Friday, December 7, 2012

No. 545 – The Song Remains the Same

Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant
Original Release: Houses of the Holy
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: The Song Remains the Same, 1976, natch

Of course, I knew of Led Zeppelin. You couldn’t live through the Seventies and not know about Led Zeppelin, but it wasn’t until the end of the decade when I really found Led Zeppelin.

After my great musical awakening in the early fall of 1979, I was eager to find more music. The Who begat Jimi Hendrix and, really, the entire Woodstock lineup: Janis, Santana, even Richie Havens to a lesser extent (but not Jefferson Airplane, alas). I already was well-versed in CSN (and Y).

That fall, I started at Upper Arlington High School, as a sophomore (10th grade). My hazing period at junior high was long over, and I was looking forward to new experiences and possibilities. If nothing else, it would be a bigger school, so blending in and disappearing would be a lot easier.

But gym class was another matter. I loved gym—loved playing games—and was generally good at it. However, UA had (and still has) a natatorium, and swimming was required of all sophomores who take gym, which was everyone. This was a problem, because, first, I wasn’t a very good swimmer. In fact, I was lousy.

I know: How does someone who spent time during the summer on a lake be a bad swimmer? It wasn’t that I didn’t know how; it was that at the time, I didn’t have much upper-body or lung strength. (I suppose the latter might have had anything to do with the fact that I lived with my mom, who smoked three packs a day.) Consequently, I didn’t have any speed or endurance in the water.

Second, and this was more crucial being a 15-year-old, I was extremely self-conscious about my appearance. Simply put, I never went to the pool—and Upper Arlington had a very well-attended and relatively inexpensive public pool system. I never went because I never wanted to take off my shirt in public.

The reason was simple: Under my shirt, I looked like Quasimodo. You know how sportswriters say you can tell the juicers just by looking at their backne? I don’t have to see it to know that’s accurate, because during puberty, I had so much testosterone flowing through me, it was literally shooting out my back, which looked like a war zone of craters and eruptions.

Well, who wants to see that—particularly girls that you like? I kept my shirt on and was a crap swimmer as a result.

Early that school year, we had a day of swimming trials where every student in my gym class would be assigned to his or her swimming group. Naturally, I was a 1—the baby-pool group, if you will. The good news was my group would go later, closer to Christmas and the end of the semester, which was fine with me—anything to put off the inevitable, so my rep wasn’t buried for the next three years in the first week of class.

When it came time for my group to start with swim class, I got another break: The first week was cancelled due to some problem with the pool that required draining it and making repairs. So, gym class became essentially a study hall, where we’d sit in the natatorium bleachers working on homework or whatever.

One day, the gym teacher put music, either stuff she brought or what a student brought, I can’t recall, over the p.a. of the natatorium, so we could listen. It was The Song Remains the Same.

The first song, of course, is Rock and Roll, which I knew, followed by Celebration Day, which I didn’t. OK, Led Zeppelin, whatever. Then this song came on. Now this was something different. I can’t say I liked it right away, but it was something I’d never heard before that didn’t automatically sound like everything else I knew.

The next song—The Rain Song—was the eye-opener. I knew Stairway, of course (how could you not?), but this was altogether different—as light as dew on the morning grass and without the heavy-duty explosion at the end that Stairway features. THIS is Led Zeppelin? OK, now you have my attention. The next song, of course, is Dazed and Confused—the 26-minute version of Dazed and Confused that includes Page’s bowed guitar. Woah.

I didn’t rush out that day or week or probably even month to buy The Song Remains the Same after that. In fact, it’s possible I didn’t get it till 1980, but I definitely had it on my radar. After I got it, the rest is history, and The Song Remains the Same ranks as one of the most important albums of my life, right up there with The Kids Are Alright, Seconds Out and Ten.

As for swimming class itself, we finally got in the pool, and it turned out to not be so bad. Friends in other groups said all they did all class—45 minutes worth—was swim laps. We sad sacks mostly played water polo, water basketball, water volleyball.

We ended up with the much better deal. Plus, I was introduced to Led Zeppelin to boot.

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