Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rock vs. journalism

On this day in 1979, Led Zeppelin became the big winners of the annual Melody Maker readers' poll. In a ceremony at the Waldorf hotel in London, the group picked up exactly seven awards, as chosen by readers, including one for band of the year. The occasion marked a comeback for the group, whose pair of concerts at the Knebworth Festival in August had just wowed 405,000 in England after a four-year absence from the British stage.

Led Zeppelin being named band of the year came as a surprise to some critics who believed it would go instead to a newcomer on the U.K. music scene called the Police. Bonham even alluded to this during the ceremony, drunkenly crooning the chorus to "Message in a Bottle," which had been the country's No. 1 single the previous month.

Jimmy Page was on vacation in Barbados, but everybody else in the group received their awards in person, accompanied by manager Peter Grant. The button John Paul Jones wore on his lapel read "Rock Against Journalism." "It was an affectation at the time," he recalled in an interview with me in 2001. "I just saw it and said, 'That's really appropriate.'"

It seems to have been a catch phrase at the time, but indeed it was appropriate for a member of Led Zeppelin to wear. Those well-attended Knebworth concerts, combined with the release of the album In Through the Out Door, prompted the group's return to the apex of the music scene following a period of inactivity and slamming from the media. Zep's back catalog was once again charting. The Melody Maker readers' poll solidified an awareness that the public was in Led Zeppelin's corner. "Rock Against Journalism" indeed.

"I remember that button," Jones told me. "I've probably still got mine somewhere."

Jones also spoke about the history of jealousy the press had of Led Zeppelin's popularity. "They all hated or seemed to hate us in the beginning," he said. "I think they were kind of annoyed because our reputation really grew by word of mouth and people coming to the shows."

He said some journalists and others printed "venomous" inaccuracies about the band. To this end, he mentioned the biography Hammer of the Gods, which he called a "stupid book," by Stephen Davis, whom he called an "idiot."

"And of course when people write stuff, it becomes fact," Jones continued. He looked at me and warned, "Don't get mixed up in it." Within a year, I graduated from college and accepted an offer to become associate editor of a newspaper. But despite my faults, Jonesy still likes me.

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