I have this fantastic memory, this crazy dream that surfaces, like a wave, every time I hear a Led Zeppelin song.
I’m six years old sitting on the basement floor of my childhood home and, spread out before me, scattered like jigsaw puzzle pieces, is my father’s collection of vinyl records. A classic rock fan, my dad had many great artists in his mix- – Steve Miller, The Who, Crosby Stills and Nash, The Moody Blues. I can still see them vividly, the drawings and designs that adorned each glossy cover dug deep into my imagination as I would sit stone-still and stare at them for hours while the records spun, the lyrics echoing from the mountainous pioneer speakers behind me.
There was one record that I liked to play more than any other, one record that stood out among the 40 or 50 others that my father had accumulated through the years. It was Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy.
When I first came across the album, I remember everything around me just kind of fell away. The world seemed to stop spinning as I stared, entranced, at the album cover. I was startled by the image of the nude children (not much older than me at the time) climbing the wall of rocks, their faces turned away, only their backsides visible. One of them was reaching up with both hands. One was in a crouch. The whole thing was mesmerizing. And the colors! Pinks and reds and oranges and purples all melding together to create a dreamy, enchanted skyline. It was all so far away. Was it sunrise? Or sunset?
I wondered what was over the hill.
Eventually, I unsheathed the record and carefully placed the needle in the first track. I held the sleeve out before me as the first guitar chords sounded.
Fast forward to 2017 and I am sitting in our mini van waiting for my wife, who is inside Target with our three kids “just picking up a few things.” As soon as the automatic sliding door closes, I find myself cueing up Zeppelin through the speakers – Houses of the Holy, opening track, “The Song Remains the Same.” I turn it up, recline in my seat, crack my window, and close my eyes. I’m back on the basement floor, Page’s guitar a time turner, the master’s call.
It took 10 days to shoot the Houses of the Holy album cover. To say that the whole thing did not go smoothly for Zepp would be an understatement. In order to get the shot that they wanted with the proper lighting, the camera crew only took pictures at sunrise and sunset each day. They were in a remote spot in Northern Ireland, and there was a lot of waiting around in between shots for the two child models, Stefan and Samantha Gates, five and seven at the time. The weather would not cooperate. The sun refused to shine. It rained. They cursed the gloom, no doubt.
Outside my minivan, the sunset is coming and my wife and kids are still in the store. “The Song Remains the Same” has ended and “The Rain Song” has begun, which is my favorite Zeppelin song. I turn it up so that the outside world is drowned out. Gone. In 10 minutes, my children will break in and disrupt this moment. They will barge through the door and immediately notice Daddy’s music playing and demand (loudly) that it be turned off (and thrown out). They will declare it the worst music ever made and cover their ears when I try to explain myself, to defend my music. I so want to pass the torch, this sword of gold. I want to give them this tune.
I want to give all of them.
Some say that the Houses of the Holy cover design was inspired by a science fiction novel called “Childhood’s End.” To me, though, everytime I look at the album sleeve, I can’t help but think of another novel, one of my favorites, “The Catcher in the Rye.” In one part of this novel by J.D. Salinger, the young protagonist of the story, Holden Caulfield, talks to his sister about this big idea he’s having. He tells her that he has this image that he can’t seem to shake, that he is in a big field of rye on the edge of a cliff playing a game with thousands of kids. They’re all running. Nobody big is around. Holden says that he has to be the catcher, that is, he has to catch all these kids who don’t know any better and will run over the cliff if they’re not careful. So that’s his job, forever, to be the catcher in the rye. Thousands of kids, all running in a field of rye, all waiting to be caught.
In my mind there is some rain falling, too. Just a little.
The designers behind the Houses cover never got the shot that they wanted. The sleeve design that we know (and love) today came about as the result of some accidental tinting in post production. Things aren’t always black and white, and most great things take time, anyway.
I will not give up. I will keep mixing Zeppelin in when I can. I will continue to expose my kids to the record that had such an influence on me. The band that became the sunlight in my growing. The music that created so many summers of smiles. Those were my dancin’ days.
There is a sea of music out there. An ocean. It’s up to me to make sure that my kids are exposed to as much of it as humanly possible. I will keep singing all my songs to these kids who’ve won my heart.
They may be too young for Zeppelin, true, but it’s a real fine way to start.