When the first Led Zeppelin album was released in the U.S. on January 12, 1969, it would have been impossible to fathom that the group would be honored – much less occupy the same room – by then-outgoing President Lyndon Johnson. And even less likely, successor Richard Nixon. After all, I don’t think either man was grooving to “Whole Lotta Love” in the Oval Office while finalizing bombing runs over Vietnam.
But time changes everything. And more than 40 years later, surviving members of the band known for mudsharks, mysticism, and mayhem (singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, and bassist John Paul Jones) got to wear the same fancy rainbow necklace that other classic rockers like Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend, and Roger Daltrey have previously as honorees of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in a ceremony televised tonight.
So lo and behold, there was First Couple Barack and Michelle Obama sitting in the same row with Led Zeppelin – though, presumably, the First Lady was not squeezing the Presidential Lemon ’til the juice ran down his legs.
A funny and inspired Jack Black called Zep “better than the Beatles, the Stones…and Tenacious D” before discussing his own “Zep-a-thon” of listening to all nine studio albums in a row, surely while having to clean out at least one screen on his bong. He also succinctly broke down the band’s lyrical themes into songs “about love…Vikings…and Vikings making love” before introducing a video history.
Then it was onto the live tribute performances. The Foo Fighters (seemingly the go to “rock” band for all prime time ceremonies and awards shows) delivered a somewhat tepid version of “Rock and Roll.” Oddly, drummer Taylor Hawkins singing lead instead of Dave Grohl. Then an ill-chosen Kid Rock massacred “Ramble On” so much that one wished Percy Plant would have jumped down from the balcony to smack those dumb ass shades off the Kid’s face.
Speaking of shades, while Lenny Kravitz continued his seemingly two decade long streak of never letting audience see his pupils (unless they bought a ticket to The Hunger Games), he brought some genuine power and rock star swagger to “Whole Lotta Love.”
But the evening’s best was saved for last as sisters (and lifelong devoted Zep admirers) Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart – along with late drummer John Bonham’s son Jason thumping the skins – led a moving and majestic “Stairway to Heaven” that even saw Plant wiping away a tear. The Wilsons were backed by a crack band, backing singers, and a larger choir that – like Bonham – wore English bowlers presumably in tribute to his dad. It was a touching and goose-pimpling moment made even sentimental by the shots of the now pensioner-aged men who originally performed it sitting and watching.
But least you think the three are ready for mothballs just yet, check out the just-released CD/DVD Celebration Day from their 2007 reunion concert. While classic rock fans will forever grumble that the show was just a one-off and did not lead to a world tour (damn you, Alison Krauss!), it’s a powerful testament to the legacy and the majesty of Led Zeppelin. And about Vikings having sex.