Led Zeppelin book excerpt: ‘When Giants Walked the Earth’

Learning from the Stones — who had quickly shoehorned the new ‘glam’ look of recent arrivals on the scene like Marc Bolan and David Bowie into the way the dressed onstage — the new Zeppelin show would be the first to feature a full-on professional lightshow, including lasers, mirror balls and dry ice, as well as a whole new set of stage costumes specially designed for each member — the most flamboyant being Page’s now famous glittering moon-and-stars outfit, the buttonless, wide-lapelled jacket flapping open, his flared trousers boasting three symbols down the side of the leg, the top symbol, like an ornate ‘7’ representing Capricorn, his sun sign, a bastardized ‘M’ representing Scorpio, his ascendant sign, and below that what looked like a ‘69’ representing his moon sign. Even the normally spotlight-avoiding John Paul Jones had his own specially designed suit, a commedia dell’arte-type jester’s jacket with little red hearts hanging from the frockcoat sleeves, while Robert became bare-chested, the lion in spring, his ‘third leg’ showing prominently through his ultra-tight jeans, his shoulders squeezed into a powder-blue puffed-sleeve blouse; even Bonzo was now done up in a black T-shirt with a big shiny star sequinned upon it, the hair now very long indeed, hemmed in by a darkly sparkling headband.

They now travelled by private jet, hired at a cost of $30,000 and christened the Starship — a Boeing 720B 40-seater owned by former singer Bobby Sherman, one of the creators of The Monkees. When they picked it up at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, it was parked next to Playboy boss Hugh Hefner’s plane, the words ‘Led Zeppelin’ emblazoned down one side. Fitted with lounge-seats and dinner tables, a fully stocked bar and a TV lounge, there was also an electric Thomas organ, which Jonesy would sometimes entertain the ‘guests’ with, and, in a rear-cabin, a double-bed covered in shaggy white fur which became one of the most popular compartments on the plane — though few ever slept in it.

Back ‘home’ in L.A. at the end of May, they had sold all 36,000 tickets for their two shows at the Forum within hours of the box office opening. The Saturday, May 30, show had to be rescheduled for the following Wednesday after Page injured a finger on his left hand messing around climbing a wire fence at San Diego airport, while the Sunday night show, which went ahead as planned, was delayed by half an hour due to ‘traffic congestion’. In truth, neither show went as well as their two L.A. shows the previous summer, Jimmy clearly still struggling to play at the first show — visibly wincing with pain and dipping the injured digit into a glass of iced-water between numbers to keep the swelling down — the band surprisingly ragged during parts of the second. Behind the scenes, however, everything appeared to be hurtling along at full throttle.

The first show happened to coincide with Bonham’s 25th birthday. His present from the band: a new, top-of-the range Harley-Davidson motorcycle. “He just tore up the hotel corridors and made an incredible mess, apparently,” says his old pal Bev Bevan, who had left The Move and now joined ELO. “But he paid the bill the next day then told ’em — ‘Oh, and keep the bike.’ Unbelievable, but that was John.” The Forum audience had also given him a birthday cheer during his 20-minute rendition of ‘Moby Dick’. “Twenty-one today,” Plant had announced from the stage, and “a bastard all his life.” Afterwards there was a huge party thrown for him at the Laurel Canyon home of a local radio station owner. Guests included George and Patti Harrison, Roy Harper, BP Fallon, Phil Carson, and the usual gaggle of dealers, groupies and hangers-on. Writer Charles Shaar Murray, who was also there, recalled “Gallons of champagne, snowdrifts of cocaine, bayous full of unfeasibly large shrimp, legendary porn-flick Deep Throat looping on a videotape player at a time when VCRs were hugely expensive luxury items available only to the stupendously wealthy.” George Harrison crowned Bonham with his own birthday cake. Bonzo chased the former Beatle and threw him and his wife into the pool fully clothed, followed by anybody he could lay his hands on. Jimmy, meekly complaining he couldn’t swim, was allowed to walk into the pool in his new white suit with the ‘ZoSo’ symbol on the back. Harrison later claimed it was the most fun he’d had since the Beatles.

The L.A. music scene had moved on from the Laurel Canyon vibe the band had become so entranced by three years before. Just as in London and New York, the hip new sound of 1973 belonged to Bowie, T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, Alice Cooper and Roxy Music — glam rock. The complete opposite of the bewhiskered, down-at-heel ambience of the nouveau pastoralists, suddenly artists like Rod Stewart and Elton John were shaving their stubble and donning pink satin pants, stack-heeled boots and spraying their hair with glitter. The new cool hang-out was Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco on Hollywood Boulevard. Soon the walls of Rodney’s office at the club were decorated in pictures of him not just with Bowie et al but Phil Spector, Mick Jagger, John Lennon and, eventually, Led Zeppelin, attracted to the club not for the music but because of the teenage girls that packed the place seven nights a week. Although the glam scene had a large gay following, you’d never have known it sitting at Rodney’s table. “Rodney f**ked movie-star bitches you would not believe,” recalled Kim Fowley. “He got so much c**t that in his early 30s he had a stroke.” For which, claimed Fowley, “Led Zeppelin paid the hospital bill — a hundred thousand dollars.”

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