I was recently watching the Kennedy Center Honors for Led Zeppelin, which was back in December 2012 (I just discovered it through a friend’s Facebook link with the flashy title “Look at Robert Plant in tears!” so of course, I had to see him crying) It was the most touching performance, showing Heart perform “Stairway to Heaven”, their all-time-classic. Touching, because you could definitely see real emotion in Robert Plant’s eyes as they get watery, immediately as the song starts. But it was just as much of a treat to see the expression on Jimmy Page’s face as he listens. He really is impressed by how good Nancy Wilson is with the guitar. This coming from a living legend, considered by some as the best guitar player of all time, is no small feat. How can I describe the pleasure and approval on his face? You need to watch the video for yourself.
As Heart kept unveiling surprises within the performance, both Plant and Page take pleasure in it like children. It starts off simple, with Ann and Nancy Wilson and a guitar. Then it keeps adding on drums, chorus, and lighting. Nothing extraordinary there, though it doesn’t hurt that they show the Obamas rocking to the music, also nodding their heads in approval. You also get to see Yo Yo Ma’s mini “head bang” during the infamous guitar solo…totally rocking to it, right before Ann Wilson sings “…And as we wind on down the road…!” you can really feel the build up and the audience’s anticipation right before that pivotal moment. I found that I got goosebumps and had to watch the thing over and over, which is something I always do when I sort of fall in love with a performance. It’s like I have to memorize and absorb each moment. And of course I had tears myself, let alone Plant choking back some tears at the end, especially when he sees there’s a gospel ensemble, the band members just lose it. (In a good way) You can read Page’s lips saying “WOW!”. The Wilson sisters mention in interviews how the band came to congratulate them after the performance. How Plant actually came to hate the song because so many bands butcher it. They actually loved Heart’s performance. Heart reportedly said something like, “…closing the tribute performance to the president, the first lady and the band itself–no pressure!” Right.
Watching this led me to research more about this fascinating band. I found out that Heart always did Led Zeppelin covers anyway, so they’re fluent in some of their covers, including Stairway.
First of all, they’re British. No surprise there. I also found out that Jimmy Page is the brain of the band, as so many other Capricorns are…(it’s interesting to note how in so many groups, the Capricorns are the brains of the bands. Other examples are Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, Dave Grohl from former Nirvana and present Foo Fighters, Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Kid Rock, etc. are all Capricorns. Also interesting to note a lot of lead singers are Leos, like Robert Plant himself, and Mick Jagger.) He pretty much founded the band. He says he always knew what he wanted and had a clear idea what the band should be like, so nothing was random. Page also took deep interest in the occult and even had an occult bookshop and publishing house but neglected it because of touring. It eventually closed in the 80’s. That interest in the occult influenced some songs, including Stairway itself. As well as Welsh Folklore. Some even claim that the lyrics to Stairway came from a long retreat the band was in at Bron-yr-Aur, right after an exhausting 15-month world tour in 1970. I am not sure if this is all true–but we all know that we love the song. I just like stories of songs.
Another example is Kashmir, which apparently represents the band’s trip to Morocco. The long guitar riff (a word I just learned) represents the long, unending road through Morocco and the Sahara Desert. Plant wrote the lyrics in 1973 while driving through the Sahara Desert on the way to the National Festival of folklore in Morocco. In Mojo magazine, September 2010, Plant explained: “‘Kashmir’ came from a trip Jimmy and me made down the Moroccan Atlantic coast, from Agadir down to Sidi Ifni. We were just the same as the other hippies really.” Apparently Zeppelin played this song in every live show from the song’s debut in 1975 to their last concert in 1980. Interesting fact. (1)
The last I want to mention is Immigrant Song. They opened all their shows between 1970-1972 with this song and it is said that Plant wrote it about Vikings supposedly invading western territories. It was inspired after their show in Reykjavik was canceled due to a strike, and they performed in a university’s concert hall instead. The song’s lyrics are written from the perspective of Vikings rowing west from Scandinavia in search of new lands. The lyrics make explicit reference to Viking conquests and the Old Norse religion (Fight the horde, sing and cry, Valhalla, I am coming!). (2) “Valhalla I am coming.” It refers to Norse Mythology. Valhalla is a hall in Asgard where the souls of fallen warriors are taken by the “Valkyries,” which are spirits of war who carry up heroes who have been slain. Only heroes are taken to Valhalla, where they will wait for their certain doom. (3) You get the idea. Jack Black sent Led Zeppelin a tape of him begging them to let him use the song for the movie “School of Rock”. He literally begs, and says the movie already kicks ass but will be SO much better if only they let him use the song. He even sings the famous “Aaaeeeaaaaaaaeeeee….” part (how can you transcribe that!). The band is allegedly known for not letting their songs be used in movies, but they let Black after seeing his tape. Black later talks about how begging for something you really want is so effective. I will have to agree.
The last interesting thing I had to note was to see how even Plant can get old. He looks like a grandpa at the Kennedy Honors, though still cool. It’s hard to believe he’s the same pervy looking guy wearing extremely tight pants that show “a bit too much” and who is very sexual on stage. That made his tears even more endearing. Though you’d have to be cold-blooded and heartless to not be affected by Heart’s tribute.
- source: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=356
- source: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=317
born in Canada, 1979. Senem graduated from University of Toronto with English and German double major. During her exchange year in Berlin, Humboldt University in 2001 she discovered yoga and became a yoga instructor in Toronto 2006. Resides in Istanbul since 2012.