An Ultimatum Almost Killed Led Zeppelin

I was working my ass off before joining Zeppelin. A lady I really dearly loved said, “Right. It’s me or your fans.” Not that I had fans, but I said, “I can’t stop, I’ve got to keep going.” She’s quite content these days, I imagine. She’s got a washing machine that works by itself and a little sports car. We wouldn’t have anything to say anymore. I could probably relate to her, but she couldn’t relate to me. I’d be smiling too much. Ten years gone, I’m afraid. Anyway, there’s a gamble for you.

-Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, 1975.

Plant added lyrics to a then-instrumental track that became “Ten Years Gone,” a swirling vortex of guitar overdubs to rival the guitar-layering gold standard “Hotel California.”

In 1965, Plant’s future success was far from certain but his talent had begun to become an open secret in the musical underground. It’s never a good idea to issue an ultimatum, and anybody who receives one should walk on the spot, but it’s especially bad to give one when you have more to lose than the other person. In the lady’s defense, there are many, many musicians hoping to become the next Buddy Holly, Mick Jagger or Axl Rose, many of them just as talented as the chart-topping artists, who never come close to making it.

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “An Ultimatum Almost Killed Led Zeppelin

  1. Bj

    Especially cosidering the charts hardly recognize talent these days….

  2. Days of Broken Arrows

    Nice post. Roger Daltrey of The Who has also said that if he’d stayed with his first wife he’d still be a steelworker.

  3. SayWhaat

    She made the right decision. Rockstar boyfriends are a huuge gamble at the beginning of their careers.

  4. JM

    “It’s never a good idea to issue an ultimatum”
    Could you elaborate? What are alternatives which are always better? (Besides letting matters get to that point, which is good advice, though does not answer the question directly.) Moving straight to execution?

  5. Michel

    This is why Bono stays with his wife. Allie took care of him when he was young, and Bono is repaying her loyalty. A woman’s gamble is a beautiful thing when it works out right. And don’t we all wish we could win a bet like that.

  6. SayWhaat,

    A rockstar boyfriend is a bad bet for an LTR no matter when in his career a woman dates him (ask that slag Julie Klausner), but the verb “date” is a bit of a misnomer. A rockstar frontman’s heart belongs to his self-image and to the stage. It’s almost impossible for a woman to really capture a man in that situation – she might rent his attention, but she’ll never truly own him.

    In any event, Plant’s girlfriend didn’t make the “decision,” she asked Plant to make it for her via a nuclear shit test. What I can’t figure out is why someone in that scenario would think a good outcome was possible. She either loses Plant, or he fails the shit test and stays with her at which point she wouldn’t want him anymore. Then again, maybe she knew the situation was unstable and gave herself an out by testing him when she knew he’d pass the test. Actually, that’s just hamsteriffic enough to be plausible…so maybe you were right all along. ;)

    JM,

    Ultimata are very bad moves because you blow your entire load of leverage at once, but at the same time you can’t retreat or you lose all future leverage, and because you induce unstable responses from your adversary (you have no idea what an adversary will do when backed into a corner).

    If you find yourself in a situation where you feel motivated to pull an ultimatum, you might think about simply eating the sunk cost and moving forward. Important note: there’s a subtle distinction betwixt asserting your boundaries and an ultimatum.

  7. Anonymous

    “Right. It’s me or your the legions of hot young groupies that want to fuck you.”

    “Hmmmm, let me think…”

  8. Here’s a test:

    If things get to the stage where you feel the need to issue an ultimatum, then the relationship is already over.

  9. Led Zeppelin’s chick crack song, one of my all-time top 10: D’yer Mak’er

    Sigh, I listened to The Song Remains the Same many times while riding in Charlie Cummings’ Camaro. Led Zeppelin was incredibly hot, all of them had great presence. Robert Plant’s recent work with Alison Kraus is also excellent.

    [The next question is whether blues is a fundamentally beta art form, what with all that repetitive singing about one's miseries, particularly with women.]

  10. @workshy joe
    Agreed. Winning with an ultimatum means you’ve got a reluctant boyfriend. And no woman ever stayed happy with one of those.

  11. Dan in Philly

    No woman should ever date a rock star, period. Just like no man should ever date a stripper. Men being men, and women being women, it happens all the time, though…

  12. Cookie

    No frat boys, no jocks, no rock dudes…no exceptions.

    This golden rule has served me well in life; I recommend it to all women.

    [I would add no sex before monogamy and no sex under the influence and you're 95% of the way there.]

  13. Lovekraft

    Blues does have an element of beta-ness about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps like any other artform, in its earlier phases there was some truth before big business, political correctness and all that diluted the message.

  14. Cookie

    Blues…Beta? Are you serious?

    I know the whole Alpha/Beta terminology is thrown around so willy-nilly it really doesn’t mean a damn thing but come on…the music of passion, pain, angst, longing is BETA?

    No.

  15. Brendan

    Blues can be alpha. This song is kind of like “Ballad for Alphas”, really:

  16. Badger, come on! Our Fab 4 were heavily influenced by the blues. So was Elvis, for that matter. Blues are definitely alpha. I understand the question you’re asking though – I recently asked how all those alphas get away with singing about heartbreak in country music. I suspect that’s the ultimate test – are you alpha enough to sing about love without being compromised?

  17. Douglos

    Love your writing, Badger. Love the site. But you couldn’t be any further off the mark about the blues. I say this as a working professional in the music biz. The most alpha motherfuckers I’ve ever met were bluesmen. Howlin Wolf’s “300 pounds of Joy” and Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” ought to set the record straight for you.

  18. Hey hey Susan, said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.

    I think people are missing the distinction between beta music and beta musicians. The confidence and stage presence demanded of top performers is alpha to the max. Yet the blues canon has always had an undercurrent of whiny down-on-his-luck tramps and corresponding femme fatales. The black version of Hound Dog wasn’t about a dog, for instance.

    Led Zeppelin had a lot of this themselves – Black Dog (the title has nothing to do with the song), Your Time Is Gonna Come, Heartbreaker, Rock and Roll. Even as you knew Robert Plant had no shortage of company after every show.

  19. Douglos

    I guess we’ll just agree to disagree. The blues – the real blues, not the Aykroyd/Belushi version – was nothing but pure emotional expression. These were American black dudes in the 20s through the 60s – life was not easy for them, period. The reason the music endures is because it is pure artistic expression. Most other SMP bloggers would agree that artistic expression is predominantly a male characteristic. If there’s a blues song talking about a woman leaving or cheating, that doesn’t make it beta. It makes it “shit, this is the 45th thing that has gone severely wrong in my life this week. Bitch left, but I’m still a bad motherfucker. In fact, I’m gonna go mouthfuck her sister.” Because that’s where these guys were coming from, on top of the fact that they flat out invented a genre of music that has endured 90+ years later (that’s alpha with a capital “A”). I don’t want to presume to know much about the author, but it’s safe to say that if your experience in the blues is left to Luther’s or some place on State Street, you’re not really seeing it through the right lens. To your ears, the lyrical content might be beta, and on a purely objective level it’d be hard to disagree. But to come to that conclusion is missing the point entirely.

  20. Pingback: Why Beta Lyrics Make Alpha Musicians | The Badger Hut

  21. Jennifer

    He gave up a girl for “Hotel California”? Ugh, loser.

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