Classic Rock Review

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Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored by Richard Cole (1992)


Review If you are endeavouring 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 from 1985 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 Many these books are now out of date and out of print.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 Hammer Of The Gods has been superseded by When Giants Walked The Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin by Mick Wall.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 spiralling 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 chapters 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.

Review There is little reason for this book to exist except for Richard Cole to make money. Sure he was Led Zeppelin’s trusty road manager for many years, but this is little justification for him to spend the next several decades rehashing the band’s sordid past for his own gain. He did this previously by being the key contributor to Stephen Davis’ inferior Zep biography “Hammer Of The Gods.” Cole should be grateful to Zep for employing him for so many years, and should value their friendship enough to let the past stay in the past.

The surviving members of the band are now mature older men, and while they surely have fond memories of their glory days, they probably know it’s time to lead respectable middle-aged lives. Why can’t Cole do the same? The guy is pushing sixty. Should he still be going on and on about his wild days with his crazy pals three decades ago?

Yes, Zep was the wildest party band ever. Yes they consumed gigantic amounts of illicit substances. Yes they trashed hotel rooms. Yes they degraded women. Yawn. This is all common knowledge. The amount of time Zep was on tour was probably less than 25% of their overall working time as a band. The time they spent writing and recording their incredible music was much greater, and that’s what matters now. Their music is timeless and is their true legacy, while their touring exploits are vaguely funny stories at best. Granted, Cole shows some empathy in his treatment of John Bonham’s exploits, gaining some insight into the inner weaknesses that drove the drummer to an early grave. On the other hand, his treatment of John Paul Jones is sheer vindictiveness, trying to cut Jones’ image as the level headed member of the band down to size. Cole’s coverage of Page and Plant is merely elaboration on what is already known, purely for profit.

Do not buy this book. If you do, you’re encouraging Cole to make more money by living in the distant past, using his fortunate connection with famous people for his own gain. In this book Cole has embarrassed himself by stabbing his old friends in the back for some easy money. He has embarrassed the reader by assuming that this sordid material is useful or funny to the faithful Zep fan. Worst of all, he has embarrassed Led Zeppelin. Fortunately, the music will remain long after this useless book is forgotten.

Review If you enjoy the detaildness of Led Zeppelin’s adventures, that’s one thing. But if you can’t put down sleazy writing for the life of you, this book is for you. Richard Cole did a good job of describing the band’s escapades, but it wasn’t really anything new to anyone who knows anything about Led Zeppelin. It was a typical description of a rock and roll band. But it highlights Robert as a pompous wild child, Pagey as a mysterious, stubborn, yet charming man, John Paul as composed and unwilling and Bonzo as a destructive maniac. It is what one would typically expect of each member, and I expected more.

I was happy to learn of the things I didn’t know about the band members. I don’t really give a hoot about Richard Cole. I was entertained during a part in the book when they were at a big star’s birthday party, and Bonzo got into a brawl someone and they fell into the pool. Soon enough everyone was pushing everybody in the pool. I laughed out loud as it explained that Jimmy Page could not swim and with a drink in his hand wearing a $300 or $400 suit, he stepped into the pool himself.

At times I waited for the book to be over, and there were snippets of time when I actually became intrigued. I find it disappointing that such glorious musicians could be so unharmonious at times and that they could even be scum bags. But they are Led Zeppelin and you don’t want to believe it. All in all, is was good, just because it was truly shocking to find out the truth about Karac’s death and Robert’s take on it along with some other well-known events. My biggest complaint is that John Paul is left out too much and I would say that a mere 3 or 4 pages can take up what was written about him.

May 11, 2013 - Posted by | Book Stairway To Heaven Led Zeppelin Uncensored By Richard Cole | , ,

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