You’ve probably seen the Viking kitties by now. Cute little flash kittens in Viking horns acting out Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. The words pop up in bubbles in the song goes on.
Wow. Seeing those words in print again brought on a flood of memories and a fit of giggles.
There was a time when I considered Led Zeppelin to be gods. Most people my age went through that phase. We quoted lyrics left and right and debated the meaning behind each song. Plant and Page were geniuses, deep thinkers, philosophers.
Yea, right. What passes for deep thinking to a 14 year old mesmerized by heavy guitars and pounding rythms and Robert Plant’s hair turns into foolishness and pretension when you take away the haze of few joints and flights of teenage fancy.
The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla, I am coming!
Did we really sing these lyrics out loud? Valhalla, I am coming? How did we not break into fits of laughter when we said those words?
On we sweep with threshing oar
We must have been really stoned.
Sure, they had plenty of tunes that were about love and sex and things other than faeries and Norse gods. But those weren’t the lyrics that were endlessly debated. Those were not the lyrics quoted as if they were the mantra of your life.
We sang The Battle of Evermore as if we were story tellers. We felt the pain, the despair, the anguish. Oh, we were so deep, so in tune with our lyrical heroes.
Queen of Light took her bow, And then she turned to go,
The Prince of Peace embraced the gloom, And walked the night alone
You know, we had no idea what they were going on about. It just sounded good. It sounded like poetry. It sounded deep. In turn, we thought it made us sound scholarly and deep when we sat around ruminating about the Prince of Peace and his Queen.
Our favorite song at one point was No Quarter:
The winds of Thor are blowing cold.
They’re wearing steel that’s bright and true
Maybe our Tolkien-drenched minds kept us from finding the lyrics to be amusing and pretentious, like I do now. We were living in this outer realm, where hobbits existed and wars were fought between inhuman creatures. Plant knew that, he knew the mindset of the kids those days. And he played on it. Either that or he did a lot of acid.
Now, forgive me for this next part. I know that some of you consider Stairway to Heaven the Greatest Song Ever. I sure did back in the day. But please, look at these lyrics.
If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now,
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.
One summer night, five of sat on the open tailgate of a someone’s mom’s station wagon, parked in the last row of a drive-in theater (double feature: Kentucky Fried Movie and Groove Tube). For two hours, we discussed the meaning behind the lyrics to that song, spending an awful lot of time on the “bustle in your hedgerow” line. We each had a different interpreation of the song. We each took our own meaning from it. And that was deep, man. I mean, wow…they spoke to each one of us in a different way. How fucking cool!
It was only years later that I realized the words probably mean nothing except that Robert Plant read a lot of books. He strung some thoughts and words from his favorite novels together, mixed them in a blender and called it Stairway to Heaven.
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll.
Anyone care to explain that line? To be a rock and not to roll. They revisited that theme again in The Rover with the line You got me rockin’ when I ought to be a-rollin’, which took on a decidedly different tone than the rock and the roll from Stairway. Maybe he was just running out of words at this point, a consideration to be taken seriously when you realize that the next Zep album was Presence.
Led Zeppelin did not own the rights to bizarre lyrics passing as genius writing abilities. We enshrined Genesis (the Gabriel years) in the same manner.
From Supper’s Ready:
Wandering through the chaos the battle has left,
We climb up a mountain of human flesh,
To a plateau of green grass, and green trees full of life.
A young figure sits still by the pool,
He’s been stamped human bacon by some butchery tool.
(He is you.)
Social Security took care of this lad.
We watch in reverence, as Narcissus is turned to a flower.
Any old school Genesis fan worth his salt knows what comes next.
Want more? From I Know What I Like in Your Wardrobe:
When the sun beats down and I lie on the bench,
I can always hear them talk.
Me, I’m just a lawnmower – you can tell me by the way I walk
We used to recite that line over and over! Some days it was all we said. Genius! Brilliance! We each claimed to know exactly what they meant by that but none of us had a damn clue as to what the hell they were talking about. But saying that you knew, that you understood the depth and layers of Genesis made you look smart and brilliant in your own right.
And who could forget Squonk? There isn’t a long-time Genesis fan alive who can’t recite the end of the song:
The is of a very retiring disposition and due to its ugliness, weeps constantly. It is easy prey for hunters who simply follow a tear-stained trail. When cornered it will dissolve itself into tears. True or False?
What the hell? How did I ever think those were inspiring, thoughtful words?
Better yet, tell me why I feel so melancholy when I hear these songs. Is it just the memories of those youthful days? Or was there really something to the music and lyrics that my old age just can’t see anymore? Have I gotten too old to appreciate underlying themes and visions? Should I start smoking pot again? Do I need to take Lamb Lies Down on Broadway or Physical Graffiti and listen for the subtext and meanings that I swear are not there?
Stay tuned for the next installment, when I explain why Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden is a blowhard.
This piece orginally appeared at A Small Victory