Everywhere in the older Chinese writers he encountered praise of music as one of the primal sources of all order, morality, beauty and health. — Hermann Hesse
One of the good things about being a baby boomer is that when you tell your boring old-folk stories about the musicians you’ve seen in concert, they aren’t boring, they’re cool.
My Dad used to tell me about seeing Frankie Lane at Blinstrub’s, a ritzy club in Boston where national performers appeared to do gigs, and he raved to us, many times, about how fantastic Lane was. I’m sure Frankie was great, but the impact of the tale was largely lost on me. My mom talked about seeing Glenn Miller, the thought of which would excite me today, but then it was strictly corny old folks stuff. That was the divide between generations back then… what did they call it? Oh yeah, gap, the generation gap, which has all but closed today, one of the great triumphs of the 60s.
Sure, there are lots of other areas where the gap continues, but as far as music, these days toddlers sit on their parents shoulders and hear Dylan sing… well, rasp, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Jack White and Dave Matthews sing onstage with Mick Jagger and the Stones. It’s all different now.
So when I tell younger people about how I saw Led Zeppelin on their first American tour, January 1969, at The Boston Tea Party, paying four bucks to get in, they listen with a kind of reverential awe and borderline disbelief. Ticket prices for the recent Zeppelin one-shot reunion gig for Ahmet Ertegun, with John Bonham’s son Jason on drums, were selling in the neighborhood of $10,000 a pair, so you can see why my first concert experience with Zep seems at the same time both terribly ancient and completely current.
The Tea Party held about a thousand people. It was a place where lots of hippie bands played during the 60s. They had a mirror ball and strobes and those oil and colored-water projectors, first created by the Joshua Light Show, making trippy liquid designs on the wall next to the stage. The place itself used to be a synagogue, a big rectangular room with the stage at the end, huge high ceiling, no seats except a few folding chairs along the side and the bolted down seats in the balcony. It was like a hippie high school auditorium. On other nights I saw The J. Geils Band there, Jethro Tull, Sons of Champlain and some more obscure bands I can’t recall at the moment. But the Led Zep show was a big thing.
The first album was out and “Communication Breakdown” was an FM Radio hit. The music was so different than what we’d been hearing, so new and hard and driving, crunching guitars, pounding drums, high, screaming vocals. There’s wasn’t even a name for it back then, but soon it would come to be known as the future institution, hard rock. The record had only come out in stores the week before, nobody knew anything about the band, who looked so girlish on the back record cover, with their big heads of puffy hair and pale English skin, that it embarrassed me and most of the guys I knew – I was 17 and back then, anything ‘faggy’ was to be positively shunned, but the band was so good, we decided to let it slide. And they were singing about girls, in a way that raw and sexual, so we figured they were probably all right with us.