Led Zeppelin, revisited

This weekend I was wandering around this cute little shop and I look up and there, painted on the wall, is “Whole Lotta Love.” This caused me to turn to the man I was having coffee with and ask him the question I’ve been asking everyone all week, which is, other than Krupa, Bonham, and that guy from Sepultura, are there any other drummers you recognize by sound alone?

He says to me, “When my wife asked me to turn down the CD player this morning, I said, ‘Oh, that’s right, women don’t listen to Led Zeppelin.'”

Well, I guess that’s true. Other than me, I don’t know any women who listen to Led Zeppelin.

Let’s come back to this.

On my way home from Kentucky, I heard Dean Martin do a version of Patsy Cline’s “She’s got you.” About halfway through the song, I realized I was smiling, and not just that ‘oh, how nice to hear Dean again’ smile, but the ‘I’m way too drunk and way too close to you’ smile. And I thought about it, and I reckon I probably have that smile on my face any time I hear Dean Martin.

Other people like Frank Sinatra, and fair enough, I like him just fine, but of the two of them, I prefer Dean.

Also, on the way home, I was listening to Muddy Waters and he has this line in one of his songs where he’s talking about what it is about women that drives men crazy and he says “Must be the same thing that makes a preacher lay his Bible down.” That, my friends, is an awesome line. That says something about lust, right there, about how it makes a man turn his back on his whole life, sometimes.

And the Muddy Waters album I have has that great song “You Shook Me,” which is one of the blues songs Led Zeppelin helped themselves to, and that got me thinking that maybe a more interesting question to have been asking all week would have been, other than Dean and McKinley and Robert, are there other men that sing like they know having sex with you is inevitable?

Which brings me back to my real question, which is, why do straight men listen to Led Zeppelin? Or Muddy Waters? Or Dean Martin?

I mean, I know why I listen. I listen because I find men who sound like they know what they’re doing and yet can’t help but want to do it with you (and not just you, but every woman they can) immensely pleasurable in small doses. It might be annoying in real life to hang out frequently with someone that self-assured and insatiable, because, at the same time you’d be the most important thing he was doing right then, every woman would also potentially be the most important thing. The jealousy would do me in.

But to take a few minutes, in the car or in the shower or wherever you have an obliging CD player, and indulge in that feeling. . . well, of course, that’s a good way to pass the time.

But to me, listening to those guys feels so intimate and so sexually charged that it’s hard for me to understand why straight guys listen. I mean, those guys are hitting on your women! Even out of the grave, they are seducing all of the women within earshot. And we’d go home with them, if we could.

So, how is that pleasurable for you?

I have a suspicion, though it’s one based only on observation, since, obviously, I’m not a man.

I think that, as shitty a job as we do as a society helping women navigate our desires, we do just as shitty a job helping you navigate yours. For better or for worse, at least we have two well-established stories about our desires–virgin or whore–and it’s easy enough to figure out which one you are.

But what do you guys have? Right now, it seems like all the Butcher’s friends either imagine themselves as pimps or players or they imagine themselves still at the high school dance standing along the gym wall under the crepe paper and basketball hoops watching the dancing and pretending not to want to be out there too.

The trouble with pimps and players is that it’s a position inevitably hostile to women, in which one’s activities become more about what other men think of you than what the women you’re with think. The trouble with watching from the sidelines is that we women aren’t ever sure if you are standing over there because you’re bored and want to go home or if you’re just dying for someone to ask you to dance.

But these three–Martin, Morganfield, and Plant–map another kind of desire: one in which being a Man is all wrapped up in loving women, all kinds of women. It doesn’t concern itself at all with what other men think (no one believes that the menfolk standin’ in line have come to pray to the Lord when his little girl looks so fine, but we get why he has to believe that). It is just about feeling good and feeling good about the woman that you’re with.

It says a lot about our sorry state of affairs that songs by men who love women feel so strange and wondrous.

6 thoughts on “Led Zeppelin, revisited

  1. Sigh. You make me jealous, Aunt B. Great post.


    1) Drummers immediately recognizable include Max Weinberg (of Springsteen’s band), Art Blakey, Earl Palmer (he played on Little Richard’s records, along with about a zillion others), and that horribly inept Meg White.

    2) Growing up in the 70s, when Led Zeppelin worship was a rite of passage for males, it was pretty much taken for granted that girls didn’t understand the serious music of hard rock. The sexuality of it all, I think, was self identification. Nobody thought Robert Plant was singing to his girlfriend – assuming we’re talking about the relatively small percentage of the audience at the time who actually had a girlfriend – but instead, everybody assumed they could be Robert Plant, and thus have every girl they wanted.

    3) Dean Martin better than Frank Sinatra? Your tastes are so idiosyncratic, but always so wonderfully defended.

    4) Brilliant point about Muddy Waters. Interesting that I always miss the sexiness of his music, instead concentrating so much on the hardness and the swagger of it all. I do love the guy, though.

