Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page
Original Release: Led Zeppelin
Definitive Version: None
And speaking of playing hard and living to tell the tale …
If the tenet “When the Women Don’t Understand, Led Understands,” were a castle, this song would be one of the twin edifices guarding the main gate, paired with Hey Hey What Can I Do? And I had this song on my mind when I tested the limits of my despair over losing Beth in the summer of 1987.
The infamous summer night started out innocently enough, well, as innocently as any night that would be devoted to drinking on the Ohio State campus with friends could be. I was home in Columbus for a brief spell in between my internship at YMCA of the USA and the start of my final quarter at Northwestern, when Mike, Steve and I got together.
At one time, the drinking nexus at OSU was Papa Joe’s and Mustard’s, across High Street from one another, in the area called South Campus. Among the bars in that area was the less crowded Spring Break, which sold $5 two-gallon pails of beer.
I had started to drink only the previous fall, and I wasn’t anything like a regular, so my tolerance was low. (It certainly wasn’t what it would be by an infamous party in Flint seven years later.) Three guys, one two-gallon pail: You do the math.
The evening was a blast. We talked about everything, joked and just had a great time hanging out. Eventually, the pail emptied, and we got more beer. That final beer was irrelevant, because I already had passed the point of no return. I think the sight of me staggering around the back porch trying to find the exit convinced everyone that it was time to leave.
Mike drove—his new Acura—Steve rode shotgun and I was in the back. Steve lived close to the Condo, so Mike drove up I-315 to take us both home. I don’t remember what triggered it per se beyond the mere influence of alcohol, but all of a sudden, I decided now was time to tap the pain that I had stuffed down for months.
I started crying inconsolably, asking the burning question: Why? Why did Beth leave me? (The answer was obvious, of course, as I’ll explain later, but work with me here.) Steve climbed between the seats into the back and put his arm around me, telling me, it’ll be all right; it’ll be all right.
As soon as I let loose emotionally, it was time for my body to catch up. I was aware enough of my condition that I announced soberly, “Mike. Better pull over now.” He did, not far from Riverside Methodist Hospital. I opened the door and leaned out with Steve giving me a helpful push from the back and eliminated the some 100 ounces of beer that I had quaffed that night.
We made it to the Condo with no further incident, although I’m pretty sure I got sick once more after I got home.
The next day, I didn’t feel too bad. I didn’t have a hangover, and I don’t recall feeling particularly depleted. I definitely didn’t feel like having another drink though. When I went to my car, I found a note under a windshield wiper courtesy of Mike and Steve. It was a pencil drawing on a sheet of lined notebook paper that included a foamy beer mug and the statement, “Shwill-eye lives!”
I lived, indeed, and thrived even. Mike and Steve, I found out later, had brutal hangovers, probably because they hadn’t purged the evil humors from their body the way I had.
I also felt better emotionally. Soon after that incident, Jessica and I hooked up, officially breaking the ice in my post-Beth world, and I resolved that one day I’d make Beth pay for the great big hole in my heart, which only then finally began to heal.