With just two days to go before one of the most exciting book releases in rock ‘n’ roll this decade – Jimmy Page: The definitive biography – author Chis Salewicz has written a short essay for Gigwise on Page, giving us a flavour of some of the ground the book covers.
It’s a landmark book release not just because it's Page, but because he's notoriously mysterious, and Salewicz – an esteemed journalist who’s written Bob Marley’s biography – was given closer, more sustained access to his inner circle that few have ever afforded, giving closer insight to the man than ever before. Combining interviews he conducted with Page, his manager et al, with pain-staking research, the book combines these essentials with a way of picking out the best, darkest, most cinematic stories.
To be brief, you'll hear about the artist's dabbling in heroin, and hear about his life set against a backdrop of London gangsters, deaths and power struggles which Page has continued to rail against to this day.
And the excerpt below, you'll get a greater sense of some of the ground Salewicz covers in the book; with clues as to what some of the “eccentricities and skeltons in his closet” that are supposedly talked about in the book are. Read below….
Chris Salewicz: Permanently clad in sensuous velvet and sexy ruffled shirts, his jawline frequently dusted with five o’clock shadow, and always with that aura of androgynous otherness, Jimmy Page looked to many women – and plenty of men too – like dirty sex on a stick. This image was as integral to his art as the 20-minute guitar solos with which he would blast his audience’s eardrums – the violin bow he employed when performing ‘Dazed and Confused’ clearly doubling as a wizard’s wand.
The mystery of Led Zeppelin had been established almost entirely through the endless enigma that is Jimmy Page; later, as the apprentice matured, Robert Plant would offer a separate sort of leadership within the group. In tandem with their extraordinarily lyrical atmospherics, Zeppelin’s complex beats were the dominant soundtrack for popular culture for a little more than a decade, from when the fourpiece came together in August 1968, fifty years ago, to the end of the 1970s.
From the very start – those first publicity pictures with his fluttering eyelashes and choirboy’s face – Jimmy Page displayed a slightly smirking look of utter confidence and haughty control, with a hidden promise of something sinister cloaked beneath it. There is that very early photograph of the four Led Zeppelin musicians in 1968 clustered around the bonnet of a Jaguar Mk 2 3.8, which had a reputation as a bank robber’s car. Jimmy Page is encased in a then fashionable double-breasted overcoat, its collar pulled rakishly up; he stares at the camera from between those curtains of crimped black hair, smoldering with self-assurance and poise. It is an image maintained in the first official promotional shot of the band, issued by Atlantic Records: the utter Capricorn control of Page leaning over the other three members – his string-pulling hands resting on the shoulders of the two Midlands neophytes, drummer John Bonham and Plant, who resembles a frightened faun caught in the headlights.
It only gets better: this romantic dandy lives in a castle with a moat. Jimmy Page does very bad drugs seemingly forever and – unlike Keith Richards, a mere also-ran in the greatest ever UK rock star stakes – never gets busted…at least until Zeppelin is over. Moreover, he is held responsible for an entire genre of music – heavy metal! – with which his group is only tangentially involved, his true focus being a blending of UK and US folk traditions with a garage band sense of hard rock.
In his renowned isolation he is like a rock’n’roll version of Howard Hughes. But in many ways, the very idea of Jimmy Page is as much a construct as any of David Bowie’s personae. Many of Page’s expenditures – the palatial residences, the vintage cars he was unable to drive (he never passed his test), the enormous collection of rare guitars – seemed designed to garner respect and support among the world’s wealthy and influential, to make people aware of him, to elevate his extraordinarily inscrutable profile, and to establish himself as one of the principal men about whichever town he found himself in.
But at the same time, here was a rebel cocking a snook at the Establishment, having what he knew he wasn’t meant to have. With Led Zeppelin there always was that sense of being resolutely ‘underground’, a card played with perfect panache by the band for most of their career: hardly ever on television, with no singles released in their homeland, Zeppelin existed from the very beginning as their own outsider identity. In a sense the damning review of their first album by John Mendelsohn in Rolling Stone, a magazine Jimmy Page came to loathe, was perfect for them; it set in motion the ‘us against them’ agenda from which Led Zeppelin’s success soared.
By 1977, the year their myth savagely unraveled after the debacle of the Oakland stadium show and the tragedy of the death of Robert Plant’s son, they would come to be seen as the embodiment of behemoth rock, all that the new punk movement stood against. But when Led Zeppelin started out in 1968 their anti-Establishment stance was about as punk as it could be.
Jimmy Page: The Definitive Biography is out on 26 July on Harper Collins.