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A night with Led Zeppelin - High finance from 'heavy metal'


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A night with Led Zeppelin - High finance from 'heavy metal'

Daily Leader, Pontiac, IL June 23, 1977


NEW YORK—Let me write a nation's songs, a fellow once said, and I care not who writes its laws.

Well, it's an interesting proposition, if debatable (what if the Electorate is tone deaf?), and in its spirit I attended the other night a concert by what is now the most successful band in the world, Led Zeppelin.

Since the audience that jammed New York's Madison Square Garden was predominantly in its mid-teens, it's possible that many readers are as unfamiliar with Led Zeppelin as I was — so I thought

I would report to you on the experience, not only because of its possible cultural significance, but because what I witnessed was undeniably a business and financial phenomenon of the first

magnitude. My host was Jim Clark, a former Texas bank president who now helps run a Dallas firm

called Showco, which produces and stages tours for about 30 top acts in the exotic world of rock.

He certainly has not come down in the financial world: the Led Zeppelin tour alone, covering 23

cities for 39 concerts, is expected to generate receipts in the neighborhood of $8 million — which is a pretty nice neighborhood, even for a banker.

While published reports have suggested that the four skinny Englishmen who constitute the Led Zeppelin band will themselves go home with $3 million of this total, Clark advised me that the musicians regard concert tours almost as a loss-leader; the real money, it seems, comes from the

fantastic royalties from record sales that such tours generate. (Led Zeppelin's eight albums

had sold 26 million copies.) What is it, then, that attracts such a financial return? What is

it that makes this rock group — at least for this week — different from all others? That's what I was hoping to discover.

First, let, in fairness, confess my bias. I am of a disposition — or, if you will, of an age — that finds greater musical joy in Frank Sinatra playing games with Cole Porter, in Ella Fitzgerald rediscovering

Rodgers and Hart. I like (dare I confess it?) to listen to the words.

Led Zeppelin was not created for fogies like me. What we are talking about here is not some lonely pianist noodling out some poignant tune at 3 o'clock in the morning; what we are talking about is 300,000 watts of amplification in the sound system, of electronic gadgetry creating echo effects that would start landslides in the Alps, of light shows that would illuminate all of Antarctica at midnight — and bedazzle the penguins.

It is not a lyric lover's paradise. Indeed, the concert was well under way before I was able to understand a single word. The first few songs were drowned out entirely by the cheering, standing, stomping crowd — hurling clasped fists into the air, an arsenal of jeans and hysteria. Occasional

counterpoint was provided by firecrackers tossed gaily from the upper decks; it is, it appears, a tradition. In the case of Led Zeppelin, it also seems, an inability to discern the lyrics (or even,

sometimes, the melody) is not necessarily a disqualifying sign of senility; exuberant specators

will occasionally argue heatedly over precisely which tune has just been played. This music is aimed not at the ear but at latitudes farther south. It is a driving, unrelenting sound, incredibly amplified, which is known to its reverent devotees as "heavy metal." It is a totally sensual experience for the barely pubescent: Jimmy, Page, the star guitarist, clad in shimmering white satin; Robert Plant, the lead singer, bare-chested and insinuatingly shaking his long blond curls in unison with his hips. It is music to smoke marijuana by — and music to scream by. It is the complete teenage fantasy.

And after more than three hours, without an intermission, it was over. They lit matches and cigarette lighters, pleading for another encore, were ignored.

And my untrained ears were almost deafened. "How much," I asked Clark, "did each of those four kids make tonight?" He paused for a moment for some fast mental calculations: "About 25 thousand dollars," he said. "Not bad for a Monday night in New York was it? "

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He was there more interested in the money than the music, he was pretty open about that in his writing.

I wonder what he would make of The Stones tours in terms of their cash cow.

Lucky bastard regardless.

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