Classic Rock Review

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Stairway To Heaven Led Zeppelin Uncensored by Richard Cole (1992)


Review 1 From UK: I very quickly came to the conclusion, reading this book, that I didn’t like Richard Cole at all. Nor did I like the members of Led Zeppelin, with the possible exception of John Paul Jones, for having the sense to stay clear of the rest of the band between gigs.

But this is an interesting book about what stardom can do to people. I’m not expressing any sympathy, here; the Roger Waters/Billy Corgan school of “life’s awful for rich and famous rock stars” whining is beneath contempt, basically. If they have a problem with being rich and famous, they can cure beng rich with a five-minute phone call to any charity, while fame takes, oh, six months to cure. By “what stardom can do to people” I am talking about turning people who are initially no worse than most of us into brutalised, narcissistic morons, too drugged and too stupid to know how ugly they are becoming.

Cole’s book is from the inside of that culture in every sense; he actually expects us to laugh along with the band and their hangers-on, when “losers” get beaten up, when people who aren’t rich have their property smashed and Bonzo laughs at the promise to pay for the damage, making it clear that the payment won’t happen.

The treatment of young women is one of the least of the band’s appallingnesses; mostly groupies got more or less the experience they came for, and where there is informed consent there is no abuse. This goes even for Page’s interest in underage girls and whips, usually the focus of most moral condemnation of this band; but Page emerges as a relatively gentle soul, and at least one of the girls as a rather stronger personality than him.

On the other hand, Cole expects us to share his amusement about kidnapping a group of underage girls and flying them interstate without their consent, or their parents’ knowledge or consent, leaving them to find their own ways home. The point was to have a joke on Plant. Cole warned the girls not to talk to Plant, and then watched Plant fail to seduce the terrified girls, and wonder what had happened to his charms. (Plant didn’t wonder long; in no time he’d concluded they were all lesbians.) What a laugh, Cole expects us to think: but this is creepy, skin-crawling stuff.

But it’s still a compelling book. The waste of Led Zeppelin’s astonishing talent was a tragedy. Sure, the talent that produced the first five albums, bits of Physical Graffiti and most of In Through the Out Door was not entirely wasted; that’s a respectable body of work that is still exciting to hear 30-odd years later. But the potential that was thrown away in smack, booze and ego-driven excess is far greater than the achievements. Anyone who was wondering how come Presence and much of Physical Graffiti is so uninspired, and how come such a bountiful well ran dry so fast, need only read this book.

It is, of course, abysmally badly written, but that’s part of its authenticity, if you like.

Review 2 From US: What you must first know before reading this book is that it is written from a very limited perspective, something that the author himself, who practically considers himself the Led Zeppelin version of the fifth Beatle, rarely admits. Richard Cole knew Led Zeppelin for 12 years as their road manager. From the accounts of the book, he spent much more time observing/fostering their boyish antics than actually conversing with them intimately.

The quotations he gives are highly dubious at best; many of them are second-hand hearsay. It is highly unlikely that he could remember much of what was actually said twenty-something years before the book was written since he spent most of the time with them either high or drunk. The dialogue has the flavor of trite situational comedy. On top of this, Richard Cole provides very (very) little insight into Led Zeppelin’s music, or music at all, for that matter. Either he did not to care to talk with them about the thoughts and experiences behind their music, or he just thought one more anecdote about John Bonham throwing something out a hotel window or defecating on/in something was too juicy to pass up.

One gets the impression that Bonham may have been the only member of Led Zeppelin to talk with Cole at length about anything. The others don’t really seem to know that he existed as anything more than the guy who counted their money and was high or drunk all the time, even though he suspiciously plays a central role in all of his stories about them.

All of that said, if you’d like to read dozens of accounts of how Led Zeppelin lived a life as decadent as a Caligula or a Nero, then perhaps you could do no better than hearing from their number one parasite, who shared in all of their dinner tables, women, and alcohol, and in the end exaggerated his importance to the group in much the same way that a slave or a parasite from Roman Comedy does. Richard Cole helped Led Zeppelin out of many a tight jam, but his attempts to get behind their their music or their personnae, even John Bonham’s (with whom he was closest) are a failure.

