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Tor for Four: Erik Davis begins his Zep review with a tour of Glastonbury Tor.

Does Anybody Remember Zoso?

A new book overanalyzes 'Led Zeppelin IV'

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NO MATTER what you think about Led Zeppelin—good or bad—there was always an element of mystery. According to technomystic Erik Davis, that's precisely the whole point. The band was up to something, but they weren't 'fessing. There's occult symbolism somewhere in, around and in between the grooves of (a.k.a the Zoso album, a.k.a. Led Zeppelin IV), and in his new book for the 33 1/3 series, (Continuum; $9.95), Davis spends 177 pages dissecting that majestic rune-rock classic for Continuum Books' 33 1/3 series. And where does he begin? A summer solstice journey to Glastonbury Tor, England's mystic Mecca. Davis bought a cassette copy of for the car ride up the M5 and the rest is history.

The most ingenious aspect of this book, even if you're not literate in mysticism and the occult, is that Davis intentionally and deliberately overanalyzes the entire album—which includes hits "Black Dog," "Rock and Roll," "Misty Mountain Hop," "Stairway to Heaven" and "When the Levee Breaks." That's the point. It's almost like reaching over to your bookshelf, pulling out the entire Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown series and applying it to "Four Sticks."

To Davis, it's all about finding connections and redefining what you think of as "meaning." As soon as he refers to the album as the Great Work, you know exactly where's going with this project. He compares the four symbols to Earth, Air, Fire and Water and, respectively, the Discs, Swords, Wands and Cups of Tarot cards. After all, there are four guys in the band, four tracks on each side, four symbols—and it's Zeppelin's fourth album. Let your own occult conspiracy erupt from the connections. This is music journalism as alchemy. Reality is whatever you can get away with.

Davis is not saying Page and Plant deliberately hid a bunch of secret stuff in the album, but that they were creative magical dudes and things just happen that way. And it's no secret that Page was into the occult. Consider the following passage from the book:

"Like the YHVH of the Jews and alchemists, is unpronounceable, a verbal tangle that underscores the most important thing about these four sigils: that they seem to communicate something without saying anything at all. When confronted with inscrutable signs, our natural impulse is to decode them, to 'know what they mean.' But when it comes to , strict meanings are neither their nature nor their function. These sigils, and the musical sounds they announce, don't mean stuff so much as make stuff happen. And they make stuff happen by frustrating the conventional process of meaning. And this, by the way, is one of the basic procedures of the occult."

He's right, and after giving the reader an intellectual whirlwind preamble filled with man, myth and magic, Davis blasts through all eight tracks, one by one, throwing in all sorts of analysis. Again, go over to your occult bookshelf and pull out Dogme et rituel de la haute magie by 19th-century French magus Éliphas Lévi. Reread Secrets of the Temple of Isis. Go study Indian ragas, Tarot cards, hippies, sects, gurus, the '70s, acid, bell-bottoms and Beowulf. Zeppelin meanders in, out, around and in between all of the above. And there will never be anything like them in our pop consciousness. It could only have happened in the '70s.

Most of all, you can tell that Davis had an absolute blast with this whole project. "I will tell you that when I thought about doing a 33 1/3 book, it did not take long to settle on Zep IV," Davis said via email from the road. "It is not my favorite record, or even my favorite Zep record, but it has so much juice, and touches on all the elements that make the band great: yearning, big beats, fey acoustic guitars, epic mystique, crunchy riffs. Besides, for being such a huge band, very few people have written intelligently about the band, and I wanted to throw down big and, in a sense, honor them, for all the pleasure they have given me over the years ... I woke up one morning from a strange dream knowing that I could not pass up the opportunity."


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From the August 3-9, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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