Reviews of Books You’ve Never Heard of: Led Zeppelin Shadows Taller than Our Souls

I’m gonna give you guys a twofer on the book reviews this week, since I wanted to squeeze this in before Zeptember is over.  (as an aside, the wordpress spellcheck recognizes “twofer” as a legitimate word, but doesn’t recognize “wordpress” or “spellcheck”) 

What’s This Then?:  Shadows Taller than Our Souls is one of about a million books of widely varying quality about Led Zeppelin.  What sets this one apart is that its full of stuff.  There are tons of items that can be pulled out of the book.  My girlfriend started thumbing through the book and asked me “Is this a Led Zeppelin pop-up book” and after a minute of thought I had to answer “yeah, sort of.”  The stuff consists of reproduction ticket stubs, press releases, flyers and whatnot, some huge gatefold photos, and a cd (dressed up to look like a vinyl record of course) of an interview with Jimmy Page from the late seventies.  The text of the book is something of a cultural history of the band, it describes the production of each album and the reaction thereto.

Well s’it any good?:  I can’t help but think of this book as two things the text and the stuff.  You would think the stuff would be gimmicky, but I actually think its brilliant.  You can feel like some sort of archaeozeppelinologist (a profession which doubtless will exist in the far future) going through the stuff, seeing how design trends changed in flyers or who else gets mentioned in press releases and seeing how Zeppelin was moving with or against trends from 1968 to 80.  And if any band should get this kind of treatment, its probably Zeppelin since their physical presence (pardon the pun) was so important.  That being said I wish they had reproduced some of the physical artifacts the band (and/or their associates) created like the crazy wheel thing from the Led Zeppelin III vinyl cover or Jimmy Page’s scratching of “Do what thou wilt” on the edge of that same album.

As to the text, I have mixed feelings.  Charles Cross is very good at writing about music, and its obvious he loves Zeppelin.  He avoids all the tawdry “are they true or not” stories that fill most Zeppelin books instead to focus on the band’s work, and the fan reaction to it.  This approach fits nicely with the play archaeological record the book gives the reader so that the overall experience describes the history of the band as a cultural phenomenon.  That being said, if you’re anything like me (and I know I am), and you know the band’s history well, you probably won’t learn much from this book.  Even with all the pictures and all the stuff, the book is only about one hundred pages long.  Cross just didn’t have enough space to say much of anything interesting, which is too bad, because I think Cross is a better writer than he gets to display here. If we’re totally honest with ourselves, we have to admit that this is in fact a coffee table book for a hard rock themed living room.  If you’re okay with that, then this is a really fun coffee table book.

What’s the best bit?:  My favorite part was one of the pieces of stuff, a flyer for Zeppelin’s performance at Carnegie Hall.  The inside left page is an ad for Led Zeppelin II, the inside right just says that Led Zeppelin is playing Carnegie Hall, and gives the date.  The remainder of the page is blank white space.  The back cover gives the dates for several concerts conducted by Stokowski below a picture of the conductor.  It’s as though the Carnegie Hall advertisement department just did not know what to do with Zeppelin.

Anything else?: If you’re looking for a book with the mudshark story and all that good stuff, you want Hammer of the Gods.  If you want a more in depth book about the making of the music, look for a book called Dazed and Confused.  Charles Cross is well known for his biographies of rock musicians.  I’ve only read his Hendrix biography Room Full of Mirrors, but its very good, so on that I’ll give a tentative recommendation to the rest of his work.

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Published in: on September 27, 2011 at 12:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

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