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.
You’re very welcome, Robert (Lurie). Very cool article!
Like I said previously, I’d love it if there was a forum on Robert’s official site so we could chat more.
I probably will never meet him, so maybe you could run the idea by him when you see him! I see you loved Robert w/Strange Sensation too. Do you have Justin Adams’ recent CD, under the band name Les Triaboliqes? I LOVE it!
I have to ammend my comments (she said sheepishly):
I do really like the duets Plant has done with MALE singers: 8:05 with Kevin Scott MacMichael (I thought it was Plant on both voice parts until I read the credit), and 12 Harps with Scott Matthews. Matthews sounds a bit like Jeff Buckley and the song and their vocals are GORGEOUS. One of my favorite songs Plant’s ever recorded-I listen to it over & over.
I just wanted to thank you all for the thoughtful comments on this post. It was extremely gracious of Mr. Plant to feature this profile on his webpage. Definitely one of those moments where I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming!
I was quite interested to read people’s thoughts on male vs. female celebrity. There is definitely WAY more pressure on women to cosmetically alter themselves in the effort to stay young (usually for film roles and the like). I DO see an encouraging sign in the late-career success of Helen Mirren, though. If she’s had any “work” done, it’s relatively minor. She is someone who is not afraid to act her age and, my God, she’s gorgeous.
I’m very much looking forward to the RP tour. I’ll be at the Phoenix show. While I’m still hoping for a third “Strange Sensation” album at some point, this new direction sounds very interesting.
Again, thank you all!!
I guess it would be a duP/dwP, not a Pui
(driving while Plantoxicated)
What the hell: Robert, just sing a capella from now on:)
You could call the new album NAKED IF I WANT TO. I’d love it!
I heard Plant is touring with Patty Griffin & Buddy Miller. I don’t dislike their voices but Patty Griffin’s new cd is gospel music: I don’t want to sit through an evening of religious music.
I hope Robert returns to solo singing soon: I want to hear the edges of his voice and all the slides, twists and turns he adds to a melody. At best, backup/duet vocals blur the edges of lead vocals and cause the lead vocal to lose definition. With some lead singers I can tolerate that but with Plant, I want to hear the tiniest detail. I also want him to sing alone because in that context he has the most freedom to improvise/interpret, which to me is one of his most powerful, defining qualities.
YES, YES, YES, ROBERT: PRETTY PLEASE WITH LEMON ON TOP, COME NORTH AND SING FOR US NORTH COUNTRY GIRLS!
Don’t feel bad, avacado, you’re not the only one in danger of getting a Pui:
I have Plant interviews with Terri Gross & Charlie Rose on cds (my sis got them from iTunes for me). The first time I listened to them (on a boombox next to my bed) I suddenly realized I was laying across my bed with my forehead on the boombox, holding it with both hands!
In other words, even his speaking voice makes me lightheaded: it has such a melodious, hypnotic quality.
Recently I took a road trip and brought those discs along-I hadn’t listened to them for a while & thought it would be a good way to refresh my memory (in a car where you’re not distracted & going in & out of the room). I put the TG disc in and got that lightheaded feeling as soon as he started talking, so I ejected it. The only way I could leave it on while driving was to not really pay attention, and I thought, what’s the point of that?
I’m glad you were honest about your reaction, avacado, because now I know I’m not the only one! I refrain from listening to his ballads in my car because I get that loopy feeling…Robert’s kind of like a human muscle relaxer:)
BTW: Terri Gross introduces “Robert Plant” but continues “PAGE also wrote” Stairway to Heaven! Either Robert didn’t notice or he was too gracious to say anything. I guess PALMER would have been worse! Gonna have to face it I’m addicted to Plant:)
I wish Robert Plant had a forum on his website so we fans could have a place to chat with each other! I’d probably post a zillion times how I’m dying to hear Robert Plant & Sonny Landreth together, hoping Robert would see one of my posts (I talked to Sonny about it and he liked the idea-who wouldn’t?!).
Cheers to my fellow Plant fans!
