Biography shows all sides of Led Zeppelin frontman

Carol A. Wright

By A Contributor

When I first heard Robert Plant belt out “Heartbreaker,” I was in a car being driven by one of my high school girlfriends. We were tooling around town on a mellow Saturday afternoon, taking a break from decorating a gymnasium for our junior prom, which was to take place that night.

Listening to that voice, I grew more and more energized. The music was brilliantly loud, which pleased us both as we nodded our heads and kept time with the heavy thunderous beat. It must have been a sign of good fate that we avoided any collisions. What bliss! It seemed as if we were put under a spell.

We had listened to a hundred other bands on the radio and were swept away by a great number of rock ‘n’ roll records we had in our collection. But nothing on earth or in heaven could even begin to compare to or take the place of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John “Bonzo” Bonham.

Can you tell, dear reader, how much I respect Led Zeppelin?

Many music critics, friends of the band and others have written biographies of Led Zeppelin. Some of them are staples, such as Stephen Davis’s “Hammer of the Gods” (1985, with a reprint in 2008) and “Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin: The Illustrated History of the Heaviest Band of All Time,” by Jon Bream (2008).

And there is one more that is worth reading: “Robert Plant: A Life,” by Paul Rees. This biography of Plant was published last year in hardcover. It’s just about as recent as you can get. However, this does not mean that it is the best and most informative account of the good and bad times of Plant’s personal and public life.

What I found most interesting was all of the resources and background references that Rees relied on to complete the biography. Rees gave much detail to Plant’s early years growing up in West Bromwich, in the heart of England’s industrial midlands. He was born there on Aug. 20, 1948. The singer had been fascinated with the Black Country, which consisted of the regions to the north and west of Birmingham.

It was this culture, environment and social atmosphere of the Black Country and the wildness of the terrain of Snowdonia National Park that led him on a mission to learn about mythology, gods, legends and folklore.

Years later, Plant would incorporate mythological themes in song lyrics. He studied J.R.R. Tolkien’s works intensely and often referred to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, its inhabitants and landscapes in his songs.

One can sense this time frame from songs like “Ramble On” (1969), “The Battle of Evermore” (1971), “Stairway to Heaven” (1971) and possibly “Kashmir” (1975).

Of course there are those who just can’t get enough of Plant’s rock star sexuality. They will be thrilled to read of Plant’s god-like body and his many affairs. There were lots of women in Plant’s life. And some say he still possesses a type of distinguished sex appeal despite the aging process. But what can anyone really do about getting older?

It’s no surprise that Plant, like so many young English lads, admired Elvis and many of the blues artists. At one point in the book, Rees writes that Plant was far more impressed by Bo Diddley than the Rolling Stones and other bands who sought power, glory and gold.

There are fun and funny accounts about Plant from musicians and friends. Some would admit that Plant was a real nice guy, and others would complain how soon his attitude would change.

One photographer was in the middle of a photo shoot with Plant who was as sweet and relaxed as could be, chatting away and swaying that gorgeous body one minute, then suddenly turning into a pompous brute and getting into the photographer’s face, asking, “Do you know how to take a Robert Plant picture? QUICKLY!”

As much as all of us do not like to admit it, there are always circumstances in our lives that cause us pain and sorrow. Plant has had his share of hurts. Losing a son, and later, losing a good friend and drummer, Bonham, known as Bonzo, caused Plant emotional, mental and spiritual heartbreak. It was interesting to learn of the other band members, but especially emotional when Rees touched upon Bonzo (who went wild watching Gene Krupa) and his son, Jason, who thankfully has followed in his father’s footsteps.

Yes, Led Zeppelin has had reunion concerts. A memorable one was given Dec. 10, 2007, at London’s O2 Arena. Here, Rees reveals Plant as a man who, now older, continues to judge himself and his performance. He worries. Does he still have it? Some critics say he had drained himself dry years ago. But other critics, fans, friends and authors like Rees still see a skilled, intelligent and creative musician/singer/songwriter who has “a whole lotta” drive to accomplish so much more. 

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