Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Devil's In His Hole

In 1975, after their American tour ended, Led Zeppelin were told that they would have to become tax exiles. A relatively common term in the mid-seventies in Britain, this signified a group of people whose temporary earning level put them in the highest tax bracket, and who would have to be domiciled outside of Britain for the remainder of the tax year in order to avoid paying most of their year's earnings as taxes.

After their Earls Court shows (which are peppered with Robert Plant's bitter references to the tax man) Led Zeppelin's members split up to travel the world. Robert Plant, his wife Maureen, his children Karac and Carmen, and Jimmy Page's daughter Scarlet were in a car accident in Rhodes. The family was flown back to England for treatment and very shortly afterwards a still seriously-injured Plant was flown to Jersey in order to maintain his non-domiciled status in the well-known tax haven. For six weeks or so, Plant remained at the house of a millionaire lawyer colleague.

The album Presence was recorded shortly afterwards, with Plant still on crutches. More than one song on the album, particularly Achilles Last Stand, has been described as "intensely autobiographical". According to Mick Wall in When Giants Walked the Earth, Achilles went under Plant's working title of The Wheelchair Song" and blames the exile for what Mick calls their current malaise. One line refers to "the devil's in his hole".

Mick doesn't mention this, but the Devil's Hole is a place on the Jersey coast. (Jersey is historically French speaking and in French the cave is known as Le Creux de Vis, which I'm told translates to "the screw hole", rich in double entendres but probably just meaning borehole or awl-hole, right?) Plant can't have walked down to it, mostly because he couldn't walk but secondarily because the difficult passage down to it has been closed for years. The cave is a famous landmark featured on picture postcards, a blowhole where the waves have blasted a tunnel through the cliffs. A ship wrecked close by in 1851, and the figurehead washed up in the cave, resembling a devil. This was carved into the wooden figure of the devil by Captain Jean Giffard and remained there for many years during which tourists could pay to climb down the cliffs and visit him.





Since tourists are not supposed to go into the cave today, a devil figure – though he looks more like Pan to me – has been placed in a pond at the top of the cliffs at The Priory Inn. Here's an excellent picture, but since there are prints for sale, I won't reproduce it for copyright reasons. It's worth a click.

The whole verse in Achilles, however, doesn't appear to refer to Jersey.

Sending off a glancing kiss, to those who claim they know
Below the streets that steam and hiss,
The devil's in his hole

As a former Brit myself, I believe the image summoned up by "streets that steam and hiss" is of New York. There's a Devil's Hole State Park in upstate New York, but it's not below the streets of Manhattan!

3 comments:

6p0105362c7764970c said...

Just recently came across your blog and find it interesting.

I also read the Zep book but had a different opinion. Would need to collect my thoughts more before further comment. But in response to your statement about needing to know more about Mick Wall in order to understand his views of LZ more in context, you might want to read his quasi-autobiography “Paranoid”. I read this before the Zep book and felt it gave me more insight into Mick’s inner life and possibly his reactions to the band members.

Mister X said...

Robert Plant could very easily have made it down to Devil's Hole with the use of a wheelchair. A gently sloping path leads to the top of the hole, allowing vistors to peer into it.

Access into the hole itself was removed many decades prior to Plant's visit, so not even a local in 1975 would have expected to wander down into its depths.

It's a very good point made about the steam rising up from beneath the New York streets, but The Devil's Hole is a well known Jersey landmark and Robert Plant would have been well aware of its existance. In the 1960's and 1970's (when Jersey had a booming tourist industry) it featured heavily in tourist literature and souvenir postcards. It was a standard stop on the tourist trail.

I'd suggest the use of the phrase in the song stems from a combination of the strangely named Jersey location perfectly suiting the steamily satanic American street imagery.

Just for the record, Jimmy Page and John Bonham of Led Zeppelin also lived on the island at the same time as Plant.

Peromyscus said...

Thanks, Mr. X! Good points.

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