Sometime during my teen years I was watching rock/pop music on TV and my mother, a classically trained singer and pianist, assured me this music would never last. It was her way of telling me that she thought the music of little value and that I’d be better off spending my leisure time on other things. We often debated this question. I remember another day when I again was watching TV in the lounge and she came through from the kitchen asking ‘who is that with the beautiful speaking voice’? She was shocked to see a long haired, bearded and bizarre character speaking. It was in fact Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.
I don’t remember really having any sense of belief at the time that the music I loved would last. As I grew older I learned that the pop/rock music of the 60s and 70s represented a radical change from what had gone before, both in terms of sound – they’re had been nothing like it – and the cultural values held by many of its exponents. Long hair and outrageous appearance and on and off stage behaviour was par for the course. As a teenager and early 20 something I was proud that I was part of a new generation that had at least in some sense changed the world. And it satisfied my natural tendency towards rebellion and rejection of my parents’ and mainstream values.
Last night a Facebook friend (who is incidentally also a good friend in ‘real’ life) posted a link to a video from a memorial concert in honour of the pioneer rock band, Led Zeppelin. The video featured a live performance of Stairway to Heaven by Ann and Nancy Wilson. Complete with choir and orchestra I really enjoyed this superb version of ‘Stairway’. But what moved me more was watching the reaction of three of the original members of Led Zeppelin – Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones. Once wild men of rock they were seated in the audience dressed in suits and had it seemed turned into thoroughly respectable old men.
Robert Plant seemed stunned at what he was witnessing. His eyes welled up with tears, and he stared at the performance happening on stage with a kind of ‘what have I done? what did I do?’ expression. But in a positive sense. It was as if he was realising for the first time the beauty and the power of the song he and Jimmy Page had created 44 years earlier. So Stairway to Heaven has lasted and has been enriched and transformed by a new generation of musicians. (John Bonham’s son played drums in this performance.)
My own eyes began to well up as I watched and listened to this wonderful rendition of ‘Stairway’ until I was finally quite simply crying. Crying In support of Robert Plant. As my wife commented I just want to give him a hug. Crying too because I remembered that comment of my mother’s all those years ago and I realised, if I hadn’t before, that the music of my generation has been validated. We weren’t just listening to a passing fad or an aberration in the history of music. We had been part of huge and powerful cultural change that has left an indelible stamp on the world. It did have value.
You could scoff and bemoan the fact I guess that the Led Zap boys are now respectable senior members of the community and wear suits – Robert Plant often performed bare chested for heaven’s sake – but they are no longer wild and provocative young men. They don’t need to be. They, and many of their peers, created music that was the wind beneath the wings of a generation and it is clear now that much of it will outlast them and the generation that is growing old with them.
I felt proud watching this performance that I had made the choices I had, that I had listened to this ‘devil music’ from an early age and I want to believe now that I knew instinctively all those years ago that something huge was happening, and that our music had value. It’s a big call but it felt like it validated much of my life and who I am.
For another example of how another wild man of rock has become part of the musical establishment watch Ian Anderson singing Wondering Aloud with a chamber orchestra.
You were wrong Mum.