Robert Plant’s Blue Note

January 01, 1970

(Sexy Intellectual; 155 mins.)




At 2 ½ hours in duration, Robert Plant’s Blue Note seems long. Very long in fact. It takes 45 minutes
before Led Zeppelin even enters the picture, for gosh sakes. Then again,
considering the fact that this narrative, which covers the evolution of Bobby
Plant’s musical journey, sets out to survey nearly 50 years of the tawny-haired
singer’s stylistic evolution, 155 minutes could otherwise seem like a somewhat
scant compendium. Better to have spread it out over a multi-disc set, one to
cover each decade of his career.


As the creators of this epic have
envisioned it, Plant’s coming of age parallels the evolution of pop music
itself. Indeed, at times especially early on, the viewer forgets that it’s
Plant’s tale being told. Rather, it could be lesson 101 on Rock’s Evolution in
the 20th Century. There’s Elvis, wiggling his hips and driving
America’s teens into a frenzy. There’s the giants of the Blues, with Robert
Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Son House bringing the voices of the
Mississippi delta and Chicago’s urban environs to white audiences who were
previously unawares. The ‘60s are represented in the sounds of West Coast rock…
and folk rock… and British Blues, all part of the palette from which the young
Plant would glean his influences. Zep of course gets some screen time, but with
its singer’s ambitious explorations of Arabic and North African tradition, the
film offers the inevitable conclusion that Plant is indeed a musical chameleon,
one whose eagerness to embrace the fickle dictates of his nomadic instincts
make him every bit as much an iconoclast as Bowie, Byrne, Eno or the other
artistic adventurers who earned that distinction years before.


“Robert just bends to every trend,”
Jimmy Page is quoted as saying, and indeed, of all the talking heads gathered
to comment on the course of Plant’s career – journalists and fellow musicians
alike — it would seem he’d know best. Fortunately, Plant himself is given ample
opportunity to weigh in, and while the cover sleeve points out that this is an unauthorized documentary, clearly
someone managed to coax him to the camera in order to speak for himself. It’s
nice after all, to have the subject’s own input. Trivia buffs will relish the
occasional factoid tossed in at infrequent intervals – the fact that singer
Terry Reid was Page’s first choice to helm Zeppelin and that even after their
eponymous debut, Plant’s future with the band was far from certain. The
archival footage is also intriguing – Messers. Wolf, Waters and House captured
in full blazing glory, a clip of Buffalo Springfield performing “For What It’s
Worth,” even a rare fragment of a latter day Arthur Lee and Love concert
appearance. Less mesmerizing are the promotional videos of Plant parlaying his
‘80s wares, given that his blow-dried coif and a dapper outfit that looks as if
it was lifted from Don Johnson’s wardrobe locker find him looking helplessly
dated. Likewise, the cursory glance at Plant’s solo outings seems to go by in a
blur, up-staged, as it were, by Plant’s increasing pilgrimages to areas that
would later become the ignition points of the recent Arab spring.


It’s remarkable then, that by the
time Plant alights in Nashville and reaches ground zero in his musical quest –
or at least the geographical juncture for all the disparate influences that
informed his initial progression – his shift towards Americana becomes almost a
seamless segue way. His union with Alison Krauss and the resurrection of his
Band of Joy branding (which fell into disuse after he and John Bonham abandoned
it in favor of Led Zeppelin) is made to seem inevitable, although when it
initially transpired, many diehard Zep fans found it somewhat perplexing.
Likewise, those who follow the film from start to finish may find themselves
shaking their head at the amount of enthusiasm Plant’s able to muster for each
and every indulgence. Yet, it’s also hard not to appreciate the dedication he
devotes to straddling his music with his muses, many though they may be. Now it
seems Bob’s come full circle, but it’s been a long time indeed.

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