Robert Plant

Robert PlantRobert Plant
By Shelbie Freedman (SugarBuzz Philidelphia)

You can’t give up something you really believe in for financial reasons. If you die by the roadside-so be it. But at least you know you’ve tried. Ten minutes in the music scene was equal of one hundred years outside of it.~ Robert Plant

Robert Plant is the self-proclaimed Robert PlantGolden God of Rock. He was the inspiration behind Cameron Crowe’s guitarist, Russell Hammond, in the now-classic film Almost Famous. The movie itself, an ode to groupies who were too polite to call themselves that and instead chose to call themselves “Band Aids”, followed the arc of success and the ultimate Superstardom of an imaginary rock band named Stillwater, who rose in the film from small-time gigs to Rock Gods status, jetting about the US from stadium to stadium, all within the short period of a few months. Stillwater, and their alter-image Zeppelin, was merciless to their Band Aids. If you were a young girl deluded enough to think that you had any more value to a band than a piece of meat, than the scene in the movie where Hammond sells his prized groupie, Penny Lane, to another musician for a mere 50 dollars and a case of beer quickly should have dispelled any notions of deeper love and affection.

Zeppelin was equally hard on their groupies- the Penny Lane scene in the movie was most likely based on an undisclosed real-life event during a Zeppelin tour. The stories of endless degradations that a nameless series of girls endured in an endless series of hotel rooms, just to rub elbows with Mr. Plant, Mr. Bonham or Mr. Page, are well-known and legendary, even darkly fascinating in their utter abandonment of traditional values and pure hedonism. Band members lacked grounding in anything even remotely related to real-life human relationships, and their wanton use of groupies take on the tinge of half-grown and over-indulged boys playing dress up (and more) with their sister’s Barbie dolls. But alas, without the shame and secrecy that a boy found playing with his sister’s dolls would face in real life; instead the stories were met only with the winks, nudges and pats on the back that any rock band worth their salt would receive when they treated their women like unpaid porn stars in a poorly scripted scenario. The girls, they claimed, liked it, which may be true enough, as so many clamored back for more.

Plant knew his strengths and his short-comings, and had a sense of humor about his superstar position in the rock world. As he’s stated, “I’m pleased with how ridiculous I am. I like me. Though I’m not a huge fan. I know when to switch me off”. Crowe allegedly based Almost Famous on the time he spent as a rock journalist on the road touring with Zeppelin. Hammond was loosely based on the antics of Plant. A central scene in Almost Famous, where a drug-addled Hammond declares himself to be the Golden Boy of Rock as he plunges from the roof of a fan’s house into the pool below, mirrors the real life tour antics of Zeppelin band members, Plant in particular. In both the stylized movie and Zeppelin’s daily life on tour, fans drool and slobber over band members, fighting for five minutes of their attention, be it scoring a measly autograph, to the more serious endeavors of trucking around a series of girls who could supplant your wife and take care of you as your mother would, if only your wife would let you have your way with her with a red snapper, and having sex with your mother wasn’t culturally repulsive.

Plant’s favorite on-the-road groupie, Audrey Hamilton, seemed to have no other purpose in life other than to care for Plant both sexually and physically (Plant’s lawfully wedded wife being in England), and then to make herself scarce when it came time to return to life as a dutiful family man with the kids and the missus. She was readily available to tour, with apparently no job or obligations to hold her back from coddling Plant. As Plant acknowledged in an interview, “I don’t know what people think. I don’t care”. It was good to be Robert Plant. Fans wholeheartedly agreed. Record sales boomed, so much so that Zeppelin reached the point where they could go into tax exile status from the UK, making more millions in ten minutes than most made in a lifetime, enough to run away from the Queen’s tax collectors, who indeed have a long and greedy arm.

Fortunately for Plant, Zeppelin followed the same trajectory as Stillwater, and shot to the status of Supergroup, never to be unseated by the fickle tastes of public opinion. Fans never got tired of Zeppelin; the band’s record sales never faltered from the release of Led Zeppelin in 1969 to the death of John Bonham in 1980. Bonham, aside from Keith Moon of the Who and possibly Martin Chambers of the Pretenders (an admitted personal favorite, but certainly a less well-known contender than Moon or Bonham), may be one of the greatest rock drummers of all times, and his untimely death put an end to Led Zeppelin. Bonham, in Plant’s opinion, “was the main part of the band. He was the man who made whatever Page and I wrote basically work, by what he held back, by what he didn’t do to the tempos. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who could replace him”. According to Plant, “John was the greatest drummer in the world. I knew this because he told me so”.

And Bonham was probably the glue that kept the band together. Without him, there was no need to go on. The song list would forever remain the same after Bonham passed, and Zeppelin fans would have to make do without new material. Instead, there remained a never-ending parade of timeless gems, classics one and all: from the haunting opening notes of “Kashmir” to the driving vocals of “Immigrant Song”; from the eternal classic rock favorite, “Stairway to Heaven” to one of my go-to classic tracks, “Ramble On”, a perfect ode to Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

And yet, for Plant aficionados, the story did not really remain the same. Plant has done some excellent solo work and his vocal abilities remain untouchable, even as approaches the age where most would retire and rest of their laurels. Although his body of solo work has never received the accolades of Plant’s work with Zeppelin, his output since Zeppelin has nonetheless been eclectic and play-worthy. Plant has, for example, teamed up with Country legend Alison Krauss, and more recently with Patty Griffin. His recent music, unlike Zeppelin’s repertoire, has a greater Bluegrass and Country tinge. Plant takes more of a back seat to the leading ladies, but in the end, he has crafted intelligent music that deserves as much attention as his artistry with Zeppelin. The record sales may not be as stellar as his earlier work with Zeppelin. Plant has put together his own back-up band, the Sensational Space Shifters, who allow him to recreate the old Zeppelin standards, but again, with more of a Country twist, sometimes using a mandolin instead of the usual electric guitar. In the end, Plant may have grown beyond the antics of his youth with Zeppelin, faced his own personal demons and become a better man and a more varied artist But to many fans, Plant is still stuck in the 70s. Some fans can’t let go of Zeppelin’s impressive history or easily forget its impact on rock music. To some fans, unfortunately, the song will always remain the same, in spite of Plant’s best efforts to spread his wings musically.

Patty Griffin “Ohio” feat. Robert Plant
www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMswPuc2QyQ