The first time I heard Robert sing Song to the Siren, I was in my car driving a long distance and immediately loved it and said to myself I have to listen to this over and over and over. And then (don’t laugh or say ugh) I started to cry uncontrollably because it IS so beautiful and his voice is so magical and he IS a siren and I HAD to stop listening or get into a car accident! I think he’s gorgeous. He has the prettiest features of any man OR woman of any age! He’s such a beautiful creature, inside and out. So looking forward to his new, exciting tour with his new exciting group but ROBERT COME NORTH!!!!
Sorry- I find it hard to take seriously a rock article from someone who does not spell Pete Townshend’s name correctly.
Ask and ye shall receive. All apologies to Mr. Townshend and his family. Though I can say with confidence that it is not quite the most humiliating thing that has ever happened to Pete.
_Live at Leeds_ will never be equaled by anyone, even Led Zeppelin.
I love ya, Pete. Sorry, mate.
He’s always innovative and amazing, and I can’t wait to hear what he’ll do next.
That is a great song. Thanks for posting the piece. I watched this video, from the same VH1 session – ‘Darkness, Darkness’ and ‘Going to California’ and was struck by his comments about British music popular when he was a kid. I suppose that would include the Beatles?
P.S. Please see New York Times Apr. 25th Sunday Styles article “A Little Too Ready For Her Close-up” by Laura M. Holson concerning how “cosmetic surgery or Botox can hurt a career”. Very timely and satisfying to note that not all “enhanced” ladies and gentlemen can get the part, the guy/girl, and/or be considered beautiful. All of us natural beauties, and this undoubtedly includes Robert Plant, are way ahead of the curve.
Sixty is not the new Forty. Sixty is good fortune and I for one am very grateful for it. Thanks again to Mr. Plant for the excellent example of natural aging and for his music that continues to delight and inspire.
Duh-I just saw the link-sorry!
I don’t see the recommendation of Song to the Siren in the article, as mentioned by Jackie (Is there a longer version of this article somewhere? If so, I want to read it!) but Song to the Siren IS my very favorite Plant vocal. It (and several other remarkable tracks) is on the album “Dreamland”. Listen to it and I challenge you not to melt!
Despite being in the late middle age demographic, I’ve only become a passionate Plant fan about 5 years ago. Plant’s albums with The Strange Sensation are my favorite of his entire career, so I’m glad he didn’t stay with Zeppelin all these years(I’m also glad his upcoming album/tour won’t be with Krauss, though I know I’m in the minority on that). Yes I love Zep, and the later P&P albums even more, but Robert’s love & knowledge of music and his skill run so wide and deep that it’s easy to see why he didn’t stick with the same classic rock formula for 40 years.
As to his avoidance of botox & plastic surgery, I agree with jackie-his face is something I hope he NEVER decides to change artificially! It’s perfect the way it
is. I wish more people followed his example.
If only there wasn’t such a double standard for women.
Guys who date girls half (or less than half) their age are part of the problem-including aging rockers. From an early age we are bombarded with advertising for makeup: later come anti-wrinkle, anti-aging, botox, faclift ads & infomercials. Oprah recently ran promos for an episode called something like: look younger, thinner & taller (TALLER?! Here all these years I thought I was stuck being 4ft 11-ish).
I refuse to wear makeup-if people don’t think my face is as pretty without it, too bad. I wonder how many women would skip makeup, anti-aging creams, botox & plastic surgery if they really thought about it? Unfortunately most just conform, so these companies make easy money. Meanwhile they distract girls & women from issues that are much more important and create unrealistic ideals which cause girls and women to feel bad about their appearance.
But I digress: NICE ARTICLE ABOUT PLANTY (I saw it on his website and followed the link here). May he continue to sing on with his beautiful, natural face & body for another 40 years!
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Zeppelin always had a touch (and just a touch) of musical class (relative to their heavy contemporaries, a la Black Sabbath, etc.) that only Mr. Plant has seemed to let grow. Please, will someone stop the Rolling Stones from rolling?
Oh boy, do I concur.
Great surprise and continuing inspiration for this fading old girl, was to “discover” Robert Plant as role-model of brilliantly un-self-conscious aging. If he ever touches that remarkable face with botox……well, it wouldn’t be pretty.
You article describes present-day Robert Plant so well and your suggestion of the video “Song to the Siren”, very apt. His tender rendition of that lovely song could only have come from an awakened old soul. Thanks so much.
Indeed, Robert. Mr. Plant is a class act.
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