Published on 7th February 2019
Chris Salewicz – Jimmy Page: The Definitive Biography
The problem with most biographies is that ultimately any insight they give is mere speculation. Unless the biographer is or was particularly close to their subject, that speculation is just another opinion to be taken no more or less seriously than, well, the reader’s own. This is why I always much prefer autobiographies, that whether ghost-written or not are usually going to shine some real illumination on their subject.
The biographer here is Chris Salewicz, a career music journalist going way back to the time when punters, me included, pored over the latest edition of the NME or whatever as a Bible substitute, is quite good at daft speculation, particularly where his subject’s lifelong ill-advised obsession with black magic is concerned. Take this little gem stretching the bounds of credulity, on musing about a fire that destroyed Page’s, and of course Aleister Crowley’s by then very former residence, Boleskine House on 23rd December 2015: “Precisely why should this have happened 36 hours before Christianity’s premier celebration?” Err… dunno Chris, perhaps Beezelbub’s watch was a day and a half fast?
Comparatively little analytical prose is given over to Page’s upbringing, meaning little is revealed about his formative character, other than he seems to have displayed exaggerated “only child” character traits. In fact we learn as much about Aleister Crowley’s early life as we do Jimmy’s. Instead it is left to salacious gossip and second-hand tittle-tattle to glean that Page doesn’t seem to have been a terribly nice chap, right from when he first gained recognition as a very young guitarist of some ability. Thus we learn that the book doesn’t eulogise, or at least when it does we are soon reminded that Page was a bit of a bastard by one contemporary or another. Despite Salewicz’s later backtracking claim that Page was “essentially a nice bloke”, this is no whitewash, and various quotes from all along the timeline leaves the reader with the distinct impression that Page was on occasion thoroughly dislikeable, especially when under the influence, which seemed to be most of the time, and something of an emotional bully, stoned or not.
This 506 page doorstop is exhaustively detailed, and well put together, and last but not least an entertaining if occasionally stomach-churning read. It is essentially a fast-flowing stream of rehashed articles and quotes, roughly two-thirds of which I and anyone with a knowledge of rock history and Zep in particular should be familiar with. Salewicz proves to be a meticulously thorough researcher, and has compiled the book in a logical, readable fashion. He also has a liking for chucking in the occasional “big” word to impress us with his journalistic credentials. I would point out that the somewhat clunky “suzerainty”, a bit of a fave of Chris’s, applies to nations not individuals. I admit I had to look it up, and the subsequently discovered misuse made me smile.
Bouts of hyperbole, such as declaring Page’s solo in Stairway To Heaven to be “the most famous solo in the history of popular music” (try humming it note-for-note now, I bet you can’t!) and the guitarist to be “the greatest national treasure of British popular music” are wide of the mark and unintentionally mildly comedic, as are his hippy-centric frequent use of star signs to highlight particular character traits. Apparently, Page voted Tory because he was a Capricorn. Not because he fancied keeping more of his huge pile of loot then, which given his legendary tight-fistedness is the more prosaic, but probably correct reason. Elsewhere, and with no sense of irony, Salewicz muses that an underage groupie who happened to be Scorpio, would have connected with “Jimmy’s Scorpio rising”. Heheh…
Unlike Robert Plant who seems to have redeemed his reputation post-Zep, and is a musician always looking for new ways of doing things, making him still relevant, Page has never really tried to break out of the Zep prison, and his undoubted musical talent has largely been wasted since the band ceased after John Bonham’s untimely if not entirely surprising death in 1980. It’s probably no wonder the guitarist went through a bout of depression thereafter, but frankly, he only had to look in the mirror to see its cause.
I approached this weighty tome of the opinion that Jimmy Page was the epitome (or nadir, depending on your point of view) of the louche, debauched, drug-addled, misanthropic, amoral Rock Star, renowned for being tight as a gnat’s chuff, and with the requisite Rock Star mahoosive ego, and that his band and its minders were the pinnacle/trough of self-indulgent Rock Star excess, those minders and the frighteningly unhinged drummer in particular having a propensity for sickening excesses, and that everything that came before them was a rehearsal, and that everything during their reign and after that aped their thoroughly reprehensible behaviour was a mere wannabe imitation.
Having read this admittedly entertaining if hardly enlightening biography my initial picture of Jimmy Page has merely been given deeper colour and a bucket of juicily gory fine detail, but I am no nearer knowing the real James Patrick Page, OBE. I actually doubt the man even knows himself. Thank your deity of choice for the music, which was fucking immense, is all I can say!
Although Led Zep were the coke-lined hellish pits of ’70s cynicism writ far too large for their own good, admit it, you and I loved the myth at the time, being mere impressionable teens, but in hindsight it was a fucking appalling way for role models (or anyone) to behave, not least the awful rampant misogyny, and the gratuitous violence meted out on behalf of the Stars by the drummer, his manager and crew.
The Age of the Rock Star is now but a dying ember, and this book takes us back to the peak of its greedy devouring flames, with all its many faults and thrills exposed and raw. It all seems barely believable now, and in an age where escapism will soon once again be of huge importance as western cultures continue to inflict self-imposed wounds on themselves with an ignorant and sadly masochistic but gleeful abandon. This book and the many others like it may even become instruction manuals. For humanity’s sake, I hope not!
Right, now back to the Waitrose Magazine, and the tale of moral probity that is Felicity First Great-Western’s piece on delaying orgasm until the last possible moment, using a Waitrose Artisan Fishslice.
Publishers – Harper Collins
Author – Chris Salewicz
Date of Release: 26th July 2018
Harper Collins – Jimmy Page: The Definitive Biography