Sunday, July 25, 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. I guess things haven't changed much now that I am in my 50's.
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.
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, 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 David Bowie, ELO, Chicago, the Stones, Queen, 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 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 even 40 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 my father 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.
PART ONE: "PEOPLE & THINGS THAT WENT BEFORE"
PART TWO: "THEY DROVE YOU OR YOU DROVE THEM CRAZY"
PART THREE: "EAST 19TH, BROOKLYN: IT GOES INTO YOUR MIND"