Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Yellow desert screen

On this day in 1973, Robert Plant was headed off to enjoy his "Shangri-La beneath the summer moon."

Led Zeppelin was taking time off from the stage and the spotlight and the hustle and bustle of success. Just having completed a three-month tour of the United States that culminated in the filming of a three-night concert series at Madison Square Garden in New York, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham returned to their homes in England to be with their families.

"I went past the point of no return physically quite a while back, but now I've gone past the mental point," Page had told a reporter late into the tour. "I've only kept going by functioning automatically."

Robert Plant's idea of relaxation was going to view the "yellow desert screen" of the Sahara desert in a section of southern Morocco. He seemed to value places of seclusion, and the desert provided him just that.

Driving down a long road between Goulimine and Tantan, Plant became inspired. Describing the route in a later interview, he said, "The road went on and on. It was a single-track road which cut neatly through the desert. Two miles to the east and west were ridges of sand rock. It basically looked like you were driving down a channel, this dilapidated road, and there was seemingly no end to it."

Plant's experiences there would become the foundation for lyrics he later wrote for a song first called "Driving to Kashmir" and then renamed just "Kashmir." It was one of the pieces Led Zeppelin would be recording by the end of the year for the album eventually called Physical Graffiti.

Geographically, Kashmir was another continent away from Plant's trek on the northwestern coast of Africa. Situated in south-central Asia and bordering China to the north and east, Kashmir is home to lush scenic views of the Himalaya mountain range.

Plant had never been there. "It's my ambition to go to Kashmir, and I'm saving that as the last trek," he said in 1976.

Kashmir was divided into sections in 1972 to be controlled by two of its neighboring countries, Pakistan to the west and India to the south. Militaristic rule has been in effect in the territory since 1990, and control of Kashmir is still in dispute today.

Led Zeppelin was at another milestone in the middle of its existence, with a camera crew having been able to capture three shows on concert and plans to assemble The Song Remains the Same, a feature film incorporating scenes developed from the band members' imaginations. Another project being devised was the creation of a record label.

The challenge for the band in the second half of 1973 would be not to take off too much time in 1973 so the unit could get back to creating music. "After a couple of months, I'd get itchy feet again," Page told an interviewer when speaking about time off.

Plant tended to agree with the guitarist. On the night of the final concert of the 1973 tour, he noted, "We've got a bunch of new songs written, and we can't wait to record them."

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