    5) Another interesting thing about myself which I’ve never really thought about comes from your question about straight guys listening to Led Zep: I don’t actually connect to music in any sort of a personal identification way. I don’t get swoony when I find a singer sexy – though I did get stoned once and have an incredible time listening to Prince. Instead, I view it as something to do with connection to another. I’m listening to what somebody else has to say, and my pleasure comes from experiencing the way he or she says it. Kind of like reading a book or watching a movie. This is why I don’t understand when my wife cries at a movie. I can be moved, but it’s never really that personal.

    6) Brilliant points about the ways in which society allows straight men to navigate desires.

    7) The other man who sings like sex is inevitable would be Marvin Gaye.

  2. 1.) Meg White! Brilliant. I hadn’t thought to include folks whose drumming is so bad that they’re instantly recognizable.

    2.) Hmm. Good point about where the point of identification lies. That hadn’t occured to me. Plant seems so distinct to me that I didn’t imagine that he’d be so easy to identify with.

    3.) I’d never say Martin was a better artist than Sinatra–clearly that’s not true–but to me, he’s a better time.

    4.) The Butcher and I went to see “The Last Waltz” at the artsy-fartsy theater when they re-released it (we came home and it was on VH1, too) and I was blown away by how fucking sexy Muddy Waters was, even at that time. An old man, but, god, he still had it.

    5.) I’m kind of an agnostic essentialist. I believe there are fundimental differences between men and women, but I don’t know what they are and I don’t want them to matter. I’m also fairly sure that the real differences, the ones that count, are almost unknowable to us, because they are so intrinsic.

    But what you say here makes me wonder a little about that. Do we take different things that really have nothing to do with us personally?

    I hear Dean Martin sing and I start grinning, I don’t even mean to, but I can’t help myself. The Butcher turns on the Michigan State game and he’s leaping and grunting like it’s going to have some effect on the outcome.

    Hard saying what to make of it, but I wonder.

    6.) Thanks.

    7.) Marvin Gaye. Yep. You’re absolutely right.

    8.) Stoned and listening to Prince. Clearly, that ought to be a required activity for everyone once in his or her life. Still, talk about the dangers of identifying too closely with someone. Prince makes promises that could kill a person if you aren’t properly warmed up and stretched out!

  3. I think that guys do know that these musicians are trying to seduce their women – that’s to point. Since the musicians are far away and the boyfriend is so close, the boyfriend gets all the action while the musician does the work.

  4. Professor, all this talk of high school reminds me that one of the best moments of my life was when all those homophobes who hated Nirvana because of the dresses and thought fag was the the best casual, terrible insult you could throw around and who all listened to Judas Priest had to come to terms with the fact that Rob Halford didn’t want to fuck their real or imaginary girlfriend; he wanted to fuck them.

    Willie Steele… he’s kind of in the same boat as that poor guy from Sepultura (whose name I finally looked up–Igor Cavalera. Yes, Igor. What an awesome name for a drummer.), where you know their work, and you ought to know their names, but fate has kind of conspired against them.

    Well, what do I know? I was in talking to my boss about Jimmy Page and he had no idea who Page was, so maybe I’m not the best base line for what normal is.

  5. I had the honor of playing bass with MSgt Willie Steele on duty in the 745th AF Band (SAC), now defunct, and off duty with Daddy-O Dan and the Cadillacs (virtuoso harpist CWO2 Daniel B. Fullerton now runs a National Guard Band). I just want to correct and expand on a short passage in the book “Moanin’ at Midnight.”

    Here Segrest reports: “On drums, Wolf first tried to get Willie Steele to come to Chicago. ‘In West Memphis I had been using Willie Steele on drums, but he didn’t come up here; at the time I sent for him he had to go into the Army, and he decided to make a career of it,’ Wolf said.”

    I asked Willie where he’d gotten his Combat Infantryman Badge, rarely seen on Air Force blues. He said he’d been drafted into the Army and sent to Korea. All know with what courage African-American troops acquitted themselves in that conflict, and the Badge hinted at some hair-raising stories, so I awaited further comment but got none.

    So I asked how he came to be in an Air Force band. He said after he’d been discharged from the Army, he was playing with…I want to say Lightnin’, that’s how I recall it. Well, one night they had a gig way, way out in the sticks. He came home very late and stood there for a time looking back and forth between his sleeping daughter’s face and the silver quarter in his hand that was his split of the door.

    And that’s how we got Willie, undoubtedly the most authoritative drummer I’ve ever played with. He got this amazing sound out of the snare, this three-dimensional meaty thwack that drove the band with freight-train force.

    We had this numb-nuts commander who hung Willie out to dry at the end of a big band opener. He cued Willie to solo then just looked at Willie with this goofy stare while Willie wailed and wailed until he realized the band was never going to be brought back in for a final chord. Man was Willie pissed off. But the band went nuts. It was like we’d witnessed the Apocalypse with our ears, a once-in-a-lifetime event.

    Willie retired to Hope, Arkansas after 26 years of service and passed from this life not too many years later. I have an official photo of Willie somewhere that I need to scan…yeah, here it is:

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