Jimmy Page and William Burroughs talking about audience control, Peru and volume.

Led Zeppelin & William Burroughs: alla scoperta del Rock
Rock Magic: Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin, And a search for the elusive Stairway to Heaven by William Burroughs, Crawdaddy Magazine, June 1975. 
Led Zeppelin & William Burroughs: alla scoperta del Rock
When I was first asked to write an article on the Led Zeppelin group, to be based on attending a concert and talking with Jimmy Page, I was not sure I could do it, not being sufficiently knowledgeable about music to attempt anything in the way of musical criticism or even evaluation. I decided simply to attend the concert and talk with Jimmy Page and let the article develop. If you consider any set of data without a preconceived viewpoint, then a viewpoint will emerge from the data.
 My first impression was of the audience. As we streamed through one security line after another–a river of youth looking curiously like a single organism: one well-behaved clean-looking middle-class kid. The security guards seemed to be cool and well-trained, ushering gate-crashers out with a minimum of fuss. We were channeled smoothly into our seats in the thirteenth row. Over a relaxed dinner before the concert, a Crawdaddy companion had said he had a feeling that something bad could happen at this concert. I pointed out that it always can when you get that manypeople together–like bullfights where you buy a straw hat at the door to protect you from bottles and other missiles. I was displacing possible danger to a Mexican border town where the matador barely escaped with his life and several spectators were killed. It’s known as “clearing the path.” So there we sat, I decline earplugs; I am used to loud drum and horn music from Morocco, and it always has, if skillfully performed, an exhilarating and energizing effect on me. As the performance got underway I experienced this musical exhilaration, which was all the more pleasant for being easily controlled, and I knew then that nothing bad was going to happen. This was a safe and friendly area–but at the same time highly charged. 
There was a palpable interchange of energy between the performers and the audience which was never frantic or jagged. The special effects were handled well and not overdone. A few special effects are much better than too many. I can see the laser beams cutting dry ice smoke, which drew an appreciative cheer from the audience.Jimmy Page’s number with the broken guitar strings came across with a real impact, as did John Bonham’s drum solo and the lyrics delivered with unfailing vitality by Robert Plant. The performers were doing their best, and it was very good. The last number, “Stairway to Heaven”, where the audience lit matches and there was a scattering of sparklers here and there, found the audience well-behaved and joyous, creating the atmosphere of a high school Christmas play. All in all a good show; neither low nor insipid. Leaving the concert hall was like getting off a jetplane. I summarized my impressions after the concert in a few notes to serve as a basis for my talk with Jimmy Page. “The essential ingredient for any successful rock group is energy–the ability to give out energy, to receive energy from the audience and to give it back to the audience. A rock concert is in fact a rite involving the evocation and transmutation of energy. Rock stars may be compared to priests, a theme that was treated in Peter Watkins’ film ‘Privilege’. In that film a rock star was manipulated by reactionary forces to set up a state religion; this scenario seems unlikely, I think a rock group singing political slogans would leave its audience at the door. “The Led Zeppelin show depends heavily on volume, repetition and drums. It bears some resemblance to the trance music found in Morocco, which is magical in origin and purpose–that is, concerned with the evocation and control of spiritual forces. 
In Morocco, musicians are also magicians. Gnaoua music is used to drive out evil spirits. The music of Joujouka evokes the God Pan, Pan God of Panic, representing the real magical forces that sweep away the spurious. It is to be remembered that the origin of all the arts–music, painting and writing–is magical and evocative; and that magic is always used to obtain some definite result. In the Led Zeppelinconcert, the result aimed at would seem to be the creation of energy in the performers and in the audience. For such magic to succeed, it must tap the sources of magical energy, and this can be dangerous.”

William Burroughs interviews Jimmy Page  for Crawdaddy Magazine

The long black limousine carrying Jimmy Page to his encounter with William Burroughs made its way down Fifth Avenue in a light snowfall. The car stopped in front of 77 Franklin Street in a dark, shabby neighborhood of vacant or abandoned industrial lofts that were slowly being reclaimed by young artists and urban pioneers. Jimmy was greeted at street level by James Grauerholz, Burroughs’s young assistant, who led Page up four steep flights of stairs to Burroughs’s loft. The sixty-one- year-old writer, dressed in a coat and tie set off by an embroidered Moroccan vest, extended his hand and offered his guest a cup of tea, which Page happily accepted. Also on hand was a photographer to document the interview, and Crawdaddy’s publisher, Josh Feigenbaum, whose idea this meeting had been. Before getting down to business, Burroughs proudly showed Page his orgone accumulator, which looked like a big plywood crate. Sitting in this box, Burroughs explained, concentrated certain energies in a productive and healthful manner according to theories developed by the psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich. Jimmy Page declined Burroughs’s offer to give the orgone box a try.

