I like the musical trajectory Robert Plant has taken since the heady daze of Led Zeppelin, not least because my own tastes have described a similar arc. Not that I’m comparing myself to the rock icon, you understand; just that I find it interesting that Plant’s move into roots music mirrors precisely the path of a lot of ye olde time Zep fans I know.
I’m talking about Generation Jonesers who had Zeppelin as a staple of their musical diet and who have, through their own investigations, found their way into the folkways of the roots and alt.country scene that Plant is now involved with. What’s interesting to me is that the stories of these Gen Jonesers are often the same.
They were fanatical about whatever music they were into in their teenage years, were immersed in it so that it was a central part of their life and their identity, a state of affairs illustrated by the image of them moving into their first post-parental accommodation (generally a group house, often in another city) and taking with them — ahead of any other possessions — a milk crate (or ten) filled with LPs.
After that, moving into their twenties and thirties, getting jobs, maybe getting married, music was pushed more and more to the background. Other things, like air, became more central to their lives, though catching up with old friends, now flung to the four corners of the world, inevitably involved breaking out the old LPs, or maybe the repurchased CD versions of the old albums, and reminiscing endlessly about how great those bands were.
In fact, the advent of CDs was probably the first thing in the world of music that really grabbed their attention since…well, name an arbitrary date in the 70s. Of course, it was more a geeky interest in the technology rather than a rediscovery of music, and sure enough, the CDs we bought pretty much mirrored the LP collections we already had.
Good news for the likes of Robert Plant, no doubt.
I don’t know anyone who resented repurchasing the albums on CD, which probably says a lot about our immersion in a consumer culture, but it is also interesting to note the tremendous goodwill involved in such an uncomplaining financial commitment, a goodwill largely trashed by the music industry even since.
I also suspect there was an air of stupid, wide-eyed technophilia involved too, as if we expected the new format would offer up hitherto unnoticed magic within the music. Many would argue that, sonically, the opposite was the case.
But it is also true that buying the CDs of albums we already loved was a substitute for finding new music, and I wonder how that pans out in the greater scheme of things and how many new bands were neglected by record companies as they poured resources into reselling old rope?
Regardless, during these reunion sessions, any mention of “today’s music” was generally dismissed with a knowing scoff about all today’s bands being a pale imitation of the ones we grew up with, and that there hadn’t been any decent music released since…well, name an arbitrary date in the 70s.
Sure, we sometimes found an album we liked, though it was generally a solo album by someone from one of the “great” bands. (The one that comes to mind for me is the early 80s release of Robbie Robertson’s first solo release.) But by and large, music as a total immersion, life-affiriming part of existence was dead to us.
The LPs, if we hadn’t left them at the last group house, were relegated to the proverbial attic, and the milk crates went the way of, um, bottled milk in crates. There was a new-music shaped hole in the centre of many of us. And we felt the frustration.