If there were a Class of 1971 Rock ‘n’ Roll Yearbook, I’d bet good money that Robert Plant–the groupie-shagging, booze-swilling, caterwauling lead singer of Led Zeppelin–would’ve been voted “Least Likely to Age Gracefully.”
What a surprise, then, to find Robert Plant circa 2010 entering his sunset years in dignity and style. Unique among his peers, he shows no intention of botoxing over the deep canyons in his face. And instead of blithely accepting the proffered millions t0 re-conquer the planet with a reformed Led Leppelin, he has continued to push forward with his inventive solo career (incorporating his obsession with North African music seamlessly into the material) and has also embarked upon an inspired collaboration with bluegrass musician Alison Krauss.
Don’t get me wrong: a Zeppelin tour would have been very exciting indeed. Plant still has that legendary wail, as evidenced by the grainy but nonetheless incediary YouTube footage that has surfaced of the band’s 2007 reunion gig. But it’s clear that Plant’s heart and mind are fully engaged in the present. Why revisit material written in the ecstatic throes of youth when there is so much to say now, from the vantage point of age and experience? And what does it say about our culture that the former is deemed more worthy of attention (and critical ink) than the latter?
Part of this problem may lie with the medium of rock ‘n’ roll itself. Pete Townshend encapsulated it when he wrote the striking (but not particularly forward-looking) lines “I hope I die before I get old.” Watching the awkward progression of many of Townshend’s peers into old age, one sometimes wishes more of them had heeded that advice.
Rock music does not have many true “elder statesmen.” There are few late-career corollaries to Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. We do have Neil Young and Peter Gabriel. But more typical are the Rolling Stones, who check their walkers and colostomy bags at stage right every night so they can shake their sagging moneymakers in a never-ending tribal dance of denial. I have no desire to subsidize Dionysus’ viagra intake. Do you?
Plant must surely have been thinking about all this when he penned the following lines:
“My peers may flirt with cabaret / Some fake the rebel yell / Me, I’m moving up to higher ground / I must escape their hell.”
I’m excited to hear what he does next. How many dinosaurs can you say that about?
Robert Dean Lurie is the author of No Certainty Attached: Steve Kilbey and The Church.