An Open Letter to Robert Plant…

Onyx Truth Contributor:  J.S. Franklin

Dear Robert Plant,

After seeing that you’re preparing to embark on yet another musical tour with a band other than Led Zeppelin I decided to write this letter to you not as a protest against what you’re currently doing, but rather as a plea to end your decades long hiatus and resume creating what was and still is truly magnificent and unparalleled art.  If you’ll just take a few minutes from your day and indulge me I’d like to begin with a story.

As a kid growing up in the late 80’s and 90’s I came up listening to the typical bands of that era, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Nirvana, The Offspring, Pearl Jam, etc… And I believed these bands to be the pinnacle of musical ability.  Back before the internet and the age of instant gratification music was very much our expressive outlet and I was just as engrossed in the bands of that time as any other kid my age.  I had just gotten my first stereo and real 90’s grunge blasted from it constantly.  I laughed at my Dad with his Pink Floyd and Moody Blues records, lecturing me about how “kids my age age don’t know what real music is.”  Long winded, overly complex, often slowly paced; it was the sound of “old” music on an ancient medium.  The music of my generation was clearly superior with its grungy, heavy metal sound, gratuitous use of distortion, and often unintelligible lyrics.  Dad knew nothing of real music.

And then one summer around 1995 when I was about 12 I was down visiting family at my Uncle’s house.  The “adults” were out of the house leaving me and my two slightly older cousins home alone for the evening.  So we commenced to do what kids our age did, play hard rocking 90’s music at ridiculous volume.  We started with the usual suspects, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Metallica, a little Sublime for good measure.  Then my cousin Nick decided to change it up and play someone I had never heard of before.  My other cousin Dustin started to get really excited at the prospect and so my anticipation began to build.  I can still remember the moment my musical world was forever changed with perfect clarity.  The nondescript, unassuming lead-in followed by the soulful wailing of a rock and roll angel, “Hey, hey mama said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove”, and then a guitar riff of such divine quality that it stopped me cold as it reverberated through my head.  It was life-changing, world-shaking.

“Who is this?”  I asked in astonishment.  “You’ve never heard of Led Zeppelin?”  Nick retorted incredulously.  I never had.  Until that moment I had been living in a world of blissful, musical ignorance; a fool’s paradise of mediocre to good bands hiding behind power chords and distortion effects.  We listened to the entirety of Led Zeppelin IV (also called Zoso by some), from Black Dog, to Rock and Roll and The Battle of Evermore, the iconic Stairway to Heaven, through Misty Mountain Hop and Four Sticks, the mournful Going to California, and one of the hardest rocking songs ever recorded When the Levee Breaks.  It was a transcendent experience.

From that night on I was changed.  Led Zeppelin became my world.  I eventually bought a collection of the first four albums on CD and I listened to them night and day.  I didn’t think it could get any better than Stairway and Levee Breaks until I heard the likes of Whole Lotta Love, Kashmir, Baby I’m Gonna Leave You and No Quarter.  My mind was blown.  It occurred to me that if a band from the 70’s could be this incredible, might there be other good music made during that time?  Could Dad actually know something about music that I didn’t?  I began raiding his music cabinet for new bands to experience.  In addition to the aforementioned Pink Floyd and Moody Blues I discovered AC/DC, Supertramp, Santana, Eric Clapton, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Allan Parsons, Allman Brothers and more.  I was floored, Dad had known about amazing music all this time and he had kept it hidden from me!

From then on the landscape of my musical world was different.  Everything I had listened to prior to my awakening was somehow degraded.  My copy of Smash began collecting dust, Lithium became a coaster.  None of my favorite bands seemed quite as good as they once did.  I had discovered real rock and roll and nothing else could truly compare.  And for the last twenty years that has been the narrative of my musical world.  The majority of modern rock and roll simply doesn’t compare to real rock music.  It doesn’t possess the same soul, the same heart, or even the same level of skill and complexity.  It lacks the layers and intricacy that makes Led Zeppelin’s music so intensely enjoyable.

