of Time LogoLast night I met up with some friends for some tasty Mexican food, a few cervezas, and of course some conversation.  When we hang out, our conversations wander across the spectrum of many subjects, like sports (who is going to win the upcoming Super Bowl?), movies (“Apocalypse Now,” “Killing Fields,” “Deer Hunter,” and to lighten the atmosphere after those rather heavy films, “The Big Lebowski”), a little music (which band was Rob Thomas in, 3rd Eye Blind, or Matchbox 20 – it was Matchbox 20 – don’t ask how or why we got on that topic), politics (income tax vs. consumption tax), and literature (specifically the sci-fi series “The Wheel of Time”).

It was the last subject that I found interesting, because I do have a degree in English Literature (you know Shakespeare, both Shelleys,  Lord Byron, Keats, Yeats, Chaucer – that kind of literature) so when my friends bring up books, my ears tend to perk up; which is what happened last night.  Two of my friends started talking about The Wheel of Time series, which I didn’t know anything about, because I am more than a bit of a book snob, as is a given by my chosen degree.  I sat there and listened to these two friends of mine tell me how great the series is, and how the final book, which they are both reading, is equally fantastic.  Needless to say, when I got home, I decided to do a little research into this sci-fi/fantasy book series.  I found that it has been licensed twice for TV/film, once for a miniseries on NBC (that never materialized), and currently the film rights are held by Universal Pictures.  I found that it is being/has been adapted into comic book form, by Dabel Brothers.  I also found that there are games based upon the series too.  However, since this is a site about sound after all, I was also a bit intrigued to learn that there is actually music based upon this series too.  This led me into more … um … “research.”

The first bit of research I did was into the German based power band that goes by the handle “Blind Guardian,” and their not one, but TWO songs they have written about/in honor of this series of books.  The first being called “Ride into Obsession:”

The other, suitably enough, is called “Wheel of Time:”

There’s also an orchestral version of this song, it basically sounds the same as above, minus the vocals.

Not to be out done by their European neighbors, Swedish heavy metal band Katana has their own tribute to this series, with their song “The Wisdom of Emond’s Field:

Okay, so the above music kind of fits a bit of the stereotype of Metal/Sci-Fi/Fantasy fusion/inspiration/whatever you want to call it, going back to Led Zeppelin’s references to J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” and/or “The Hobbit” in some of their songs.  However there was even a “The Wheel of Time” soundtrack released in 1999, featuring music by Robert Berry, which seems a bit odd to have a soundtrack with no film or TV show.  I guess that should show the popularity of this book series.  Then there is a symphonic poem that was done by composer Seth Stewart, entitled “Age of Legends:”

Say what you will about the music inspired by this book series, personally I think that Blind Guardian and DragonForce could be mistaken for the same band, and I kind of chuckled at the photo of the band Katana, on their MySpace page, because it reminded me of the animated metal band “Dethklok,” which airs on The Cartoon Network’s late night schedule, called Adult Swim.  Anyway, I think I might have to start reading this series of books, based simply off of my friends recommendations, and not so much on the music inspired by it.

Musing About Music, Art and Entertainment

The-Thinker-Monkey-by-Banksy-560x375

Okay, so a couple nights ago the movie “Almost Famous” came on, and while I have seen this movie several times before, and the fact that there really was nothing else on, I decided to watch it again.  It should really come as no surprise to many who have taken the to stop by here at Noise Made Me Do It, that I really like this movie; because it covers the era of Rock and Roll that I am a big fan of – the late 1960’s, early 1970’s (Classic Rock as it is known by most).  As such, the soundtrack for “Almost Famous” has a lot of classic hits on it, from the likes of Elton John, and one of my all time favorites, Led Zeppelin, as well as many others.

For those who may not be familiar with this movie, it is about a teenage boy who gets the opportunity to write an article for Rolling Stone magazine.  He chooses to cover, and interview a band called Still Water, which is struggling to gain popularity, he ends up going on tour with the band, and learns life lessons along the way.  I know my purposefully brief synopsis really doesn’t do the movie justice. but my intent isn’t really meant to give a movie review here.  Instead I got to thinking about a common theme that runs through that movie, which is the struggle between artistic integrity, and being successful.

Many of us probably have friends who are, or were fans of a certain band, or artist, and then when that band makes it “big,” then that friend writes that band or artist off as a sell-out.  I have one of those friends, who loved Smashing Pumpkins, and then “Siamese  Dream” happened, which brought Smashing Pumpkins to popular attention, and as far as my friend was concerned, Smashing Pumpkins had sold-out.  Hell, Moby was even accused by some in the music industry for being a sell-out with the release of his 1999 album “Play,” and then licensing every song on it to film, television, and advertising.

