Thursday, September 17, 2020

Led Zeppelin - The Carousel - An Excerpt from Miles From Nowhere

To my delight and despite my funk, the Carousel was a circus tent in the middle of a grassy field. Had there been elephants, I wouldn’t have been surprised. There were no cars in the lot, only a van backed up to the tent. Inside was a low stage and a wall of amps.

I was tired and uncomfortable. I fell asleep in the back of the van. When I awoke it was dark and the big top was lighted from within, an atmospheric glow that made it seem sleepy and unreal. I got out of the van and a guy was leaning against my door. He apologized. His friends were sitting on the hood of a powder blue Corvair, passing around a joint. I figured I’d share; it’s what you do.

They were nice people. Big Zeppelin fans. One had a guitar. He was trying to play some blues thing and getting frustrated. Then he played “Embryonic Journey,” an instrumental from the Jefferson Airplane. I liked watching his fingers. He played it expertly. I said, “That was great, man.”

I figured I’d get something to eat. They had a snack bar like a drive-in theater, with hamburgers and hot dogs wrapped in tin foil bags. I walked over with the guy who’d been leaning on my car and his girl, a pretty thing who didn’t say a word. If she was mute it would have made sense. But she had a pretty smile.

Turned out I didn’t really want anything. I didn’t feel well. I got a chocolate milk and some fries, and I lost them in line. The lady at the cash register said, “You okay?” I shrugged and gave her a quarter.

Across the way was the ticket booth, just like at an amusement park.  Tickets were $4.00, and I went inside. It was crowded, but when you’re alone you can excuse your way through, and I laced my way in and out to stake my claim in the front by a bank of amps. The stage was low enough to sit on and I sat looking out at the masses. It was a different crowd than Woodstock. Woodstock was a hippie paint-by-numbers; this seemed like something from our future, what we could expect from the 70s; the difference like chalk and cheese. There weren’t any dandies or flower girls. The guys wore flared pants and tight t-shirts, their hair bushy and wild, and the girls, wild prints and blouses that accentuated their figures, braless and formfitting. The atmosphere made Woodstock seem like the end of something, and this, here in a circus tent, was the beginning of something else.

I didn’t know anything about the Zeppelin. Don the Hippie used to play the LP. It was loud and voracious, brash and beautiful as well. I didn’t know the names of the songs or the names of the band members, only that it was super bluesy and passionate.

The band came out on the stage. They weren’t but a few feet away. I recognized the guitarist from The Yardbirds. He had a very distinctive look. He wore crushed velvet pants and a peach-colored faded Henley, and the singer had flared jeans and a gauzy shirt like Lori wore in hippie-mode. He had shaggy hair below his shoulders. He was handsome, almost pretty.

The announcer said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the Led Zeppelin,” and immediately they started to jam; a crazy, off-kilter blues song with a frantic harmonica. I guess I’m a little na├»ve, I guess I over-simplify things, but in my mind it really was about a train. The imagery in my head was a railroad semaphore, its lights flashing, the steam whistle of a locomotive in the distance. 

My two new friends were over on the other side of the stage really rockin’ out and singing the refrain, “Train kept a-rollin’, all night long.” He was standing behind her with his hands on her waist and he was grinding against her. I got it, suddenly, how wrong I was.
And when it wasn’t just raw passion, the singer moaned about lost love, unabashedly sorry for himself, and lonesome. These songs were like nothing ever heard before. It was sheer power, each member of the band unparalleled in what they did; and not only because no one else was doing it. The music was a ritual, with the band, like magicians or shamans, giving off energy, the audience taking the energy in, then offering it back.
It really did seem like Woodstock was yesterday, and here in front of me was tomorrow. They played a lovely if convoluted instrumental called “Black Mountain Side,” and the audience, a thousand hero worshippers, were transfixed, silent and in awe. I was standing by a huge rack of amps and each note would reverberate inside me, negating how awful I felt. Suddenly, I was weak and out of it. I sat on the edge of the stage and took a breath. I closed my eyes and opened them again. I saw Jimmy Page there before me, his black and white Danelectro morphing in and out of focus. 

It was the last thing I remember.

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