Over the years my musical taste has continued to grow as I have incorporated new sounds and genres and discovered new artists.  I found Motown, blues, Southern Soul, R&B (real R&B not today’s R&B).  I discovered the Beatles (after 1965), The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys (SMiLE is one of the greatest albums ever recorded), Jimmy Hendrix, James Brown, and the Yardbirds (forerunner to the greatest band of all-time).  I have my own record player now so I can sit and drink Scotch and experience this wonderful music in its original form, as it is meant to be experienced.  And all of this is due to one night years ago and a musical experience that blew my young mind.  That is the power of Led Zeppelin.

The reason I’m writing this letter Mr. Plant is because Led Zeppelin isn’t just a great band from wonderful era in rock music.  Led Zeppelin is a rock and roll legend, the rock and roll legend.  Led Zeppelin’s music isn’t just great music, it’s artistry with the power to change lives.  I read the interview you gave to Rolling Stone last year and I know what you said about Led Zeppelin being the past and not wanting to relive the glory of yesterday in front of an audience of 65-70 year-old’s also trying to relive past years.  But what you don’t understand is that your music spans across generations.  Led Zeppelin is a natural resource of rock and roll for people of all ages.  If you were to take a survey of every rock band that has come along in the last 30 years plus, the vast majority would list Led Zeppelin as their primary inspiration.  It isn’t just about people who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s listening to your music; it’s about people my age who, through you, discovered an incredible world of musical artistry previously unknown to us.  It’s about people even younger than me, children even, experiencing joy of real rock music through what you created.

I’m sure from your position you don’t really see that; you don’t fully recognize what Led Zeppelin means to the younger generations but I’ll tell you.  Last year I went to see Alice in Chains (one of my favorites) perform in Atlantic City.  The average age of the crowd was probably late 30’s, maybe 40; but the range was from as old as 60 to as young as 10.  Mid-way through the show, in between songs Jerry Cantrell thoughtlessly strummed the first few notes to Over the Hills and Far Away; the crowd erupted with joy bordering on insanity.  Hardly a soul in that auditorium didn’t recognize the song instantly.  Seeing our reaction Cantrell played a few more bars; we completely lost our minds.  Those few bars of music earned the loudest applause of the entire show, it was incredible.  If you want further proof of how important your music is to the younger generations look no further than this adorable video of a classroom of ten year-old’s absolutely nailing a medley of your music on xylophones.

You said you don’t want to do a highly commercialized world tour playing in front of sold-out stadiums; so don’t play stadium shows and leave the big promoters out of it.  You said you don’t care about making hundreds of millions of dollars; so don’t do it for the money, don’t do it for any money if it makes you feel better.  You said you don’t want to play the same old songs again, but those “same old songs” are masterpieces.  The music Led Zeppelin created is the artistic equivalent of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, or Braque’s “Houses at l’Estaque” in that it changed the entire landscape of rock music.  But if you truly feel that way then get back in the studio and make new masterpieces.

Led Zeppelin’s music is profoundly important to hundreds of millions of people around the world, of all ages, who feel just as I do.  Like the rest of us Mr. Plant you wont live forever, and one day Led Zeppelin will be truly lost to us.  Just the thought of it makes my eyes well up.  Don’t deprive the world of one last chance to experience true artistry.  Allow the older generations the opportunity to hear your sounds and close their eyes and remember back to the first time they pulled the plastic off Led Zeppelin, dropped it on the table and heard Good Times Bad Times.  Allow people like me to rediscover the music that changed our world’s and taught us the true meaning of rock and roll.  Allow the younger generations to chance to experience the transformative power of your music first hand.  Allow us all to share in the magic of Led Zeppelin one last time.  Don’t do it for the money, don’t do it for the fame and glory, don’t do it to relive the glory days, don’t even do it for your band-mates.  Do it for the countless millions whose lives you have touched, do it for us.

Thank you Mr. Plant for all you and Led Zeppelin have done for me, be well.

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