So, what is the goal of a musician?  Is it creative art; or is it fortune and fame?

I ask that question because in the movie “Almost Famous” the enigmatic guitarist of Still Water tells the young aspiring music journalist, that the music is everything.  However in the biography of The Doors, “No One Here Gets Out Alive,” there is a recount by keyboardist Ray Manzarek when he hears some of Jim Morrison’s lyrics, and says, “let’s form and band and make a million dollars.”

I think many of us have this romantic view of the late 60’s, early 70’s rock bands were all about the music, like the guitarist in “Almost Famous” says, however in the bio of The Doors, we get an actual recount, and confession from one of that era’s biggest bands, that money was a definite impetus in their endeavors…hmm.

So, which was it, and more importantly, which is it?

Let’s fast forward to the modern era.  Sure there are still bands, and musicians out there where they hold themselves and their music to a bit of a higher standard; however it strikes me that there are so many more who may be talented singers, but are lacking in, shall we say, “originality.”  That is to say they are more performers/entertainers, than they are artists.  Sure they are very talented, but much of their material is written by someone else, and given to them to perform.

Art:  the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

Music:  an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color.

Entertainment:  amusement or diversion provided especially by performers.

Take for example the whole Psy, “Gangnam Style” thing.  It is entertaining, it is certainly music, but is it art?  Probably not.  Then I saw the headline, “Is this the next Gangnam?”  You click that link, and unless you are a complete music snob, you see another catchy, and entertaining musical performance called “One Pound Fish,” but again is it art?  Again, I doubt it.  Then there is the recount by Ke$ha, where she says that she was “forced” to sing the song “Die Young.”  Okay, so here we have a VERY popular performer telling us that she is singing something that she didn’t really have anything to do with the creation of; so is she an artist, or an entertainer?  Then there is someone like Justin Bieber, who actually is a talented musician, but I am often left wondering if his popularity is a product of other’s providing him with the “hits,” rather than he creating them himself?  Kind of like, and I know this is going to torque a lot of people off, but kind of like Elvis Presley.  I am an Elvis fan by the way, so save your hate mail.  What do you call someone who has musical talents, and singing abilities, but relies on others to provide them with material?  The fact that they can play an instrument(s) certainly makes them a musician, and the fact that they can sing makes them a singer, and the fact that that people are willing to pay to see or hear them perform makes them entertainers, but are they artists?  Hmm … kind of tricky there, but to me an artist is one who does the creating of their chosen medium.

Ultimately though, beauty is in the eye, and in this case, the ear of the beholder; and life is way too short to be overly critical of every little thing, just because you might think it lacks artistic merit.  Music of all types is, after all, entertainment, which according to the above definition is meant to be amusement, or diversion.  Life would be patently awful without the occasional, and adequate diversion and entertainment.  Still, I do wonder, from time to time, is today’s music meant more to be entertainment, than it is meant to be artistic?  If so, then the smallish music snob in me sighs, and then I hear a catchy tune, that makes me smile, and tap my feet, and that smallish music snob retreats back into its little cave, allowing me that brief moment of entertainment.

My Memories of Led Zeppelin

Rolling Stone’s Cover

The cover for the issue of Rolling Stone magazine on news stands now, has on it Robert Plant and Jimmy Page (the 1970’s versions) with the headline reading “LED ZEPPELIN:  The Ultimate Guide to Their Music & Legend.”  I didn’t buy it for a couple of reasons, (1) I have been long trying to reduce clutter in my life (still a work in progress).  (2) I am already a bit of a Led Zeppelin aficionado; though not as good (or bad, depending on your take) as I used to be.  And (3) as a bit of a Led Zeppelin aficionado, I know that Rolling Stone magazine panned Led Zeppelin on a regular and almost religious basis, back when that band was still actively recording and touring.  So, as a fan, and a bit of an aficionado, I feel I already know Led Zeppelin well enough to not need some sort of primer, and I find the magazine that went out of their way to knock that band now offering some sort of tribute, kind of hypocritical; but maybe that’s just me.

While I am not old enough to remember any of the slights that Rolling Stone gave Led Zeppelin, nor am I old enough to have ever seen that band perform live, I – like many – did eventually “discover” Led Zeppelin when I was in high school in the 1980’s, about 5 years after the death of their drummer, John “Bonzo” Bonham, which ultimately lead to Zeppelin’s break-up.

