Monday, August 9, 2010

I Saw Led Zeppelin Twice. They Sucked Once. (Songs 'n' The Hoods Part 4)

When you're barely a teenager, few decisions are your own, money is scarce, and if you wanted something or yearned to go somewhere, it usually involved some planning and scheming, and occasionally some begging and whining. (Actually, with 50 not so far in my future, nothing much in my life has changed.)

Led Zeppelin's New York visit in February of 1975 was the buzz of the block. No one my age gave a rat's ass about this band, so I shared the excitement with my uncle's friends, who were all ten years older. I remember this evening vividly.

I walked from Broome Street to Spring Street just as it started to get dark. It was a nightly routine to get the evening paper for my grandfather and the best vanilla ice cream for myself at Sam & Al's, the all-purpose hole in the wall, where everything from egg creams, spaldeens and school supplies could be found somewhere behind a 10 foot long counter. As I made my way up the block, it was hard to avoid Carl, Vinny, Louie, Frank and Robert, who were for some inexplicable reason, not on the sidewalk, but in the middle of Spring Street, arms flapping about, screaming about something. Of course, I made a bee line.

"What's up?"

3/5 of that group were always happy to talk music with this anomaly, but of course, this was "the neighborhood," so the initial greeting was out of Robert. "Nobody's fucking talking to you, dwarf." Carl defended me with a casual and upbeat "Come on, stop it Robert."

The topic of this little Mensa meeting was how many total Zeppelin tickets were purchased and how they would be divvied up. I had no money, as I would spend my weekly $10.00 allowance 34 seconds after getting it, on 3 albums.

(J&R Music World had new releases at $3.69 and a budget bin at $1.69, making 3 LPs $9.97 with tax. I'd get paid on a Friday afternoon and take off like the Road Runner to Park Row before they closed at 6:30. Anyone in my wake, could eat my dust!)

How would I get to see this band that I loved so much? I annoyed my way in with a daily dose of "So can I go? So can I go? So can I go? So can I go?" It worked, and Carl, Louie and Vinny took me to Madison Square Garden for my first taste of a real rock show. (That same trio also took me to see ELO, Chicago, the Stones, Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates and Aerosmith all before I turned 16.)

I was young. It was only my third concert, with the first two being John Denver and Frank Sinatra's "Main Event" at The Garden, courtesy of my uncle. I wish I could remember details about the music, but instead, only the smoke-filled arena and the insanity of the crowd has stayed with me. And the thrill of not having to sit with Frank or Robert.

Two and a half years later, this all happened again. This time in Brooklyn, and again, everyone seemed to get tickets but me. The 19th Street crew, Marco, my cousin Al, Mike and Ziggy, for starters, were all planning their trips to "the city." Marco, who at the time, was obsessed with Jimmy Page, had purchased tickets for more than one night of LZ's five night, June run of 1977. These guys weren't much older than I was, just about 4 years, so they hadn't the savvy of the Manhattan group. No one was really concerned about me getting shut out, or found any charm in my pleading or any sympathy in themselves. This wasn't looking good.

About a week before the shows, Mike called to let me know that a friend of his from Manhattan Beach, Adam, had a pair of tickets he wanted to sell. This wasn't StubHub, or the sophisticated online ticket scalping with maps and parking vouchers we have now. This was "Damone" from "Fast Times At Ridgemont High." The $9.50 face value tickets he had for sale were "green," (that was about as specific as he'd get regarding location) and a firm $25.00 each. I was to meet him at the handball courts at the beach with cash. Everyone already had their tickets. Who could I get to go with me, and more importantly, who had the money? I pulled up a stoop and worked it out.

My second taste of Led Zeppelin was on June 11th, 1977. Sitting to my right in the "green section," was my father, a man who just 8 years earlier contemplated taking me to Woodstock, owned the first three records by The Band, and wore turtlenecks and medallions. Sitting to his right was a guy with a cast on his left leg that started at his hip, and rested not only across the seats in front of us, but partially on my father, who now, 8 years later, forgot about rock and roll and Woodstock and peace & love, and mostly wanted to "break this fucking junkie's other leg."

The arena was again, smoke-filled and the crowd, again, insane. I believe I had my first anxiety attack this evening. I remember this vividly as well. I looked at my watch, this was when I still wore one, and noted that the show started at 9:40. That is 100 minutes later than what was stated on the stub, an eternity even if I wasn't with my father. Cherry bombs and what I recall being rolls of flaming toilet paper were tossed into the air. (These days, security confiscates the cap off of your water bottle.) I couldn't relax, but I had to if I wanted to see the mighty Zep. Plus, I think at this point I was stoned. I don't think anyone in that building had much of a choice.

