Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga by Stephen Davis

Read this book twenty-five years ago. It's no longer in my possession, so I can't cite it verbatim. I should also fully disclose that I'm a dork. In the mid 1980s, when The Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, and the A-Ha's of the New-Ro or New Wave world (whatever the hip kids called their hip music then) ruled radio airwaves, I wore my dated, feathered, long blond locks parted down the middle with pride, and without fail wore faded denim and checkered flannel too.  Dork extraordinaire. I proselytized Zeppelin-this and Zeppelin-that to anyone who would listen -- which meant I spoke of Led Zeppelin to mostly nobody. But now, thanks to blogger.com, I can speak to literally single digits of you.

Stephen Davis wrote a biographic masterpiece for Zeppelin fans who'd fallen in love with the band years after their breakup (and for those who were fans all along during their '70s heyday) and yet who were both starved for band information besides album liner notes and whatever else could be gleaned from that bloated, visually and sonically unstunning concert film, acid trip of a bio-pic, The Song Remains The Same. Keep in mind that in 1985, hardly anyone owned a PC so forget about easy access to the internet; and the two major hard rock fanzines at the time, about the only solid sources for hard rock information, Circus and Hit Parader, had long abandoned journalistic forays and photo spreads into what, considering the mid-80s hard rock zeitgeist, had become the dinosaurs of hard rock (i.e., the Zeppelin's and Sabbath's and so forth), and on into the heavier, allegedly edgier, more three-chordish and outrageously theatrical likes of Motley Crue, W.A.S.P. ("We Are Sexual Perverts"), Twisted Sister, and Ozzy. Style -- and big hair and cartoonish videos -- had mostly replaced substance and creative hard rock craftsmanship. A dearth of literature, Led Zeppelin related, existed during this dark Reagan-80s epoch in our culture and society.

Enter, for the out-of-touch-with-current-musical / fashion-trends, Zeppelin acolyte, the glorious Hammer Of The Gods, an unauthorized salute to the Led Zeppelin Saga -- and a Burning Bush moment for yours truly. Glory, glory hallelujah!, was my instantaneous, practically obeisant reaction seeing Hammer Of The Gods perched vertically on a rickety plastic stand just outside the glass, double-doored entrance to B. Dalton Booksellers (remember them?) in the Lakewood Mall, sandwiched inbetween the latest Jackie Collins and Sidney Sheldon releases. Thank God I'd just mowed some lawns and had a few bucks on me to buy it right then and there, or I might've lifted it.

Stephen Davis treated his subject matter, the four brilliant musicians of the band, along with band manager, Peter Grant, and the assortment of hangers-on and infamous groupies, like they were all important historical figures, writing about their childhoods, educations and genealogies. In other words, he took the members of Led Zeppelin and, more importantly, their groundbreaking music, seriously. The songs of every album got dissected like frogs.  As did each tour and significant concert.  I learned about the blues and the history of blues and what a word like "hybrid" meant in a hard rock context. I learned about Celtic mythology and pagan practices and black magic; learned that Jimmy Page, guitar messiah virtuoso of Led Zeppelin, so obsessed with Aleister Crowley, had actually purchased Crowley's mysterious manor on Loch Ness -- fascinating facts for a rebellious adolescent who, like that wily Serpent of yore, had shed the confining skin of his religious upbringing.

Moreover, Hammer Of The Gods came replete with chapter notes and bibliographical sources -- like it were a bonafide textbook!-- and not merely some hastily binded record label's latest marketing ploy disguised as a fan-rag designed to sell more copies of some One-Hit wonder's second single about to drop off the charts -- a business tactic so rampant in those days (and still today, I'm afraid, among the teeny boppers). This teenage reader here, talking now as an adult dork, and still a raving Zep fanatic now as I was then, was enrapt reading Davis' biography, to say the least! The book carried an aura of genuine scholarship and research I'd seen only once before in a rock-bio covering another dearly departed band long out of style by the mid-80s, The Doors, in No One Here Gets Out Alive.

Of course, I'm praising Hammer Of The Gods through the nostalgic lense of perhaps an overly impressionable teenager's eyes prone to worshipful, annoying hyperbole. I wonder, am I any different really than a Jonas Brothers or Justin Bieber slobbering aficionado? Could be. Today, of course, if I held the "Hammer" in my hands, read a few pages, I'd probably shake my head at the over-the-top hedonism (who could forget Zeppelin's notorious "Shark Incident" involving a shark's snout used rather disgustingly and degradingly as a phallus on an inebriated groupie?) and legendary decadence explicitly and gleefully relayed by Davis to the reader, and think what's the big deal? Sounds like Jerry Springer or Howard Stern shenanigans. Perhaps I shake my head out of a sense of vicarious jealousy, as my life compared to Jimmy Page's life or Robert Plant's life has turned out to be so ... so damn ordinary. Though I'm glad my life hasn't ended like John Bonham's life, true (the iconic drummer for the band who died at thirty-three having OD'd after an extreme bout of binge drinking). And I guess the big deal for me was that Led Zeppelin at the time had become like my personal gods (think "American Idol"-like fanatical effusiveness) replacing what was to me an irrelevant, impersonal faith, giving me something, if only loud melodic music -- clanging overdubbed guitars riffing through the aether, bass thomp, snare thwack, grating though strangely ethereal vocals -- I could believe in and relate to instead, and Hammer Of The Gods became like my brand new King James Bible. Amen!

I wonder when that fantastic biography of 80s Pop luminaries, ABC or The Human League, is going to come out?

CymLowell Book Review Party Wednesdays


  1. I am ledzepfan: by Zepy Hungary www.Blogter.hu Fanatikus Led Zeppelin rajongó

  2. Glad I found you via Cym lowell's blog hop. Bios make great read, especially when mixed in with the outrageous business of music in it's early phases of notoriety and an absolute phenomenon of one of the most creative and dynamic rock bands we will ever know.

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  4. Glad you found me too through Cym Lowell's blog. I like your salon a lot. Got one myself, in LibraryThing.


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