Saturday, February 5, 2022


Who do I prefer among classic British drummers, Keith Moon of the Who or John Bonham from Led Zeppelin? Keith Moon any day. Moonie might not have been able to keep straight time--that job fell to Entwhistle, indeed a brilliant bassists--his ad libbing tempos brought excitement to the band that was missing from most of the Who's contemporaries. Within the four, five, or six chord frameworks that constituted the bulk of Townsend's songwriting, Moon's overplaying, speed and general sense of flash presented us with a live enterprise that was about power, passion, rage. Townsend wanted to write more delicate pop tunes, get psychedelic and increasingly relevant as concept albums and the mania for rock-lyrics-as-poetry overwhelm album output for years, but Moon's playing, quick, primitive, not disciplined in any way a more studied drummer would understand it, came close enough to his marks to keep the Who on its does musically, at least live. He was a natural fit for the Who. The Who never recovered musically from the loss of him. John Bonham need how to keep time, I am assured, and Led Zeppelin had a range of songs in time signatures, grooves, and structure that required more formal drum kit knowledge than what Peter Townsend's standard 4/4, 1-1V-V compositions, and surely Bonham was that man. He did a job that I can't imagine Moon doing. But what Moon does with his furious bashing on Live at Leeds takes the prize for me; he ventures into Tony Williams territory. 

Now this matter of Led Zeppelin's serial plagiarism. There are too many gross examples to set forth here in the limited time I have before charging off to my current place of employment, but there is this crucifying YouTube video of that band's thievery that will bring you up to speed. These fellows liked shiny things they came across and removed them from their proper ownership.

There are , actually, a good number of  YouTube documenting Led Zeppelin's tendency of “extreme borrowing” of other's ideas without credit or payment, and there are videos that would argue that the case in point, a rock band's thieving from another musical artist, merely illustrates the natural process of art making. My view is muddled, as perhaps  yours might be: I know what they do  is wrong, but the music they make from it sounds great. Severe fence sitting, I suppose. The issue makes you aware of the meaning of the world “problematic” means, a situation that will forever remain a problem.

Ritchie Blackmore isn't the first to say it, but the maxim goes “the professional steals, the amateur borrows.” The difference being that the amateur really has little idea of what to do with a musical idea they've stolen; they act as though they might break a precious thing, which makes the music dull. The professional does not borrow, he or she takes possession of an idea, changes it, alters it, makes it new, makes it their own. The results from that attitude are much more interesting. I mention Blackmore over anyone else because we are talking about a rock and roll band's habit of taking credit for music they didn't create. 

I don't care what the original quote might have been; the origins at best are apocryphal, and besides the fact that there is an element of truth. An element of truth, not an essential truth. There is a difference; suffice to say that the results among professional thieves, let us say, will vary like anything else in this life. Honestly, most efforts by others to rip off and attempt to own something not of their creation suck, groady drumsticks. But Led Zep, for all the amorality of their thieving, did develop intriguing permutations with what they took and presented to the world (falsely taking credit as sole creators) sounds that were fresh takes on old sources, takes that were, in effect, the future of new music. Led Zeppelin will be held to increasingly severe judgements regarding their theft of other artist's music ideas, but it can't be denied that what did with their booty gave us plenty of great sounds that sound very fine until now. The morality of plagiarism being done by the few geniuses that have walked the earth is a discussion that will continue without resolution throughout all the arts. Books, movies, plays, poems, paintings, deep in the bowels of the academy.

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