A rocky analogy

Clever fella, that Stephen Fry. The UK’s favourite polymath lists as one of his guilty pleasures, the music of Led Zeppelin. And, glory be, in correctly pointing out the quality that numerous wannabe copycat groups never possessed, his intelligence and taste are such that he also avoided committing the cardinal sin of labelling the band (not group, note; Zeppelin was a band) ‘heavy metal’.

Why do so many continue to mistakenly pigeonhole Zeppelin in this fashion? If, like me, you’re a Zep-head, and have commandeered several relatives, friends, colleagues and acquaintances to proxy register for the ballot for Zeppelin’s forthcoming one-off reunion concert, you should object to, and where possible correct, instances of this ignorance. Yes, a significant proportion of their oeuvre was electric blues-based rock music; but they absorbed, assimilated, exploited and invented (or should that be created?) so much more, including folk, funk, eastern and African influences. For me, Zeppelin can be summarised in one word – synergy. You might not be a fan; fine. But, you might also assume you don’t like them because you don’t like heavy metal. Led Zeppelin is not heavy metal. If you, reader, are of this impression, then you have limited knowledge of their repertoire and are resorting to an uninformed assumption. You likely also think that Stairway to Heaven is their best song (it isn’t), because it’s the most famous and, anyway, everybody says it’s their best, and the one the media invariably refers to, so it must be then, right? Check out their albums and get back to me.

Where am I going with this (apart from indulging myself)? I’m seeking an analogy here. How is it that, when we don’t know enough about something, when we are ignorant of detail, when we don’t understand, we still insist on categorisation and assumptions, taking the quickest, easiest, laziest route to incorporation in our mental schemata? How can we make judgements when we have insufficient facts to hand? Would a trial jury be permitted to consider a verdict after the judge decided there was insufficient evidence? Nah! But we all do it, taking our cues from media titbits, believing what we’re spoon-fed, instead of either attempting to find out more, or just raising our hands and saying “Dunno”. Why do we assume this is just the way things are and allow it to be confirmed back to us via that supposed mirror of real society (so we’re told) – the soap opera? (Why do I assume you’re the least bit interested in this?)

To label Zeppelin as heavy metal is dumbing down. Perhaps to label research on early human embryos as immoral, unethical, is likewise too simplistic, too limited, too obtuse. ‘When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer’ (Stevie Wonder, Superstition). The ballot is today; keep your fingers crossed for me.

5 responses to “A rocky analogy

  1. You are certainly aware that the expression “heavy metal” referring to music is credited to Lester Bangs in an article about Led Zeppelin. It’s impossible to talk about them and not talk about heavy metal.
    Now, I totally agree they are much more then just heavy metal. I dislike Starway to Heaven, and I think it’s very funny when people end up thinking that this song is a great heavy metal song, since the Zep are so metal.
    …And what does it mean to say that liking Led is a “guilty pleasure”? A real metalhead, or leadhead, should be more proud. Metal is not a sin!!… Wait a minute, no, it is but… well, you got my idea. :P
    Up the leds!!!…

  2. Hi Nicolau,
    I don’t recall the Lester Bangs article, but am familiar with many that couple Zeppelin with heavy metal, a genre which, although applicable to many fine examples, has become an umbrella moniker for a lot of dross (and I have examples of both in my collection).
    I thought the term itself was taken from Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to be Wild’, with many cited as its originators (Cream, Hendrix, Black Sabbath, etc). But, just because a lot of metal has been influenced by Zeppelin, it doesn’t backwards apply that Zeppelin were so.
    It just seems to have become such a media-easy (lazy) label… like ‘Frankensteinian science’. Stuff just gets shoe-horned under the nearest pre-available heading .. often with misleading consequences.

  3. Actually the origin of the term is more cotroversial, but Led is certainly one of the greatest candidates for the title of “the first heavy metal band”. I believe that is the reason the press insists in recalling that all the time, as if it mattered…
    As you said, it’s one of those “easy labels” the media likes, just like calling the Grammy the “Oscar of music”, and the Emmy the “TV Oscar”… Someday we will listen them calling the Nobel the Oscar of science. As if it were not annoying enough that any science prize is already “the Nobel of this or that”…
    It’s a form of communication breakdown going on, leaving us all dazed and confused… That’s life: good times, bad times. I do ask myself, as you did: how many more times? But in the end I decide that even tough you shook me, I can’t quit you baby! :)

  4. Ten Years Gone since I’ve been in the lab and feeling Sick Again. That failing experiment is a Heartbreaker, but I guess That’s the Way it is. What to do? Take a Night Flight somewhere across The Ocean; Going to California, maybe. Or perhaps just a night Out on the Tiles before I Ramble On. Nobody’s Fault But Mine.

  5. This post is not mean to talk about rock music isn’t it? I am also sometimes angry with those ‘we’ described in the third paragraph. They are so sure about what they don’t know why to that they dare to criticize those who are trying to tell them the different but true fact. This atmosphere make science literacy of the public more difficult to attain.


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