Burroughs thought he and Jimmy might know people in common since Burroughs had lived in London for most of the past ten years. It turned out to be an interesting list, including film director Donald Camell, who worked on the great Performance; John Michell, an expert on occult matters, especially Stonehenge and UFOs; Mick Jagger and other British rock stars; and Kenneth Anger, auteur of Lucifer Rising. Burroughs told Page about the feelings of energy and exhilaration he experienced sitting in the thirteenth row of a Led Zeppelin concert. These feelings, he told Page, were similar to those he had known while listening to music in Morocco, especially the loud pipes and drums of the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Page somewhat sheepishly admitted that he had yet to visit Morocco but had been to India and Thailand and heard a lot of music there.

Burroughs was interested in getting Page to speak about crowd control, a longtime fascination. “It seems to be that rock stars are juggling fissionable material of the mass unconscious that could blow up at any time,” he pondered.

“You know, Jimmy,” he continued. “The crowd surges forward . . . a heavy piece of equipment falls on the crowd . . . security goes mad, and then . . . a sound like goddamned falling mountains or something.”

Page didn’t bat an eye. “Yes, I’ve thought about that. We all have. The important thing is to maintain a balance. The kids come to get as far out with the music as possible. It’s our job to see that they have a good time and no trouble.”

Burroughs launched into a series of morbid anecdotes he’d collected about fatal crowd stampedes, like the 360 soccer fans crushed to death during a riot in Lima, Peru.

 

Then there was the rock band Storm playing a dance hall in Switzerland. Their pyro effects exploded, but the fire exits had been chained shut. “Thirty-seven people dead, including all the performers,” Burroughs recalled.

He poured two fingers of whiskey for himself and for Page. Burroughs had been informed that these were the first Zeppelin shows to deploy any special effects. “Sure,” Page said. “That’s true. Lights, lasers, dry ice are fine. But I think, again, that you have to have some balance. The show must carry itself and not rely too heavily on special effects, however spectacular. What I really want is laser . . . notes. That’s more what I’m after. Just . . . cut right through!”

Burroughs then wondered if the power of mass concentration experienced by Zeppelin’s audience could be transposed into a kind of magic energy that could materialize an actual stairway to heaven. He added that the moment when the stair- way becomes something physically possible for the audience could be the moment of greatest danger. Page again answered that a performer’s skill involved avoiding these dangers. “You have to be careful [with large audiences],” he said. “It’s rather like driving a load of nitroglycerine.” Page described the fan abuse they had seen in Philadelphia a few days earlier as an ex- ample of a situation that could really crack, but somehow didn’t.

Over margaritas at the nearby Mexican Gardens restaurant, Burroughs asked about Page’s house on the shores of Loch Ness in Scotland, which had once belonged to Aleister Crowley. Was it really haunted? Page said he was sure it was. Does the Loch Ness monster exist? Page said he thought it did. Skeptical, Burroughs wondered how the monster could get enough to eat. The conversation continued over enchiladas. Burroughs talked about infrasound, pitched below the level of human hearing, which had supposedly been developed as a weapon by the French military. Then on to interspecies communication, talking to dolphins via sonar waves. Burroughs said he thought a remarkable synthesis could be achieved if rock music returned to its ancient roots in ceremony and folklore, and brought in some of the trance music one heard in Morocco.

Jimmy Page was receptive. “Well, music which involves [repeating] riffs, anyway, will have a trancelike effect, and it’s really like a mantra. And, you know, we’ve been attacked for that.”

They parted company on the icy sidewalk outside the restaurant, with many thanks and good-byes. Jimmy Page’s limo, which had been waiting for him, whisked him back to the Plaza Hotel. William Burroughs, James Grauerholz, and Josh Feigenbaum walked back to Burroughs’s loft to listen to the tape that Josh had recorded of the conversation.

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