Reviews of Books You’ve Never Heard of: 33 1/3 Led Zeppelin IV

What’s this then:  I almost feel like I should apologize for that mess of a title.  I’m not quite sure what to call this book.  It comes from the 33 1/3 series of books, in which a single author writes a couple hundred pages on a classic album.  The cover of this particular volume refers to Zeppelin’s fourth album (that’s the one with Stairway on it, if you didn’t know) only by the four symbols that appeared on the album cover, , and in fact they go to the pain of only referring to the album by those symbols throughout.  Everyone else, including any bookseller’s website just calls it Led Zeppelin IV.  So this particular volume sees Erik Davis, journalist of the weird, waxing philosophical and mystical about the brilliant and slightly spooky hard rock album.

Well, s’it any good?:  It has a sort of mad brilliance.  Davis is well versed in both legitimate academic criticism and high weirdness and here he’s not afraid to mix the two.  Theodor Adorno’s concept of the commodity fetish can appear right along side a discussion of Austin Osman Spare’s sigil magic without sensing any contradiction.  There is a gleeful abandon about the whole book.  Davis’s analysis is so patently goofy that you have to take it as tongue in cheek (he puns throughout the book, including a play on magnum opus and Crowley’s “Great Work”), but the sheer verve he does it with convinces you he’s right.  In fact, you get the sense he’s even starting to convince himself. If you’re willing to go with Davis’s serious goofiness (not to mention his goofy seriousness), and you happen to like Zeppelin, then this book is a load of fun.

What’s the best bit: There’s a theme through the book that Led Zeppelin IV  is an album concerned with physicality and space.  The lyrics are full of places real and imagined (California, the Misty Mountains, the levees of the Mississippi delta, a stairway to heaven, someplace called Evermore, so on).  And Zeppelin was one of the rock bands that popularized placing mics far from the instruments, so, as Davis points out, you hear the instruments reacting to the room, but more importantly, you hear the room reacting to the instruments.  Like, wow, dude.  It is kind of a stonery thing to note, but I’m really won over by it.  Zeppelin’s music was considered hard, heavy, rock — all metaphors of physicality, not to mention the noted … let’s say physicality of the band members and their on the road activities.

Anything else:  If Zeppelin isn’t your thing, then maybe you could try one of the other  33 1/3 books.  I can’t speak to their quality, since each one has a different author, but if they typically do this good of a job of matching author with subject, then I imagine you’ll be happy with the results.

If you like reading about weird stuff (magic, the paranormal, drug-stuff, cyberculture, etc) from someone who’s willing to just go with the crazies and have a little fun, I recommend checking out Erik Davis.  I’m a big fan of his work.

If its been a long time since you rock-and-rolled, I’d like to remind you that there’s only about a week left in Zeptember, and you should try and get a little in.  It’s good for you.

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Published in: on September 26, 2011 at 11:57 am  Leave a Comment  

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