Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller Than Our Souls

January 01, 1970

(It Books/Harper Collins)

 

www.harpercollins.com

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

You’d be forgiven for squinting a few extra times at the
recently published Led Zeppelin: Shadows
Taller Than Our Souls
(It Books/Harper Collins) and its $50 price tag. With
its deluxe, boxed set-styled packaging and gimmicky design – numerous fold-out
pages; several “pockets” that house reproductions of concert tickets, programs,
press releases, even a 2-sided repro of a 1975 issue of Melody Maker; not to mention the inclusion of an audio CD featuring
a 1977 Jimmy Page interview for Trouser
Press
– one might imagine that Led
Zeppelin: Shadows Taller Than Our Souls
, written by veteran Seattle scribe
Charles R. Cross, would turn out to be long on style, short on substance, just
another instance of collector catnip published in time for the holiday shopping
season.

 

Well, sure; there’s definitely some of that going on here.
Publishing houses aren’t stupid, and music bios rarely hit the New York Times bestsellers’ list anyway,
so if there’s a unique angle that can be exploited to drive sales –
particularly when it’s an artist or band like Led Zeppelin about whom, let’s
face it, there’s not really anything new to say – why not?

 

Still, I initially looked somewhat askance at LZ:STTOS when it arrived. The last few
years we’ve seen equally gimmicky, and pricey, volumes dedicated to the Velvet
Underground (the recent The Velvet
Underground: New York Art
is, like the Led Zeppelin book, $50 – and if you
spring for the “Deluxe Edition” it’ll you back 300 bucks); John Lennon, Grateful
Dead and Jim Morrison (The Bob Dylan
Scrapbook, The Grateful Dead Scrapbook
and The Jim Morrison Scrapbook, featuring Bob-, Jerry- and Lizard
King-related facsimiles and interview CDs) and Kurt Cobain (Cobain Unseen, likewise, includes sundry
artifact repros). The latter four, incidentally, have in common the design
company Becker & Mayer whose specialty is “innovative, high-quality,
illustrated books.”

 

Book publishers have taken to calling the addition of
memorabilia and tchotchkes to books “interactive features,” a term which to
most consumers would suggest something a bit more digital in nature than the
overtly analog experience a book provides. But again, as with my comments in
the second paragraph, above, why not? Your appreciation for these undertakings,
and indeed, your willingness to go into hock to own them, is directly
proportional to your obsession with the artist in question; the more casual –
fiscally prudent; “sane” – fan is usually happy with a straightforward,
well-researched and -written biography.

 

 

 

At any rate, LZ:STTOS is a handsome affair no matter how you pilot it, dotted with photos, record sleeves
and posters that even many of the staunchest Zep fans probably haven’t seen
before. For example, one particularly candid B&W photo shows Robert Plant,
Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones in Boston 1969, standing in what appears to be a
filthy tiled-floor corridor; they look… puzzled, or at least waiting for
something to happen, with Jones holding a small zeppelin-shaped helium balloon.
(Perhaps they were about to do a photo shoot?) Elsewhere, a 1980 European tour
poster depicts a man in a military-styled jacket and flat-brimmed helmet gazing
skyward: the explanatory text calls the iconic image “one of many never
explained by the band,” adding that it’s one of the most collectible Zep
posters. And of course there are tons of live photos, among them, a long shot
of the band at Oakland
1977 on the outdoors Stonehenge-themed stage that the Bill Graham organization
had built – no minor source of inspiration some years later to the
mockumentary-minded folks behind This Is
Spinal Tap
.

 

Text-wise the book has heft, too. Cross’ bonafides as a
journalist and a writer are long-established – in fact, he previously
co-authored the 1991 Zep book Heaven and
Hell
, and he’s although got a couple of Kurt Cobain/Nirvana books on his CV – and here, true to his stated
intention not to just rehash old, well-worn war stories about Led Zeppelin, he
achieves, as he puts it, “a songs first” treatment of the band. Each chapter
roughly concerns the making of and events proximate to a specific Zep album,
with the first chapter detailing how the band initially came together and the
final one covering the last tour and John Bonham’s death through the subsequent
reunions (Live Aid, the Atlantic Records’ 40th Anniversary bash, the
December 2007 concert at London’s
O2 Arena).

 

At 98 pages and liberally decorated with visuals, LZ:STTOS isn’t an exhaustive or
definitive narrative and it doesn’t pretend to be. Rather, it’s an entertaining
read that recaps the basic tale alongside a skillful and contextual
appreciation of the music itself – while, of course, offering up a liberal dose
of the aforementioned collector catnip.

 

 

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