Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day : Why The Duck Face Matters
(We have some sweet independent film theaters in Maine; Railroad Square up in Waterville is one of our favorites, well worth the hour or so drive from where we live. Over the years, they’ve brought us Festival Express ; Jonathan Demme’s Neil Young documentaries; and earlier this year Tigger and I watched Marley at Railroad Square weeks after wearing my reading glasses and watching a review stream on my Mac in preparation to interview director Kevin Macdonald. They’ve provided countless hours of non-music-related entertainment on their screens, as well. And the popcorn’s always popping right then. You may never be anywhere near Waterville, ME – but if you do, check out Railroad Square. And in any case, support your local folks whether it’s film, books, or music. Inventory is no replacement for soul.)
We bought our tickets and entered the theater 15 minutes or so before show time. There were a handful of folks there – at least as old as us – spread out amongst the seats. By the time the lights went down, there were a couple dozen or so. It was a little disappointing (the sort of thing that makes you question yourself, I suppose) but one thing was true – the people who were there were there for a reason, which was cool.
The movie wasted no time in getting to the meat of the matter; the opening moments were shot from the darkened O2 seconds before the band hit the stage. A newscast from 1973 was superimposed on the scene – a report on Led Zep’s attendance-record-breaking performance in Tampa, FL – with the commentators looking and sounding like geek scientists watching the band from the safety of a plate-glassed observation station. (“I’m pleased to say that one of the group’s four members has my same name – that’s John Paul Jones and he’s their bass player,” reports one of the newsmen. Jesus … )
There was enough light being emitted from raised cellphones and exits to allow you to realize that the camera was peering down onto the stage from high in the rafters as the click of drumsticks counting off the opening song could be plainly heard.
You have undoubtedly noticed that I haven’t mentioned the band’s drummer for the O2 performance yet – and I have my reasons. Not because he doesn’t deserve it; far from it. If anything, Jason Bonham was the night’s hero – the below-decks engineer who drove the beast while perched where his father had last sat 27 years before. Jason’s presence – and his own experience – was of a different kind, that’s all. His playing was marvelous: a mix of his father’s grooves and rhythms conjured up by the night’s music itself … a feat and fact made all the more surreal by the math of the matter. Jason was certainly the young lad of the group on that night in December of 2007 – but you have to remember that he was, at that moment, 9 years older than his father was when he died.
The count led into the opening slams of “Good Times Bad Times” – an appropriate liftoff for a number of reasons. There was the visual drama of the blackness exploding with light in sync with the crashing rhythm; there was the fact that the tune was the first song on the first side of the first Zeppelin album; and then there were the lyrics, first sung by Plant in 1969 – and fitting the bill quite well 38 years later:
In the days of my youth
I was told what it means to be a man
Now I’ve reached that age
I’ve tried to do all those things the best I can
No matter how I try
I find my way into the same old jam
Good times bad times
You know I’ve had my share …
The camera landed on the stage as Plant tore into the verse – voice sounding strong and solid, Jason backing him with headset mic clamped around his shaven skull as he walloped the hell out of his kit.
What I was there for came seconds later: John Paul Jones – by nature the most reserved on stage – turned from Jason to face the stage; for a moment or two, his attention was focused on his fretting hand, but then as the band thudded to the end of “… to be a man …” Jones was totally gathered up in the groove and made THE DUCK FACE.