In the end you know nothing more about the members of Led Zeppelin than these generalities: Plant (somewhat haughty, tempermental, and doesn’t like going second with a fellatrix), Page (an insecure perfectionist fascinated with the occult), Jones (quiet, not indulgent in excess), Bonham (liked to vandalize things and offend people for no reason). None of this is a revelation.

Review 3 From New Zealand: If you are endevaoring to start reading any books on Led Zeppelin, Richard Cole’s Stairway to Heaven is the place to start. Keep in mind that Coles claim to fame is that “he was there.’ Furthermore, Stephen Davis of the Hammer of the Gods fame was the first author to release an unauthorized biography. There was a plethora of Led Zeppelin books written from1985 until the present. Many these books are now out of date and out of print. The 2 books that have stood the test of time are Hammer of the Gods and Stairway to Heaven. Hammer of the Gods has been superseded by When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin by Mick Wall. Jimmy Page is no longer on speaking terms with Mick Wall, so therefore it is another must read.

Most Amazon reviews are simply a personal attack on Cole (not completely undeserving) with the benefit of hindsight. Keep an open mind because, like him or hate him, most books to this day still quote him as a primary source so he will never be obsolete. The band members do not like the book and John Paul Jones (Jonesy) has legitimate reason s for disliking Stairway to Heaven and claims that Richard Cole:
1. deliberately lied to the band as was the primary source for both Stairway to Heaven and Stephen Davis book Hammer of the Gods
2. gets the stories muddled up and conveniently names Bonham as instigator and culprit, knowing full well that Bonzo can’t defend himself
3. Treats John Bottom (Bonzo) like an imbecile… Bonzo appeared to be Bi-Polar problem that was not officially diagnosed, yet casts him as buffoon, rapist and a violent thug and in fact blames just about every negative event as quote “this happened ….. and Bonzo made it worse.”
Richard Cole does not deserve your pity or empathy. He is a recovering alcoholic and surprisingly has an excellent memory when it suits the author, but, grows hazy when discussing for example, the incident at Oakland.

Name Dropper
Cole is an unashamed name dropper.
For example, Cole alleges that he assists Robert Downey jnr to stay clean on, and, apparently lived with Downey whist he filmed certain movies. Cole goes on to say that he also helped Ozzy Osbourne stay clean. I have never heard Ozzy or Sharon Osbourne thank Richard Cole publically or privately.

1977 and The Oakland Incident
I have always been interested in Zeppelin’s 1977 tour. What really happened? Cole but infers a bad vibe and spiraling drug use but glosses over most of the tour. The incident at the Oakland Coliseum is the darkest in the bands history. Cole in Stairway obviously admits he was there, but, blames the incident on Peter Grant and Bonzo. The ’77 Oakland incident is discussed in far greater detail both in Mick Wall’s When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin and Keith Shadwick’s efforts in Led Zeppelin 1968-1980.

Shadwick cites references from Stairway to Heaven but it is obvious that he detests Richard Cole. Shadwick’s description of Oakland incident is extremely detailed and has Cole as the instigator. In fact Shadwick, as does Mick Wall and Bill Graham in their books, highlight the fact that Cole was instigated the majority of violent incidents that marked that horrific 1977 tour. I won’t ruin the shocking surprise, but Wall describes a shocking incident concerning the famous seventies drummer Aynsley Dunbar of ELO fame, that will you feeling with nothing but disgust for Richard Cole.

When asked about the book, Robert Plant claims that he has only read the post 1980 chapters, as he was interested to see what Richard Cole did after Zeppelin separated. These in fact are the best chapter in the book and you may begin to feel some empathy towards Richard Cole. However I urge you to read would be Mick Wall’s When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin. When Giants Walked the Earth is Hammer of the Gods with additional detail. If you are into extreme detail, then Keith Shadwick’s effort in Led Zeppelin: 1968-1980 is a must. You can then compare all three and make up your own mind concerning Richard Cole.

April 12, 2013 - Posted by | Book Stairway To Heaven Led Zeppelin Uncensored By Richard Cole | , ,

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