Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: Memphis Minnie, John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant
Original Release: Led Zeppelin IV
Definitive Version: The studio version.
When the Levee Breaks is one of those more obscure songs that I love way more than the big songs on a particular album. Actually, it’s rare when an album’s biggest hit is my favorite song. It happens. In fact, I have a few of them still to come, but typically I go for the Side B tracks.
In April 1982, as I was discovering that I liked Levee better even than Stairway, my short-term future was set. I had been accepted to Wabash College with a three-fourths tuition scholarship—as long as I maintained a B average. I even pledged the fraternity I wanted.
Why then was I having a panic attack? To a certain extent it was just how I lived back then. For a long time I was almost incapable of making a decision for fear of making a bad one. It was as though I wanted someone else to make the decision for me before I could let it go.
And so it was with college. There had been no indication that I wanted to do anything but go to Wabash. In fall 1981, I spent a weekend at both Wabash and DePauw, and as soon as I got to DePauw, I wished I still was at Wabash. Now, all of a sudden, I wasn’t sure.
Dad said, be sure. You’ve made no commitment that can’t be unchanged. Go to DePauw for another weekend—I’m sure he wanted me to go there all along—and then you’ll know.
So that’s what I did, on Kentucky Derby weekend in May. I’m pretty sure Dad and maybe my grandfather, who was on the Board of Trustees at DePauw, pulled a few strings, but I ended up staying at the Beta house, supposedly the best fraternity on campus. The guys there made me feel like a king, to woo me. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Kat was one of the strings they pulled.
The Betas had a huge party the Friday night. I’d been to a fraternity party before—at Wabash—but this was the first one that I really had fun at. Part of the reason was Kat.
One of the Betas was the older brother of a cool kid at UA. He didn’t know me from Adam, so he treated me like I wasn’t one of the uncool kids. Anyway, we were standing by the dance floor talking when we noticed this rather outgoing, and hot-looking, brunette dancing with, well, more or less everyone, like Nuke LaLoosh.
He had just told me about some of the women there who were, shall we say, endowed with a more morally casual attitude, and he said Kat was one of them. No sooner than he had, she grabbed both of us, and with a smile pulled us onto the dance floor.
Well, I didn’t need more of an invitation than that, so I did my best white-boy-with-a-stick-up-his-butt dance moves. (I was way more self-conscious about looking like a fool than I am now, which, of course, made me look like a fool.) The Beta quickly bowed out, but I kept it up, and it seemed like Kat was into me.
Before long, it was more than an assumption; it was acknowledged. For a number of reasons, as I’ll explain shortly, I’ve forgotten many of the details, but everything seemed to happen fast. One moment, this unknown girl was pulling me onto the dance floor. The next I was taking her upstairs to the room where I was a guest.
Now I have several problems here. An astute reader, like, say, me now, would ask: What possibly could be a problem for a 17-year-old male taking a college sophomore into a bedroom?
First off, I had no idea what to do. I mean, of course I knew from a sex-ed perspective what to do, but I had no hands-on experience, if you will, in such matters. I was a virgin who had been on only a handful of dates. I had no idea how to get from Point B to the finish line—and no idea what to do if I got there.
Another problem was I was completely unprepared for such a development from an infrastructure standpoint. I suppose condoms had to be in the bedroom somewhere, but I couldn’t go rooting around through other people’s drawers.
Besides, and this was the final problem, I’d told Kat that I was a Beta freshman and not some geeky high-school kid from Ohio. My lie meant that as soon as I tried to find … well, anything and failed, my ruse would be up.
In other words, I was in completely over my head here.
I did the best I could with what I had to work with. Kat took me from a few chaste kisses to a full-on makeout session that included touching beneath her top. Glorious! They really DO exist in more than just my imagination! In hindsight, I could have gotten a lot more if I had any idea what I was doing, but at the time what I got still was pretty damn good.
But, eventually, I ran out of luck and momentum. Kat fell asleep on me, probably out of boredom, and our night ended, like so many in my not-so-distant future, unconsummated. It didn’t help that once or twice, other guys came into the room and introduced themselves to me as though I were some geeky high-school kid from Ohio before apologizing and splitting. Sometime after midnight, I walked Kat to the door of the Beta house and never saw her again.
That was the highlight of my weekend, such as it was. The next day was a blur of memory slivers—watching the Derby in the basement where the dance floor had been the night before and going with a few guys to an off-campus party where I was even more out of my element.
The next morning I was awakened early, at about 7 a.m., in the fraternity dorm room in absolute agony as one of the worst leg cramps I ever had seized up on me. My leg muscle would not loosen despite my best administrations, and it was all I could do to not scream out in pain and wake everyone up. It put an exclamation point on the weekend.
When I got home, I told Dad I was sure: I was ready to go to Wabash.