Once the band started, it was a blurry and distorted mess. At this point in their career, LZ were extending their mid-song jams to epic lengths. "Dazed & Confused" went from 15 to 25 to 35 minutes. "No Quarter" went from 12 to 20 to 30 minutes. And "Moby Dick," already too long at 4 minutes, was up to 20. I was hating every minute of this night and could only focus on what would possibly be a never-ending speech from my father about how I would never be allowed to go to a concert again.

We drove back to Brooklyn in silence. There was no speech. Actually, he laughed out loud once we got on the Belt Parkway.

"You really like this shit?"

"They are like, my favorite band right now."

After a few more minutes, I asked, "Do you realize Jimmy Page is older than you are? I mean, if he could like this stuff, why not you?" I don't recall if he answered me. It did hit me years later. If I left the arena disgusted with my favorite band, how could I have expected him to enjoy it?

In 1993, I did get to take him to see Eric Clapton and Elton John before he died. He seemed to like that. I wanted to ask, "You really like this shit?" (This was about 15 years after the last truly good music by either of these guys.) But he was enjoying himself, which in and of itself, was a rare event I would have paid Adam $1000 to see.





Barry said...

Stories like this are par of why I take time out of my busy schedule to stop by here on a daily basis...
Nice work, Sir.

steve simels said...

Another beautiful job.

But I should add that I was at that '75 Zep show at the Garden. In 8th row center freebie seats. And I am here to tell you that they flat-out sucked then too. A horrific sludgy mess, although Page was a pretty cool dancer.

The highpoint for me was Bonham's drum solo. Me and the guy I was with were timing it, very loudly -- after it passed the 12 minute point, we can kept yelling "Go for 13!!" And after then it passed the 13 minute point, etc. If memory serves, it eventually clocked in at close to 18 -- we were so proud.

We had contemplated scalping the tickets out front rather than attending; there were people selling worse seats than we had for a hundred a pop. To this day, I'm not sure if I regret not having done so.

Sal Nunziato said...

Barry and Steve, thank you.


There is a very famous bootleg of the 2/12/75 show, and it's one of hottest I have ever heard this band. I almost posted audio to go along with today's piece, but the Zep camp gets annoyed very quickly.

But each of the boots I've heard from '77 is worse than the one before it.

cmealha said...

You've really hit your stride with these wonderful stories. Thanks for the trip down memory lane and the heart-tug ending.

the sandwich life said...

wonderful post Sal....thx

steve simels said...

Sal --

Maybe it sounded good onstage or in the house mix as heard on that '75 bootleg (I'm assuming, of course that the boot you're talking about isn't an audience tape)

But from 8th row center it was appalling....

My long-held feeling is that Zep were ideally suited for a small club or an 800 seat auditorium. As a stadium band, they simply couldn't cut it, and never did.

Sal Nunziato said...

Oh I don't doubt they were crap when you saw them. I was just sayin'...

cmealha said...

P.S. Was it during this series of concerts where Jimmy Page got hit by a cherry bomb and then after the last song some idiot threw a flaming toilet paper roll and set one of the seats up front on fire. I remember pretty big flames and the onset of real fear. Don't remember if it was 2 different concerts or the same one.

Sal Nunziato said...

I thought the cherry bomb incident was 1973, but weren't cherry bombs and flaming toilet papers rolls at every concert in the 70s?

jeff kisseloff said...

man, if only I could write half that well.
And your Dad taking you to a concert, if visa hadn't destroyed that word for all time, I'd say it was priceless.

David Handelman said...

Great post. When's the book proposal?

At least you had a father cool enough to like rock music. Late in life I tried making my dad a cassette that had Springsteen on one side and Costello on the others -- all slow songs -- and he said it all sounded like noise.

FD13NYC said...

I was at the 75 Zep show. Didn't think it was that bad. Maybe it was the strong weed I had.

Noam Sane said...

Loved this, Sal.

I was a high school senior in '77 and a major Zep junkie. I was also a regular reader of the NYT Arts & Leisure section (by this time I had learned that Columbia Record Club was a rip-off, and it was better to order records from the advertisers in that section - no bullshit "shipping and handling" overcharges.) (This was upstate - way upstate - NY, and there were no cool record stores...Korvettes in Albany was about it).

So you can imagine how I felt when I got to that full-page ad with the Swan Song logo and the MSG dates...

There was no way I was getting to the city to stand in line. So I sent off the coupon with a check my mom wrote (thanks Mom). Me and me pal were gonna take the train down - it stopped about 200 yards from my house, and took you right into the city and back again. I mean, everything was perfect.

