Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page - the affordable edition review (Book, 2014)

A couple of days ago I was dithering about whether to buy the new "affordable" edition of Jimmy Page's photoautobiography, Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page.

Well, obviously, dear reader, I bought it.  The retail price is set at $60, slightly less than the limited, signed edition's $650, and it's being discounted to $37.95 plus tax here and there. (And I got free shipping.) Is it worth it? Yes!

First of all, it's huge. It's the same size as the limited edition, 12.4 x 10.1 x 1.5 inches, and weighs over six pounds. It's hardback, and sewn in signatures; the pages are not just glued to the spine. There are 509 pages, not counting the various endpapers, many of which are full-page photographs and many of which are in color. Most of these pictures I'd seen before, but that's because I'm a Zeppelin obsessive who has trawled the various Led Zeppelin message boards for more than seven years, and even curated the photo gallery for one of them (now sadly defunct). Chances are you haven't seen most of them - and you haven't seen them full-size and print quality. Fuzzy, artefacted jpegs don't do justice to them.

The book is set up as an autobiography, but Jimmy Page is a man of few words - his introduction is just three paragraphs long - and many photographs. They start with a photo of him as an angelic choirboy [1] and go through his early bands, like Carter-Lewis and the Southerners, Neil Christian and the Crusaders, Red E Lewis and the Redcaps, Mickey Finn and the Blue Men [2], through the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin to his post-Zep bands and collaborations including the Black Crowes, Page and Plant, and even Puff Daddy. There's a section updated after the limited edition was published in 2010 to take us up to 2014.  It's literally all there, in photos.

This photo of the Crusaders and their chick magnet ambulance is not in the book. A slightly different one from 
the same photoshoot is in the book

Although a photo may be worth a thousand words, the sense of journey doesn't come through very strongly in this tome - due to familiarity with the material, my mind supplied enough supplementary commentary to fill it all in, but if you haven't had the pleasure of reading the many books on the evolution of Led Zeppelin, it may all be a bit mystifying.  On the other hand, if you haven't, why are you thinking of buying this one? Then again, one of the very first pictures is Jimmy playing his Grazioso guitar in front of a typical sixties British fireplace - there's a brass plate in the unused fire grate and in front of it, two electric one-bar fires. Two of the last pictures are Jimmy playing the Beijing Olympics with an audience of literally a billion, and him receiving an honorary doctorate. He has indeed come a long way from Heston.

Between the photographs are pictures of Jimmy's passports and visa stamps, along with tour dates. The passports give Jimmy's eye color as green, which interestingly is not borne out by the color photographs - his eyes may be hazel, i.e. green in certain lighting conditions, but they look coal-black in many photographs. The photos have the date and city on them - for example, a very fetching picture of Jimmy exiting a small sea plane that I've seen around for years is labeled August 23, 1966, Catalina Island, USA. Many arguments over what Dragon Suit or Poppy Suit was worn when can be won by referring to this volume.  Other photos come into focus, so to speak, with the sparse captions. One of Jimmy with a feathery dried-flower arrangement over his head is labeled as being in Ahmet Ertegun's house, so given that information, I can date other photos of Led Zeppelin with the same plant (no Plant pun intended).  The photo set that I'd always seen labeled as "Sol Studios" (but did not match the date for Sol) are labeled here as being taken in Jimmy's home studio at Plumpton House, and were apparently part of an idea for Jimmy's fantasy sequence in the film The Song Remains the Same, before he decided to go with the Hermit idea to be filmed at Boleskine House.

Although there are not many words in the captions, Jimmy is dryly funny throughout. A shot of him guarding a wicket from a cricket ball with a semi-acoustic guitar is captioned "My contribution to sport". It's actually a photo taken for a giveaway competition where readers could write in to win the guitar. I know that because I entered the competition; Jimmy doesn't mention it here. The famous shot of Jimmy tipping a bottle of Jack Daniels down his upturned gullet is captioned "homeopathic remedy".

Homeopathic remedy

A rare shot of the legendary "stormtrooper's uniform" of Chicago, 1977 is laconically captioned "Here I'm wearing Hugo Boss".

Hugo Boss design. This photo is not in the book; similar ones are.

A shot of Jimmy with an injured hand shows him with a man whose back is turned to the camera, and whose hand is lifted towards Jimmy's back. The caption is "Et tu, Brutus? (sic)" The caption does not name the man as Bill Graham, with whom Led Zeppelin had some serious troubles, but I'm pretty sure it is.

And man, are there a lot of duck-faces. If you thought Instagram selfie-girls invented that, you were wrong. There are lots of guitars with too many necks and weird numbers of strings.

What Jimmy has chosen to leave out of the book is quite interesting.  There's a Knebworth field group shot, but not the one taken a few minutes later when Robert Plant pulled his pants down to 'salute' the strippers the photographer had brought along to cheer the group up. (For this was the seventies...) There are no pictures of the Chislehurst Caves stripping nuns. The pictures taken in the Swedish live sex club are unsurprisingly missing. (Click on the picture for the full shot; warning NSFW.) The book is more or less silent on the final days of Led Zeppelin. There are no pictures of family members at all - one photo of Jimmy arriving at Knebworth in a helicopter has Charlotte in shot, but she is not named in the caption - unless you count Jackie DeShannon, who is in one picture but there is no mention of a relationship with Jimmy other than mutual songwriters and musicians. No kids. No dads. No revealing shots of life at home.

The book has had to downgrade slightly from the limited edition. The paper is lighter, so the photos are noticeably softer. I doubt if most people would care, but if you want to say, rip the photos to put on the interwebs, you'd need the glossier limited edition. It also doesn't lie completely flat, so double-page spreads have that annoying curve in the center, unless you carefully unpick the stitches and press it flat. And mind you, it's cheap enough you could do that - one to open up and paper your bedroom wall like it's 1975 again, and one to keep on the coffee table.

Five stars.

[1]My fingers typed "angelic cowboy" there the first time. What does that mean, Dr. Freud?
[2] Sensing a pattern to these names somehow

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