Shocking stories about Led Zeppelin at the height of their fame abound, with all the bombed-out rock-and-roll debauchery you could want: the ubiquitous hard drugs and harder drinking, destroying hotel rooms, savagely beating a stagehand before a performance, traveling in a pimped-out private jet, keeping groupies handcuffed to hotel beds, affairs with underage girls, that crazy rumor about the mud shark. Somehow, though, Zeppelin got away with all their bad behavior, and are still revered today as one of the greatest bands in rock history. Disgraceland host Jake Brennan examines their lasting legacy on this episode to find out if their staying power has anything to do with the dark arts practiced by guitarist and visionary Jimmy Page. His experiences with dark magick were intense enough to seriously disturb his contemporary, David Bowie, to the point that he had his house exorcised after a visit from Jimmy. Bandmates’ lives were marked with tragedy, but, as Jake points out, “Have you seen Jimmy Page lately? He's 75 years old and despite a decade plus of hard drug and alcohol use, he looks great, is dating a beautiful 29 year old poet...remains one of the most beloved rock stars to ever pick up an instrument, and the allure with Led Zeppelin is as powerful as ever. His relatively untarnished image and legacy either magick...or disgrace.”
The supercharged, powerful rock sound Led Zeppelin created was Jimmy’s vision, and he chose his bandmates well: John Bonham, the power behind the drums, John Paul Jones, “a freak of a musician on bass,” hippie frontman Robert Plant, and the immensely talented Jimmy himself. It was a winning combination: “The demand for Led Zeppelin tickets was so intense,” Jake says, that the group demanded a higher cut of ticket sales; instead of the then-customary 10 percent, “Zeppelin would take 90 percent, f**k you very much.” They started knocking The Beatles off the charts and selling more tickets than the Rolling Stones, but music critics were lukewarm at best; “Lester Bangs...warned of their ‘insensitive grossness,’” Jake tells us. “The kind...that grows with unchecked power. Dark power, the only kind of power Jimmy Page was interested in.”
With that unchecked power came a lot of unchecked behavior, all of it adding to the “brand of glamour and mystique” Jimmy had been looking for when he put together his powerhouse rock outfit. “For Jimmy Page, glamour didn’t mean wealth or celebrity...glamour is a kind of magic spell, a Jedi mind trick produced through sheer charismatic power -- and for those truly in the know, esoteric ritual.” Thanks to the teachings of the occultist Aleister Crowley, Jimmy had the information he needed to cast that spell for himself. Perhaps, as Jake points out, it’s not very surprising that a hard-partying rock star had an affinity for Crowley’s writings: “Aleister Crowley sought to tear out society's bourgeois morality root and stem through orgies and ancient spells. And you know who likes orgies? Rock stars.” Jimmy wanted to make innovative music, “music that could compel and entrance,” and the key was in the “ancient rituals...the ability to commune with creatures and consciousness from other planes of reality...writings which squares fearfully labeled ‘dark arts.’” Jimmy even had Crowley’s mantra of free will, “Do As Thou Wilt,” scratched into the vinyl on one of Zeppelin’s records.
Jimmy wasn’t afraid of the power of the dark arts, but maybe he should have been: Among the band's other troubles, Robert Plant’s five-year-old son died suddenly of a stomach virus while the group was on tour, and days before they embarked on another tour years later, Bonham drank 60 shots of vodka, choked on his own vomit, and died. “‘Do as thou wilt’, but at what cost?” Jake asks. “Thuggery, statutory rape, drug addiction, alcoholism, a car crash, a dead kid, and a dead drummer. Had Led Zeppelin and those they encountered suffered in proportion to how deeply they drank from the devil's cup?”
Find out more about Led Zeppelin’s legendary life on tour, Jimmy Page’s brush with demonic forces, and the story he told that freaked Bowie out so much, on this episode of Disgraceland.
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