I still remember the first song I heard on the local classic rock station, the song that launched me into wanting to hear and know more about this band called Led Zeppelin; that song was “Whole Lotta Love.”  As soon as I could I immediately went to the record store (remember those places?) and bought the cassette of Led Zeppelin II and I damn near wore it out.  Soon after I bought Led Zeppelin I, then III, then what is called either “IV,” or “Signs,” and so on down the list of their discography I went.  Along the way, I bought “Hammer of the Gods,” which is the quintessential biography of Led Zeppelin, written by Stephen Davis; it is a very good read by the way, even if you are not a fan or a nut for Led Zeppelin.

That book painted a new picture for me of each of Led Zeppelin’s albums.  After learning what was going on in the band’s personal lives before and during the recording of each record I began to really get a sense of why the tone of the records began to change from the raucous, youthful, happier sounds of young men, to the more tempered, and melancholy sounds that show up in their later albums, like “Physical Graffiti,” “Presence,” and “In Through the Out Door.”  Plus that book showed how Led Zeppelin was probably the band that stamped sex and drugs indelibly into Rock and Roll.  Sure, those two things have always been associated with music, not just Rock and Roll, but Led Zeppelin’s early tours are the stuff of legend, just Google “Led Zeppelin and shark incident,” and you will most certainly be stunned, probably appalled, and maybe even lament that rock stars nowadays are pretty damn lame in comparison.

I will wholly concede to the critics of Led Zeppelin that they were not nearly as “artistic” as say the Beetles, or even some of their contemporaries, especially in the lyrics department; but that should not take away from their talent.  My brother, and one of my best friends, both of whom are drummers, has nothing but praise for John Bonham’s talents.  It can be argued that Jimmy Page put the god in “guitar god.”  Few people then, or now could replicate Robert Plant’s vocals, and the quiet man of the group, the one who never really faced tragedy in his life during the Zeppelin years, bassist John Paul Jones was a very accomplished studio musician prior to joining the band.

While I truly do like the vast majority of Led Zeppelin’s recordings, even the posthumously, and not their best, released “Coda,” my favorites are when they cover old blues songs, and in fact, if you follow this link, many of their songs were covers; that being said though, it is one of their original blues songs that I can almost listen to repeatedly, called “I’m Gonna Crawl,” off the “In Through the Out Door” album which I think is masterful in the conveyance of the emotion that a great blues song should have, through the tone and tenor, the sound of the guitar, meshed with the vocals.  After reading the book, and knowing what all has happened to the band through the years, as well as what would happen in the following year (John Bonham’s death) that song’s tone (not the lyrics, but the tone) almost even serves as a bit of foreshadowing too.

That is my favorite song, but it isn’t my favorite album.  Most people will probably say Led Zeppelin IV is their favorite, and it is understandable, it is their most commercially successful album, and is even referenced (though not flatteringly) in the movie, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”  Others will probably say Led Zeppelin II is their favorite, then there’s Led Zeppelin I, Houses of the Holy, and Physical Graffiti.  All of those are very, VERY good Led Zeppelin albums, and have many hits that still get air play; but they aren’t my favorite.  My favorite is Led Zeppelin III.  That album hooked me with the opening track, “Immigrant Song,” and “Tangerine” is another one of my all-time favorite Led Zeppelin songs.  It is also one of their least commercially successful albums; probably because the band deliberately strayed away from the formula that led to their success; it was kind of their “experimental” album, though to me Houses of the Holy seems a bit more of a deviation, or “experiment” in sound in my opinion; but whatever.

One of the things I find most interesting about Led Zeppelin is how the name came about, it is a bit of an homage to a conversation Jimmy Page had with Keith Moon (drummer of The Who), Jeff Beck (Page and Beck played together in the Yardbirds), John Entwistle (bassist for The Who) and Steve Winwood about forming a super group, to which Keith Moon replied something to the effect, that they should call themselves the “Lead (the malleable metal) Balloons,” because that is how well such a group would go over.  So the “super group” never formed, however upon the formation of the band Jimmy Page remembered that comment, and simply changed the balloon to zeppelin, and opted for using the three letter “led” instead of the four letter word “lead,” because he was concerned that people would confuse that word for “lead,” as in leader, and he didn’t want it associated with a German invasion; so Led Zeppelin it became; that band’s name also lead to the coining of the term, “heavy metal” music.

So, no, I don’t need an “Ultimate Guide to Their Music & Legend,” I have already been there, done that.  To anyone who might want such a guide, then perhaps Rolling Stone’s article is a good source, however I think the best thing to do with almost anything that you might find interest in is to immerse yourself in it.  If that something is Led Zeppelin, then I do highly recommend reading “Hammer of the Gods,” by Stephen Davis, I can assure you that you will not be sorry.

Below are links to the songs I referenced in this post:

Whole Lotta Love:

I’m Gonna Crawl:

Tangerine:

Immigrant Song:

And one more for good measure:

Since I’ve Been Loving You:

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