Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Since I've Been Loving You

I'm posting this here as an antidote of sorts to yesterday's post on male bonding in rock music with special reference to misogyny. There isn't much original thought of mine in it, but since the Susan Fast's book can be hard to get hold of, here goes.

I mentioned that Susan Fast, who wrote In the Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin and the Power of Rock Music, was "Zeppelin friendly". In her book she spends a lot of time going over, and in many cases rejecting, the anthropological scholarship that foregrounds the 'male gaze' and also claims rock music as masculinist. There is a chapter on the subject, Whole Lotta Love. In it she describes the experience of women listening to Led Zeppelin.

She submitted a survey to an internet fan group, For Badgeholders Only, and so has a lot of real life descriptions to draw on. One thing I found of tremendous interest was the results of the question about which member of the group the fan identified with. Of the women who answered, 30 identify most closely with Plant, 24 with Page and 15 had no preference. Of the men who answered who had a preference, there were 116 for Page, 25 for Plant, 24 for Jones and 25 for Bonham. I can't be bothered to type that into any statistical software but I'm pretty sure that's a real difference between the sexes and not a distribution you could get by chance. It's certainly the most statistically significant thing I've ever seen anyone set down on the subject, most of which seems to be derived from testosterone-soaked anecdotes. (Apart from the ones derived from estrogen-soaked anecdotes.)

Song Remains the Same

She starts the chapter by describing the long reaction shot of the woman in the crowd in Since I've Been Loving You, in the Led Zeppelin movie, The Song Remains the Same (above). Why, she asks, if rock has always been coded as male, and Led Zeppelin has been described as misogynist, is one of the most memorable shots of TSRTS a female - a non-hysterical one - who appears to be concentrating on the music and musicianship?

To describe it, she recaps a whole busload of male reviewers who have said that Led Zeppelin is unfriendly to women - as I did yesterday - and then goes back to the image of the woman in the audience. Clearly the concert-goer was a female Zeppelin fan in 1973. There are other women in the audience too. The critics quoted are wrong. Fast describes her own experience with the music, which was basically thinking that Immigrant Song was well hard. She's a professor of music, so I think she uses a different term, but I know what she means. Her fantasies about the band (at 14) mostly consisted of seeing herself as a being a beautiful, accomplished musician, Plant's equal – and him noticing her. "Appropriating the power of those performers for oneself was as important for some as was the sexual freedom they suggested …and for some reason I thought that this was in the realm of possibilities, certainly not that it would be impossible because I was a woman." "I listened to their music with pathological exclusivity because it was such a powerful, liberating, intellectual, sexual and spiritual experience for me."

Of her questionnaire on FBO she says, "Most of the fans – male and female – who answered the questions on my survey relate similarly powerful experiences with the music." She goes through the comments in detail. The comments she relates don't differ much from the types of comment I see every day on internet fan groups. Women do like Led Zeppelin. It's an unavoidable fact. Her own experiences with the music sound like mine. I loved it because it was heavy; it didn't scare me, and I wanted to be Jimmy Page's equal so he would notice me. Same thing.

She refers back to gender and the so-called homosocial environment. She relates Frith and McRobbie's statement that "these shows are about male sexual performance and Weinstein's that this music culture is "masculinist" and that it is about male bonding." But Fast says, "female responses…reveal that they are also a source of erotic pleasure for women…I received no indication…that this kind of iconography was ever off-putting or frightening to women, even in the 1970s, as Frith and McRobbie claimed."

So, no real conclusions, just a rejection (based on the evidence of real fans on a message board) of the rock critics' view of Led Zeppelin as female-unfriendly. This chapter in her book is plainly "true" - the female fans aren't making it up - but Fast presents no alternative theory as to why women are so happy to be part of what has been so heavily hyped - not least in my post yesterday - as a male-bonding ritual. If I knew anything about anthropology, I might be tempted to remark that no alternative theory is forthcoming because the original theory about homosocial bonding is a load of crap made up as a just-so story to explain what the originators thought they saw (a sea of female-fearing boys) that wasn't actually true. Susan Fast's questionnaire puts that boner to rest. If I can call it that.

I suppose a good place to start a new theory would be to ask why the originators of the male-bonding theory thought they saw what they said they saw.


Anonymous said...

EXACTLY. (I'm the guy who posted to your previous misogyny blog) I think the male bonding theory is the result of a need to oversimplify and negate the music which they don't relate to.
If I may be equally simplistic: Zep is cool. Some theorists...not so cool!
Thanks to Susan Fast's research, I feel much better knowing that my animal attraction to Robert Plant puts me in league with the girls rather than pubescent teen boy women haters! Now if only I were cool enough to really be a card carrying Zeppelin fan.

Peromyscus said...

You can be a card-carrying Led Zeppelin fan if you want to be... Animal attraction to one of the band members is about 40% of the entry criteria, and the rest is liking the music!
Thanks for writing in - it's always good to hear from a fellow fan.


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