Beat icon William S. Burroughs reviews a Led Zeppelin show back in 1975
One US magazine goes down in the history books as the first filled with rock criticism. While you’d be forgiven thinking it was Rolling Stone or Creem it was, in actual fact, Crawdaddy! who can take the crown. Here, they invite none other than Beat icon William S. Burroughs to review and interview Led Zeppelin.
The proposed plan was to sit Burroughs down alongside Jimmy Page for a deliciously interesting interview. As a bit of prep for the interview, Burroughs was invited to a legendary Led Zeppelin concert as the band were at their peak in 1975.
Crawdaddy! was the first US magazine to have rock criticism at its core, and we have Paul Williams, a student at Swarthmore College, to thank for it. First released in 1966, by the 1970s the magazine had begun to really bring in the readers. The magazine did an especially brilliant job of welcoming some notable guest journalists.
Writers Joseph Heller and Studs Terkel both took turns in reviewing with John Lennon also grabbing his typewriter to contribute to Crawdaddy! during its time. But one particularly wonderful moment came when they asked Burroughs to review a Led Zeppelin concert before sitting down with band member Jimmy Page.
As you might imagine, Burroughs’ live review isn’t exactly you’re every day write-up and instead takes a particularly off-beat route as he presents himself as the picture of innocence. You can read a few excerpts of the piece for Crawdaddy! below and find the full piece here as Burroughs continues to toe the line between mocking and earnestness.
William S. Burroughs reviews Led Zeppelin concert:
“So there we sat, I decline earplugs; I am used to loud drum and horn music from Morocco, and it always has, if skillfully performed, an exhilarating and energizing effect on me. As the performance got underway I experienced this musical exhilaration, which was all the more pleasant for being easily controlled, and I knew then that nothing bad was going to happen.”
Far from the innocent Grandpa tone, Burroughs continues: “This was a safe and friendly area–but at the same time highly charged. There was a palpable interchange of energy between the performers and the audience which was never frantic or jagged. The special effects were handled well and not overdone.”
“A few special effects are much better than too many. I can see the laser beams cutting dry ice smoke, which drew an appreciative cheer from the audience. Jimmy Page’s number with the broken guitar strings came across with a real impact, as did John Bonham’s drum solo and the lyrics delivered with unfailing vitality by Robert Plant. The performers were doing their best, and it was very good. The last number, ‘Stairway to Heaven’, where the audience lit matches and there was a scattering of sparklers here and there, found the audience well-behaved and joyous, creating the atmosphere of a high school Christmas play.”
Burroughs concludes: “All in all a good show; neither low nor insipid. Leaving the concert hall was like getting off a jet plane.”
The interview continues at a similar pace and makes for some wonderful writing if not the most informative piece about Page. But, now we know almost all we can at the click of a button, there’s something precious about Burroughs’ meandering tone. For example, the mutual friends they share: “We started talking over a cup of tea and found we have friends in common: the real estate agent who negotiated Jimmy Page’s purchase of the Aleister Crowley house on Loch Ness; John Michel, the flying saucer and pyramid expert; Donald Camel, who worked on ‘Performance’; Kenneth Anger, and the Jaggers, Mick and Chris.”
“The subject of magic came up in connection with Aleister Crowley and Kenneth Anger’s film ‘Lucifer Rising’, for which Jimmy Page did the sound track. Since the word “magic” tends to cause confused thinking, I would like to say exactly what I mean by “magic” and the magical interpretation of so-called reality. The underlying assumption of magic is the assertion of ‘will’ as the primary moving force in this universe–the deep conviction that nothing happens unless somebody or some being wills it to happen. To me this has always seemed self-evident.”
You can find the full interview hereand it makes for a wonderful bit of reading. Whether you enjoyed Crawdaddy! during its run, or you are a Zep head or indeed indebted to Burroughs, this piece sees two cultural icons collide as they discuss absolutely everything between them and a little bit more to boot.