Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Song du jour: "Rain Song" by Led Zeppelin

I have been playing a bit o’ guitar lately. A couple different finger-pickings, a few more progressions the could be songs, and “Rain Song.”

This has been my favorite Led Zeppelin song since I first heard it. I was sixteen. Time has never diminished my admiration of it. It is a sublimely-written, extended (exhausted?) metaphor of love and the four seasons. The hammer of the gods bombast is there too. Jimmy Page used an unusual modal tuning, DGCGCD, to great droning and dynamic effect – this is an electric guitar showcase for the ages. There is Tabulature notation for it here.

The sparkling riffs unfold like a psychedelic thundercloud, a storm on a languid, late-summer afternoon. When John Paul Jones’ misty Mellotron comes in at the second verse, a fever dream of drowsiness will rush over you. You will cease to know the flow of time and shape of space. As the titanic climax erupts you will know that you have scaled the Mount Olympus of rock music. The gods gather here in Corinthian-columned pavilions to play favorites to certain mortals like the lads in Zep, tossing down the occasional lightning bolt or guitar lick to keep the game interesting. Or is it just me? It doesn’t get much more R.O.C.K. than “Rain Song”.

Or pompous, either. Yes, the Zep could be, um, pretentious. Their biggest weak spot was always Robert Plant’s lyrics. The pantheon of rock n’ roll has already a great, bejeweled and expensive temple to Jimmy, Robert, John and John, far be it from me to befoul it -- I myself have worshiped there for years.

But let me say it plainly – the lyrics to most Led Zeppelin songs suck. Far too many songs about swords, magic, loose women, deserts, oceans, and awkward references to The Lord Of The Rings. The lyrics to “Rain Song” could’ve been written by a 10th grader for an English poetry class project to post in the hall for the school creative writing contest, in which it might have had a chance of an honorable mention:

It is the springtime of my loving
The second season I am to know
Your are the sunlight in my growing
So little warmth I felt before
It isn’t hard to feel me glowing
I watched the fire that grew so low

It is the summer of my smiles
Flee from me, keepers of the gloom
Speak to me only with your eyes
It is to you I give this tune
It isn’t hard to recognize
These things are clear to all from time to time
I felt the coldness of my winter
I never thought it would ever go
I cursed the gloom that set upon us
But I know that I love you so

These are the seasons of emotion
And like the winds they rise and fall
This is the wonder of devotion
I see the torch we all must hold
This is the mystery of the quotient
Upon us all a little rain must fall
Just a little rain

C’mon – I mean, seriously, people.... “Flee from me, keepers of the gloom”???? Whew. OK. Percy, read something besides Tolkien for a change.

But you know what? I’m ok with that. Plant's talent was always in his voice, not verbalization, and in "Rain Song" the words perfectly compliment the instrumental wizardry of the band. For Zeppelin was a tight band above all else and sweeping dynamics their specialty. Some selections from their catalog approach “Rain Song” in epic, majestic grandeur, but none better it. The baroque, vague lyrics compliment the ambitious, dreamy mood of the chords perfectly… and you can chuckle at the subtle comedy of the lyrics, as well.

I used to believe this was a hard song to play on guitar– I still do – but when using the above tuning it falls on the neck quite naturally. It’s a great song to get lost in while playing – the chords and voiceings just seem so exotic, but right somehow. When I play it I see forested glens and maidens in white robes on unicorns. Is that weird?

A note on timeliness: a post that I put up on 11/14 vanished some time back when I got too enthusiastic tinkering with my template’s html. It was brilliant – I just wish I could remember what it was about.

Finally, if you have talked to me in the last two weeks, you know my lovely wife, Wendi, is preggers. We are very happy about this bean , and thank you all for your kindness. I’m still in awe of the idea of being a father, let alone the reality.