Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fields of the Nephilim

Gen 6:4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
I bought a book, against my better judgment. Wait. The phrase "against my better judgment" assumes that I have a better judgment. One imagines it professionally pressed and hanging up, covered in a flimsy nylon bag, in the coat cupboard we use as the server room here at Casa Hopwood, to be brought out only on Sundays and funerals.

Actually, I don't have a better judgment, just a pair of matched judgments that are a few tens of ethical millimeters apart, giving me stereoscopic judgmentovision from appropriate distances. When I first heard of it, Mick Wall's riposte to the unworthy previous biographers of Led Zeppelin When Giants Walked the Earth sounded like a dumb idea. It was bound to be a hatchet job, along the lines of the infamous Hammer of the Gods (by Stephen Davis), but with the added cachet of being written by someone who could talk Cockney and had probably hung around the Speakeasy. Mick Wall has a blog, and a brief review of it convinced me he did know what he was talking about. But his frank admission that he'd lost Jimmy Page's friendship over the publication of the book suggested I was right to think of it as HOTG on steroids.

I appear to have lost the 20-year friendship of Jimmy Page (how dare I try and write a better book than the bog-awful Hammer Of The Gods), Robert Plant (he'll change his mind when he sees it) and related friends like - apparently - Cookie, who ceased all communications the moment I fessed up and told her what I was doing.
So far, so not convinced.

Then my other judgment, the greedy completist one, kicked in and demanded I buy it. So I did. It got here yesterday - unfortunately for it, arriving after a slew of reviews in the papers that made it sound like crap - and I've got almost 1/8 of the way through it in the first day. It appears to be called "When Giants Walked the Earth" for the simple reason you need to be Peter Grant-sized to lift the damn thing and spread the pages. It's huge. It must be 170,000 words, I swear.

I can't 'review' it in one go, so I'll just put things here as I get through it. Remember I have the two judgments, though, so I reserve the right to change my mind.

Mick Wall has had a Good Idea. For the bits that would be boring as he said/she said exposition, he's taken a leaf out of the fanfic writer's handbook and written short sections in the second person. So, a chapter will be all about how "you" ran the NAAFI when you were in the army, you were a wrestler, you negotiated contracts etc. because in that chapter "you" are Peter Grant. Since Mick Wall is not a natural fanfic writer, it hasn't occurred to him that second person is the hardest POV to write in because readers will unconsciously rebel against identifying with people who do things they wouldn't do, such as hang out with Don Arden or be a bodyguard at the 2is. It is a bit of an effort to sit in your car at lunchtime eating a Lean Cuisine and have to "be" 1968 Robert Plant or John Bonham, but it is, I have to agree, marginally more thrilling than other ways of putting a biography together, so I'm not totally fed up with it yet.

There's another way in which this stuff reminds me of fanfic. Consider this passage from the book:
Things warmed up when you [Jimmy Page] started playing records. You told him [Robert Plant] about your idea for taking the Yardbirds and building on it, going in a whole new direction. The kid nodded along, "Yeah, great", though it was fairly clear he didn't know any Yardbirds' songs - not from your time with them, anyway. But you sat there on the floor together, letting him flick through your LPs, pulling out stuff...He was still nodding, still sitting there pulling on a joint and going, "Yeah, man, groovy," but you could tell he didn't really know what on earth your were on about half the time. He'd heard of Joan Baez, all Dylan fans had heard of Joan Baez, but what did she have to do with the New Yardbirds? He was just a big curly-haired kid with a big curly-haired voice from somewhere up there in the Midlands.

So you picked up your acoustic guitar, said, "I've got an idea for this one", and began playing your own arrangement of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You", and slowly, slowly, it began to sink in. Not all of it, but enough to get him started, get him thinking about it on the train back to Brum or wherever it was he came from. Then you said he could crash for the night if he wanted and he did.

Yes! All right! And then...?

Unfortunately, the second person Jimmy narrative stops there and it goes back to reportage. I wonder if Wall's aware of the hundreds of second-person Jimbert slashfics that have covered this exact Boathouse scenario, the first meeting of impecunious young Robert and the flush, wordly-wise older southerner - and how many have turned on that same last phrase: "Do you want to crash here tonight?"

If one of us had been writing it, of course, it wouldn't have ended there. But Mick Wall, who I'm sure will get to the sex and drugs and rock and roll a bit later, draws a discreet veil over that first night.


I gather there's also a lot of stuff about magic in here too. Will we learn that Jimmy Page worshipped evil and was a generally evil all round evil person who was shadowed by evil and haunted by it (evil)? I hope so! (Rubs hands.) I love it when biographers cover the important stuff! :) Stay tuned.

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