Classic Rock Review

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Trampled Under Foot: The Power And Excess Of Led Zeppelin by Barney Hoskyns (2012)

Barney-Hoskyns-Trampled-Under-FootFrom amazon.co.uk

It’s a real page-turner (no pun intended). Barney Hoskyns has cultivated impeccable connections during his many years writing about music, and particularly about California, Los Angeles and the musicians and others who together made up the whole ‘scene’, if that’s what we could call it. This comes in particularly useful here, as there is a substantial focus on Zeppelin’s US home-from-home, Los Angeles.

Unusually it is an oral history, so aside from a page or so of author contextualizing, which occurs at the beginning of each section, it is all the written equivalent of talking heads. For the most part, this works extremely well and it really helps the book to draw you in as a reader – that’s maybe why, although the book is 500-odd pages long, I was able to read it in about three sittings over 2-3 days.

I have some minor gripes, though, which is why I gave it only 4 stars.

There are a great many very interesting and never before seen pictures in the book, not all of which appear in the glossy colour sections. Sometimes thet are not reproduced that well, because the paper used is really not up to the job of reproducing images. It’s a pity.

The book also seems, at times, to be beset by quite a few repetitions – especially in relation to the tales of the misdeeds of the likes of Richard Cole and Peter Grant, or the stinginess of Jimmy Page – which seem to reappear chapter after chapter without much sense of chronological anchoring. Often, in other words, it is not clear if comments by witnesses relating to certain behavioural traits, or incidents, are connected to specific events. One minute you think the events that are being retold must be happening around ’74 or ’75, then all of a sudden it is 1977.

I think that for all that it is a compelling read, what the book lacks is a strong sense of chronology.

From amazon.com

Led Zeppelin bestrode the 70s rock world like a colossus and perhaps it is right that any book about them should have equally epic proportions. This latest “reveal” by Barney Hoskyns sometimes borders on the obsessional yet for Zeppelin aficionados it is a hugely welcome addition to the bands colorful history from a first class rock journalist who has previously taken on such luminaries as The Band and Tom Waits.

In another setting he also charts the rise of fall of the cocaine cowboys of Laurel Canyon scene in “Hotel California”. His new book “Trampled Under Foot: The Power and Excess of Led Zeppelin” does revisit some of the themes of the latter book since it is the city of Los Angeles which casts a huge shadow over proceedings as the “default” base for Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham during their all conquering American Tours.

This witnessed them take residency in the legendary “Riot House” (Continental Hyatt House) on Sunset Strip where they occupied the top floor of the hotel and created a modern day bacchanalia. Their infamous and lurid excesses has formed the basis for previous books not least Stephen Davis “Hammer of the Gods” a tale of a band “drenched in sex, drugs and psychic abuse”. In truth Davis relied much on the wild and often-unreliable recollections of tour manager Richard Cole whose later “Stairway to Heaven” repeated much of what had already been published.

Clearly while Cole was an untrustworthy witness he was at the heart of the Zeppelin juggernaut particularly with his friendship to the brilliant but often brutish Jon Bonham. Hence the protestations of Jimmy Page and other band members about his “ridiculously false” account may fall into the “me thinks they doth protest to much” category. Whatever the case it evident that the more mature ex Led Zep members have been keen to put considerable distance between their former hellraiser exploits and current status as Grammy winning wizened old bluesmen.

Hoskyns book draws on a much wider evidential base and attempts to get to the heart of the matter by extensive interviews of over 200 people producing what is the definitive oral history of the band. Hoskyns stated purpose was to peel away the myths and legends. As he states most existing books “recycle tales of groupies and mudsharks and chucking TV sets out of windows. For me, this is terribly boring. I wanted to demystify the band”. And yet the reality does not allow a complete revision for as he states “at the same time, I uncovered stuff that’s even more shocking”.

These include the fact that the Zeppelin machine constructed by Peter Grant was so big and powerful that it was virtually above the the law” and could “pay our way out of any trouble, any scandal’. In the last analysis however is this a great shock to any Led Zeppelin fan? They came at a time when the a new and aggressive breed of British managers fought tooth and nail for their artists including through physical violence.

They were an “albums” band in a pre internet/download area when record sales were stratospheric and money almost unlimited. They conquered the US at the time in terms of tours and album sales which the Beatles could only dream of. But most of all they were the most exciting thing on the planet in terms of rock music, despite the derision of nearly every rock critic at the time including Hoskyns house magazine the NME.

In the last analysis if you love Zeppelin you will adore “Trampled Underfoot”. It is brilliantly written (if a tad long) and charts the story of a singularly unique band of brilliant young musicians with the world at their feet, woman on every arm and unassailable repertoire of hard rock and metallic funk. In short if you own “Physical Graffiti” buy it.

I tend to think this is an editorial issue. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this book and Barney Hoskyns’s previous, on Tom Waits, were published by Faber and Faber, whose stock-in-trade as far – as writing about music goes – is the 600-page tome. If you’ve read Simon Reynolds’ (Faber book) ‘Retromania’ and felt it was at least 200 pages TOO LONG, then you’ll know what I mean about missing editors.

Who knows, Faber may have a special deal on paper, or an agreement with a printer who has said: ‘hey, guys, it is cheaper if you just make it over 500 pages’.

But, in the end, it is a great story, and Hoskyns has interviewed far and wide to make it as much of a compelling read as possible.

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April 9, 2013 - Posted by | Book Trampled Under Foot The Power And Excess Of Led Zeppelin By Barney Hoskyns | , ,

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