Wednesday, May 14, 2014

No. 22 – Achilles Last Stand

Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant
Original Release: Presence
Year: 1976
Definitive Version: Destroyer, 1977.

Although the Destroyer version is almost a minute SHORTER than the original, it’s better—more volcanic in both its pace and power. I love how it starts, bubbling up as the reverberating echo of John Bonham’s crashing cymbals from the finale of Page’s guitar solo shimmer in the background. The ending also is more contemplative than the studio’s fade. The version from Knebworth also is excellent.

None of this is to say that there’s nothing good about the studio version, of course. I mean, what COULD be wrong with a Led Zeppelin song that tips the 10-minute mark?

When I saw that the disc from the Led Zeppelin box set that had Achilles Last Stand was on the juke at the original BW-3, I had to play it. A quarter for a 10-minute song is one of the best deals you’ll find. Achilles Last Stand was a regular play of every BW-3 run after the original, including one particularly infamous one in 1994.

In March 1994, the family descended on the Columbus homestead. The occasion was my grandfather’s 80th birthday. I came in the night before, because it was to be a surprise party. Everyone would come over to Dad and Laura’s house to set up, starting in the late afternoon, to help set up and be ready for when Meem and Pop arrived, under the pretense of just having dinner. Scott came the night before, too.

Well, if Scott and I were in Columbus together, that meant BW-3. On this particular night, Scott’s new fiancée, Shani, came with us. We didn’t make it a late night per se, but it had all the trappings of a typical BW-3 run: wings, tunes, trivia and some imbibement.

We had two pitchers, a shot of JD and a shot of Goldschlager, which Shani liked. The problem wasn’t the amount, it was that it was split evenly by all three people. That became apparent as soon as we got up to leave. Shani barely could move. Scott had to go to the bathroom, and he literally propped Shani between the two pinball machines next to the bathrooms, so she wouldn’t fall over.

We got Shani in the car, which, in a stroke of good fortune, was parked almost right outside. Scott put her in the back seat where she’d have room to crash (as was likely) or relieve herself without getting it on anything important (as seemed possible).

By this time, Shani, as self-aware as someone as plowed as she was could be, was apologizing profusely. She leaned forward between the two front seats (I was shotgun; Scott driving), and moaned another apology before asking what became the line of the visit: “Do you still love me, Will?” Then she promptly passed out … with her head between the two seats as though suddenly frozen in place. That’s how she remained the entire drive home as me and Scott looked at each other, him as though to say, sorry, man; me to say, she’s YOUR fiancée.

Accommodations were set up for me and Scott in the guest room upstairs and Shani in Scott’s bedroom in the basement, which was self-contained nicely with its own bathroom. We got Shani downstairs successfully, happier that we had a clean situation in the car.

Scott was a nervous wreck, though. He kept wanting to check in with Shani, to make sure she was OK. Come on, I told Scott, at one point practically dragging him upstairs, she just needs to sleep. She knows where the bathroom is if she needs it. Just leave her alone. Finally, we went to bed.

The next morning came soon enough, but by now I was well-versed in the art of relieving symptoms of a pervious night’s debauchery. Actually, I hadn’t had that much compared with my regular intake at the time, so I was fine. Scott was OK. Shani, however …

As all the other kids and grandkids arrived to set up decorations and help prepare food, Shani spent a lot of time out of the way of activity and away from prying eyes in the basement. At one point, while I ran some errand away from home, Shani attempted to have breakfast. She had one Trix—not one bowl, one piece of Trix cereal.

By the time the actual event was about to start, Shani no longer resembled a zombie. Later, when Laura learned the details of Shani’s ailment, she uttered the second line of the trip: “Well, I guess that explains why she didn’t feel like blowing up balloons.” No kidding.

The event itself went off great. Both grandparents were surprised. After dinner, we moved into the living room to hand out presents. We were asked to come up with a granddad story for the occasion. I told the story of how Beth met my grandfather.

When Pop came over to meet Beth at Dad and Laura’s house, he rode over on his motorcycle. Beth said later when she looked out the window and saw him come up the driveway, she didn’t know my grandfather was a member of Hell’s Angels.

It was a good story, but I blew the present. I had the perfect opportunity to get him a Hell’s Angels decal or something similarly badass for his motorcycle helmet. Instead, I got him an umbrella, which was something he said he wanted and needed. I made up for it, however, though by writing—and reciting—a poem about family. That was well-received.

The day was a great day. It was the last time I saw Meemaw as herself before her quick and final decline a month later. It was nice that her final family outing was so good.

Unfortunately, it was a day that became tinged with regret, and I don’t mean my misguided gift. You see, everyone had a great time, but not everyone was there. In fact, out of the entire extended family, only one person didn’t make it: Jin.

She had moved to Los Angeles just a few months before and didn’t have the money for a one-day turnaround plane ticket (the party was on a Tuesday). She was there in spirit though. Her story—in the form of a letter—was read first, and it set a perfect tone. No one wanted to follow it, before I finally said, well, someone has to be The Monkees following Jimi Hendrix on stage …

I called Jin that evening, telling her about the festivities, and she began to cry on the phone because she wasn’t there. That’s when I realized that I should’ve stepped forward and bought her plane ticket home. It was a lot of money—more than I was willing, obviously, to part with as a gift. But … I had it. It might have been overly generous, but it would have been the right thing to do, and I wished I’d done it.

Jin never faulted me though. She said Dad easily could have afforded her plane ticket, but he never made the offer, so she didn’t come. Because of that, it wasn’t the perfect day that it could have been. At least Shani felt better at the end of the day.

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