Two weeks later, the MSG envelope arrived, suspiciously thin. Inside, just a short letter that the shows had sold out. Bummed out my whole summer.

Since then, listening to bootlegs of that tour, yeah, it sounds like a bloody mess. But you gotta admire them somewhat, for taking things to such ridiculous extremes.

jeff kisseloff said...

Reminds of when I took my parents to see the Woodstock documentary, and my father said that Ten Years After should really have been called Ten Long Years.

They did like Santana though.

cmealha said...

A quick note about your dad that you may not know. When he was in the car with us one time he heard some Roy Wood playing and had me make him a tape. He loved it.

steve simels said...

You know, on careful reconsideration, that Zep show at the Garden that I saw -- the one where we timed the drum solo -- may in fact have been in '73.

They sucked in either case, however.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great article. Back in 1973, still in High School, I was a huge Zep fan. Scored tickets with some buddies to see them at MSG. They were, in a word, dreadful. I was pretty shocked actually. Robert Plant sang Rock 'n Roll what sounded like an octave or two lower than on record. You might say my crests were fallen.

Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks to all for the kind words.

I'd like to go on record as saying, I am a borderline nutjob Zep bootleg collector.

Like Dead collectors, I could rattle off things like "best Stairway, Kezar Stadium, 6/2/73."

I don't think they suck live at all. They sucked on 6/11/77, and most of 1977 actually.

Anonymous said...

I was the guy with Simels 8th row center. It was '75, the drum solo was possibly longer then 18 minutes and most of the time Bonham played the drums with his hands!

While it was not the worst concert I ever attended (Zepplin was OK...sorta), the audience was by far the most clueless I ever encountered. Example: They paid absolutely no attention to the drum solo during it's twenty minute length (yakking, making bathroom runs and rolling joints), but when the solo ended, they bellowed with approval and joy as if Moses had just delivered the 10 Commandments!

I've always felt hardcore Zepplin fans were the younger brothers & sisters of Simels & mine generation and they broke their rock & roll cherry on the Zep.

Eric said...

very humble for a prince....

Michael Giltz said...

Essential: a link to the previous parts at the end of each new installment so people can read them all easily.

Sal Nunziato said...

YOU SMART! Why didn't I think of that?

Thanks, MG

Mozenator said...

Love these recollections of y ours, Sal. Really evocative. I feel as if I was there.

When I was that age I begged my father to take me to see Leo Sayer. Which he did. Melissa Manchester opened.

No one spoke on the way home. And we haven't spoken of it since.

Fielding said...

Bee Gees, 1979, at the Garden - with my dad. First "rock" concert of note. First show on my own as a stoner was the Who at Shea - the first of twelve farewell concerts they have had since.

Just as I was getting into Zeppelin, Bonham died. I remember we huffed "Rush" all night long.

Keep it up, Sal. These should be bound, with some nice rock photos and ticket stubs on the inside.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sal,
I have to say that I don't remember any of that. Maybe it's the passing of time or the effect of the drugs or....what was I saying? Anyway....

For me, as much as I loved and still love Zeppelin, the concerts were self indulgent. Unfortunately I never saw them in the smaller venues like the Fillmore.

I saw them 6 times, 5 at the Garden and once at the Nassau Coliseum.
I always enjoyed them. Especially when you were still able to come up to the stage and hang onto it. I was at their concert when the stage partially collapsed, due to the people hanging onto to it. The show still when on.
I never liked their forays into untethered ramblings. All solos went on to long. However when they just played, they were the greatest.
I had a hard time listening to the groups that followed all the bands of their era. To me,it all sounded like their music watered down.
Although, I don't remember, I'm glad I was of help to you in expanding your musical horizons.

You write well. I could almost feel and that night.


PS, I have about 50-70 ticket stubs from my concert going days.
Thanks for the memories....

misospecial said...

great stuff. keep 'em coming.

i saw zep twice: first from a great distance, at the texas international pop festival in august of '69, and then again about a year later at dallas's memorial auditorium.

i know two women who were hit on by zep: one was working for the caterer and had served plant a pot of tea in his room. he invited her to sample his wares, and she was shocked and flattered. she claims to have demurred. the other was hanging in the hotel lobby (the warwick? the drake?) when she was picked to spend half an hour upstairs with page. she was 15 at the time and was thrilled. she still remembered it fondly years later, so i guess that's okay.

and finally, on a less organic level, in 1970 my stepbrother erik was trying to start a garage band (they barely managed to play in the garage once or twice). but i remember a long discussion about the importance of picking a good name. erik said a good formula was something heavy and something light—iron butterly, led zeppelin. so he proposed to name his band "wooden balloon."