Wednesday, December 5, 2007

If He's Serious, Let's Take Him Outside And Bullwhip Some Sense Into Him

Ye shall know them by their iPods, so says the Bible. And, as always, the Good Book is right. Look at my iPod-----right there, between The Knack and Link Wray, is Led Zeppelin. Got all the Zep classics. . . . . Communication Breakdown, Whole Lotta Love, Good Times Bad Times, and, of course, Stairway to Heaven, all encoded at a glorious 256 kbps for my listening pleasure.

I loved Led Zeppelin because their music was what rock and roll was supposed to be: loud and stupid. It was glorious to lay a vinyl copy of Led Zeppelin II on the turntable, crank up the volume to max, and listen until your eardrums bled. It was profoundly anti-intellectual, and that was what made it so much fun: Led Zeppelin was chewing gum for the mind, music to be to stupid to.

And that's why it's so damn funny when an oh-so-serious academic tries to find Great Truth and Cosmic Importance in the music of a band like Led Zeppelin. Andrew Goodwin is professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco (wouldn't you just know it??) who has studied Led Zeppelin in great detail, thought Great Thoughts about them, and, sadly, doesn't realize he's full of shit. How do I know the latter? Because of his essay at Slate about the band that is full of unintentionally hilarious passages like this:

Does "Stairway to Heaven" possess these qualities? Absolutely not. The guitar army, yes, that is there. But this song is not just atypical of Zeppelin's music, it is unique among their epic tracks in that it privileges melodic/lyrical development at the expense of rhythmic exploration and timbral/psychoacoustic experimentation.

I laughed out loud when I read that, and there are several other howlers scattered throughout his piece. In fact, I actually wondered if I wasn't reading some sort of parody, but the piece----and Goodwin----seems to be exactly what it purports to be, namely a serious analysis of the inherently idiotic. I know the academically-inclined always try to find Great Meaning in everything, even the most ridiculous and mundane aspects of life, but Goodwin really goes off the deep end here. I liked Stairway to Heaven not because of its "melodic/lyrical development" but because of Jimmy Page's astonishing guitar playing (or was that the "guitar army"?). And I suspect almost every other Zep fan felt the same.

Maybe Mao had the right idea when he closed China's universities during the Cultural Revolution and sent their professors out to work on the farms. (Such an idea is obviously impractical here because it would disrupt NCAA football and basketball.)