Archive for December, 2012

Zeppelin Archaeology

Monday, December 3rd, 2012 by Kostis Kourelis

A couple of years ago, we began the Punk Archaeology project which will culminate in a day-long conference, performance and all-around happening in Fargo this February (see here). The revival of this collaborative (it would be punk sacrilege to call it “community”) helps me return to one of the issues raised in the project, namely the relationship between punk and house form. I had pondered on this before, see The House of the Rising SunThe Clashsquatting, Iggy Pop’s trailer home in Ypsilanti,. As Barack Obama honors Led Zeppelin in the 2012 Kennedy Center awards today, I am thinking about the contrast between two domestic utopias, between punk’s post-industrial arcadia of urban ruins and rock’s pre-industrial utopia of the idyllic countryside. During the 1970s, two antithetical bands, The Clash and Led Zeppelin congregated in radically different dwellings. Both were extreme expressions of belonging and both were off the grid — neither had electricity nor water. Joe Strummer began his musical career in 1974 by forming The 101ers, who took their name from 101 Walterton Road, London, where the band squatted. The row house was part of a bombed out World War II neighborhood that the government eventually demolished in 1975. The band then squatted at 36 N Luke Rd in a West Indian neighborhood, which explains punk’s Skaconnections. Through The Clash and other bands like them, punk was conceived inside the domestic ruins of 19th-century cities.

At the same time, Led Zeppelin retreated to the British countryside, inhabiting an 18th-century cottage in Wales. Bron-Yr-Aur, made famous by an instrumental track by the same name, belonged to Robert Plant’s family, who took used it as a vacation house in the 1950s. Although rooted in the American blues, Led Zeppelin taps into a medieval sense of organicity that is deeply seated in the foundations of the British psyche. This is clearly evident in the band’s fin-de-sieclelogotype. While Plant and Jimmy Page were writing Zeppelin III at Bron-Yr-Aur, Raymond Williams was historicizing the British myth of the country in a landmark of Marxist historiography, The Country and The City (1973). Williams argued that the British began idealizing the countryside at the very moment that they were destroying it (the enclosure movement, aristocrats turning to capitalist landlords, etc.) Unbeknownst to Williams, Plant and Page were in the process of transforming the myth of rural England into a powerful acoustic aura to be replicated in ordinary homes through high-fidelity record players. The Bron-Yr-Aur house (photo below) represents the specific architectural origins of this transformation. Zeppelin’s genius (which is why they are honored by the White House) is to invisibly translate these very stone walls into an aural structure that bears no resemblance to its vernacular origin.