The homily of Jimmy Page
Over the weekend I enjoyed reading a rather brutal piece in the Daily Mail about Ben Elton's new sitcom. I've not seen the show - I'll probably never see it - but it was interesting to read an argument built up around Elton being a shocking sellout given he made his name as a motor-mouth ranting against Thatcherism and other evils of the 1980s.
He was now churning out the sort of soft pap he once rallied against.
The column about Elton's new show in the context of his career was arguably just another example that could have been bent to fit Sick Boy's unifying theory of life ("beautifully f**king illustrated"). That idea that "we all get old, we cannae hack it anymore and that's it", as the scene from Trainspotting espouses, is certainly something that is bandied about in the music world - often by music writers, by fans and former fans.
And in the baby-boomer rock'n'roll world there are no shortage of suspects. This charge has been levelled at many - particularly, in terms of squandering early talent and selling out, the names Rod Stewart, Phil Collins and Eric Clapton tend to get mentioned. Often.
Eric Clapton's new album (called Old Sock, by the way) won't win you over if you gave up backing that horse a while ago (as well you should) and though Rockin' Rod is about to release Time, his first album of mostly self-penned songs (co-writes) in so very long, it still doesn't really excuse the last decade of butchering standards and then releasing a Christmas album.
Phil Collins? Well as soon as you mention him here you're branded a fan - but his best skill, his drumming, has been taken from him. He's too crook to hold the sticks these days. So there's not a lot of hope for any great return to form there.
Anyway, this article about Ben Elton got me thinking about musicians that have copped out, let the side down in terms of not delivering on early promise, coasted, rested on laurels, pissed it away, refused to step up through fear - ultimately. It's not so much that this topic needs to be linked to the Elton article; I'm just showing you the way in which my mind wandered.
(By the way, I'm sure the Ben Elton show is bad - he's been involved in plenty of clunkers, but you can't accuse him of resting on his laurels. This guy might well have become the sort of friend-of-the-Queen he hated but he is, at the least, still fronting up and doing the work. He's prolific. And he's diversified - novels, musicals, a return to stand-up - he can be accused of a lot of things but he can't be accused of not trying).
It's easy to point the finger at the Rods and Erics and Eltons for taking it far too easy, for having lost the fire, or looking silly in their misguided attempt to regain that spark, but the person I think I feel most let down by, in the music world, is Jimmy Page.
Jimmy Page, to this day, gets some strange free pass, as if that work he did with Led Zeppelin was enough - and will therefore always be enough; why is he not mocked for not being capable of stepping up in any real way since 1980?
It would only be acceptable for him to be held up as a can-do-no-wrong figure if he walked away from music completely after Led Zeppelin. But he can-do-wrong; plenty wrong. And his half-arsed solo career - fuelled by sporadic guest-work/collaborations - is actually appalling when you consider it.
Sure, there was the Death Wish II soundtrack (I'm a fan) but that's really about it. Oh, I own Outrider, I checked out The Firm (awful! Don't kid yourself otherwise) and then there was Coverdale/Page, which was a dress rehearsal for the Plant & Page reunion albums. I liked No Quarter (a lot) and I think Walking into Clarksdale has some great moments but that's it. That's not a lot to show for the nearly 35 years post-Zeppelin. And the Page/Plant albums don't really count as anything new; nor, really, does Coverdale/Page.
If you want to gush about hearing Plant with The Black Crowes, good on you. But like his reunions with Plant - and the eventual Led Zeppelin reunion (though of course there were a small handful of those over the years, actually; always awful) - Jimmy Page has not been capable of moving on.
There's an extraordinary piece of footage from the Arms concert (1983) where Page performs his version of Chopin's Prelude (from his Death Wish soundtrack). It's my favourite post-Zep moment for Page. Because it shows him vulnerable, all but junk-sick and struggling, strung out and trying his best - actually trying. Page played with such brilliant and beautiful emotion when at his best and there's an incredible truth in this snippet of footage. The rest of his work at that show is ropey at best; he should feel embarrassed there - and much later after inducting Jeff Beck into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame - to have Beck running rings around him.
You think back to that story you've seen tagged on so many budget compilations hawking the "three great guitarists from The Yardbirds". Clapton can still play. He's just boring - get him out on stage on the right night, though, and it's all still there. Beck is on fire, he's arguably the only influential guitarist of his generation who has continued to grow, continuing to expand the role - and vocabulary - of the guitar. And then you see Page. Rubbish. Drunk, drug-f**ked and struggling.
Page of course does not need to work - so instead he sits and grooms vanity projects, new Led Zeppelin reissues, finally releasing that waste of time reunion concert DVD and live album and appearing in that rubbish documentary with The Edge and Jack White. Gah!
He's stuck trading on what he is sure is a legacy and he's all but ruining it.
I hated watching the 2007 reunion concert film. I went to a preview screening and it bored me and, far worse than that, it saddened me - to see and hear Led Zeppelin finally feeling like a tribute act to themselves; a truncated, poor man's version of the band they once were. But, because Page was always erratic on stage there was - somehow - one of the best versions of Kashmir the band has ever offered. And there was a moment, mid-way through the version of In My Time of Dying,where things seemed to click for Page. He was nervous, he was scared, he somehow channelled that fear into moments of a great performance. But they were few and far between.
You watch Robert Plant rework Led Zeppelin songs with great musicians and you hear him move across and through music, all but shrugging the Zeppelin monkey off his back most of the time. He's not stuck. He's not lost. He's not past it, or had it, or struggling or shirking. He's out there working. Nailing it. And coming up with new and interesting ways back into old songs; he's reinventing himself and the music - and he now has a strong body of solo work.
But who is Jimmy Page? A sad old man who was great once. A rotten soul, by all accounts, punch-drunk from early fame, from the insecurities and addictions that ate at his psyche and soul, that stole his heart and ended the game for him.
He'll never do anything of value ever again. Beyond the next lot of Led Zeppelin remastering - primarily adding value to his bank account.
The work he did, when young, was awe-inspiring. He was great. He was flawed and wonderful for it. There was - at the right time - so much emotion in his playing. But he's a dead soul with a crippling fear of offering anything up beyond hackneyed trace-arounds of his former glories.
I find that far more sickening and saddening than easily avoided Christmas and covers albums.
Unlike Ben Elton Jimmy Page isn't even fronting up to do the work. He's just waiting for the work to come to him. If Jones and Plant agreed to a Led Zep world tour he'd be on that plane tomorrow, phoning it in and fluking it sometimes and at other times pissing on parts of a whole lotta legacy.
You can also check out Off the Tracks for The Vinyl Countdown, reviews and other posts.