Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant
Original Release: Physical Graffiti
Definitive Version: Destroyer, 1977
Introducing this song on Destroyer, Robert Plant says, “This is about your first love—the one you never forget.” Damn right.
It’s hard to believe now that it’s coming up on 28 years since that illicit trip with Beth to Put-in-Bay. I have memories of that time, of course, but it’s like I have no connection to them. It’s like I know I did that only because I see the pictures in a photo book and recognize that the skinny guy in those pictures is me.
After we broke up, I’ve seen Beth only three more times. The first time was in the summer of 1987. I was home for some reason—I think it was a break between my internship at YMCA of the USA and before I started my final quarter at Northwestern.
Earlier, I had got a letter from Erin, Beth’s sister, to say the next time I was in town to get together for lunch and catch up. It wasn’t like she was moving in on me, just more to see that I was doing OK, I think. No matter, it was innocent from my point of view.
Anyway, Beth obviously knew about it, because she made it a point to answer the door on her way out to see her guy dressed to the nines. She had on a tiger-print top and tight white pants. Her hair was freshly permed, just the way I liked it. There was no doubt that she was showing me what I once had and would never have again. It didn’t bother me like it was supposed to, but it still was well-played by Beth.
The next time was, I think, sometime in 1989. I was home—again I don’t remember why—and I stopped by the laundromat where Beth’s mom worked to say, hey, like usual.
That time, though, Mrs. Mac told me that Beth had just started work as a bank teller across the street. Well, I had to pop in and say, hey, to her, too. It was even more different and detached this time. I still was recovering from Melanie, which had a profound effect on me—particularly with respect to my feelings toward Beth. Beth and I chatted for a long time while she worked, and it was very warm, almost like old friends catching up.
The third and, until further notice, final time I saw Beth was under less pleasant circumstances, as I mentioned—in February 1994, when I stopped by to see how Mrs. Mac was faring after the sudden death of her husband. I wasn’t expecting to see Beth that day. She happened to come over at about the same time as I did and brought her new son with her. That should have felt more weird than it did.
The conversation was normal. Obviously, Mrs. Mac was having a difficult time, but we kept it friendly the brief time I was there. I remember at one point Mrs. Mac was complaining about this new album that Erin left down in the basement and how it featured this crazy song about eating your cancer when it turns black. Oh, you mean Heart-Shaped Box by Nirvana? I asked. Beth laughed. I knew you’d know that song.
I gave Beth the poem I had written for her son about the grandfather he’d never know. She thanked me for it. When I left, Beth was in the kitchen with her boy and her grandmother, whom I also hadn’t seen since we broke up who said she remembered me but in all probability was just being nice.
Beth said she was going to leave soon, and I was hoping we’d leave at the same time, because I wanted to just say a word to her in person—nothing heavy, just that it was good to see her again. Closure, you know?
But she didn’t, and I haven’t seen her since. Nineteen Years Gone is more like it. Percy’s statement was on the money: Even though it all happened a lifetime ago, and many of my memories are consigned to a photo album, I’ll never forget Beth.