REPOST: Why Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant Still Refuses To Be A Prisoner Of Success

A Led Zeppelin reunion may never happen. Thirty-four years after the band quit making music following the death of drummer John Bonham, the surviving members seem to be resolute on their decision. Lead vocalist Robert Plant is particularly headstrong about avoiding a nostalgia trip despite big-money offers. Forbes’ Rob Ashgar has the full details below:

A successful person will never have peace unless he or she can finally walk away from the big stage, on his or her own terms. Otherwise, such a person will become a prisoner of life’s big parade, a mere monkey to the organ grinders of the world.

That brings us to Led Zeppelin, considered by many to be the greatest of rock bands. Thirty-four years ago today, the three surviving members of the group announced they would disband after the sudden death of the man considered by many to be the greatest of rock drummers, John Bonham.

Their statement went down in musical history for its poignant brevity:

We wish it to be known, that the loss of our dear friend and the deep respect we have for his family, together with the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.

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That was that. Until it wasn’t. Not long after, the immense respect for Bonham was outweighed by immense nostalgia on the part of band members—and especially their hordes of fans, who only became more numerous and passionate as the years went by.

The fly in the ointment, the turd in the reunion punchbowl, consistently, was lead singer Robert Plant. Plant, who idolized Elvis, had long said that he despised the cartoonish Las Vegas oldies phase of the King. He would not be pulled into such a witless sunset, and he knew the easiest way to be pulled into it would be to team up again with guitarist Jimmy Page and multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones, to tour stadiums, shovel fresh cash into their vaults, and be the butt of jokes about over-the-hill people who don’t know when to quit.

“I’m not a prisoner of the big parade,” Plant sang defiantly about 30 years ago, early in his solo career. But the Internet being what it is, some lyrics websites quote Plant as singing “I’m not a prisoner, I’m the Big Beret.” Huh?

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Maybe that explains it: People simply misunderstood his words and his point, and so they continue to try to drag the Big Beret back to the Big Parade, against his will and better judgment. In recent weeks reports arose about Sir Richard Branson himself putting up a chunk of his fortune to incentivize a Zeppelin reunion. Branson squashed the rumor, saying that, as much as he loved the group, he deeply respected Plant’s desire to do his own music on his own terms, even though it meant doing it on a smaller stage. “As Robert told me,” Branson said, ‘Look, Richard, I just do things because I love them and I want to do more new things that I love.’ I couldn’t agree more.”

Author and prominent rock critic Charles R. Cross is among those who believes that, aside from quenching nostalgic thirst, there’s little artistic or commercial reason compelling a reunion.

“Almost every reunion tour is motivated first by money,” Cross told me this week by email. “But sometimes there’s also a motivation to reframe a group in history by repositioning their catalog into a modern context, particularly when the group’s work has been neglected by time. In the case of Led Zeppelin, none of the members need the money–though the offers for the reunion are insane. But they also don’t need to be reconsidered, as that music still has a vitality and remains at the center of modern rock music, even decades later. So kudos to Robert Plant for being one of the first people in rock to simply accept his legacy, and his already large bank account, and avoid a nostalgia trip.”

Cross, who happens to be the author of two excellent books about Zeppelin (Heaven and Hell and Shadows Taller Than Our Souls) in addition to influential bios of Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix, confesses he has mixed feelings. “As a music critic, I applaud Plant for sticking to his guns,” he wrote. “As a music fan and a Led Zeppelin fanatic, I’d of course love the chance to see the tour–but I’m also glad that at least I don’t get a chance to see a diminished Led Zeppelin.”

I wrote a piece in 2012 praising Plant for his willingness to exit the Big Parade, and I ended up getting more criticism than for any other piece I’ve ever written. As someone who’s written a lot about politics and religion, I found that interesting. Fans verbally mauled me (and Plant) out of frustration with his refusal to “give the people what they want.”

What the people want is to see Zeppelin in its glory. But its true glory exists somewhere else now. As Cross says, “They survive on those albums, concert bootlegs, and only in memory, the one band that still stands untarnished by compromise.”

Untarnished by compromise. That’s indeed the best reason to quite while you’re spectacularly ahead. Zeppelin has grown in mystique and critical acclaim since that somber day 34 years ago. Their peers of the rock pantheon, like the Rolling Stones and Who, have been able to give fans a nostalgia blast on a regular basis, but at the expense of a certain amount of their musical credibility.

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Meanwhile, anyone who wants to relive the full roar of the old Zeppelin glory simply needs to go the 7:15 mark of this video, as the original, full band takes a bow at Knebworth 35 years ago. It was one of the final true glimpses of that era (to quote the title of Mick Wall’s Zeppelin biography) “When Giants Walked the Earth.”

And since then, Plant has made his stand. He won’t be bought. And “the Big Beret” still won’t be a prisoner of the Big Parade. More power to him. He’s found a pathway to a more meaningful kind of success than what the rest of us futilely chase.

As much as I love Led Zeppelin, I don’t think their glory can be revived by a reunion. Strike me a up with a conversation about the band on this Brent Morgan Waco Facebook page.


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