September 3, 2008
GQ Magazine - Men of the Year Awards
Led Zeppelin, Winner 2008
The second coming of rock's surviving holy trinity was gig of the year, comeback of the decade, and the feedback's still reverberating. GQ bowed at the altar of Plant, Page and Jones when we caught up with the Outstanding Achievement Award winners in 2008....
When it was announced in 2007 that the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin, along with Jason Bonham, son of the band's original drummer John Bonham, would be playing a one-off concert at London's 02 arena, a new kind of rock'n'roll madness ensued. Twenty million people applied for just 20,000 tickets with fans registering at a rate of 80,000 per minute. One fan paid £83,000 for a ticket.
Why all the fuss? And why do they so richly deserve GQ's Outstanding Achievement Award? Well, back in the late Sixties, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John "Bonzo" Bonham invented stadium rock. Forty-odd years on, still no band has played harder and louder with such drilled, haughty magnificence.
The band split in 1980 following Bonham's death. Their last public outing was during the Philadelphia leg of Live Aid in 1985, when it took both Phil Collins and Tony Thompson to replicate Bonzo's bludgeoning style.
"There was only one way to erase all the memories of other times we got together which weren't very... substantial," says Page now.
"So we thought, let's do it properly. We had just one shot. No warm-up gigs..."
"It worked beautifully," says Jones. "Jason knows every part of every song better than us, so he is totally within the spirit of things."
"Right from the first number, it was absolutely terrific," adds Page.
Robert Plant is more philosophical. "Just before we were going to go on, I looked out across that corporately sponsored VIP enclosure, watching everyone with their shimmering camera phones held aloft," he says. "I thought to myself, 'Blimey, we've come a long way since me and Jimmy rented a cottage up in Snowdonia and took just a guitar and a little Philips cassette recorder.'"
Awards like this one are a comparative novelty to the band. "In our day, we never got any," shrugs Page. "And we probably wouldn't have turned up if we had," adds Jones. "The thing is," says Plant, "when the temples get grey, the gongs start coming thick and fast."
Will they reform again for a world tour? "We can't go out unless there are four members of the band there," says Page, "and currently Robert is otherwise engaged with [bluegrass artist] Alison Krauss."
Plant doesn't rule the idea out, but he still sounds wearied by the amount of bureaucracy that accompanied the 02 gig. "The endless paperwork was like nothing I've experienced before," he says. "I've kept every one of the e-mails that were exchanged before the concert and I'm thinking of compiling them for a book, which I feel sure would be hailed as a sort of literary version of Spinal Tap.
"Led Zeppelin's never been about the fans," says Plant. "We've always been about four guys coming together to make thrilling, disturbing rock'n'roll. On our own terms."
Originally published in the October 2008 issue of British GQ.