The 70s in the Long Island suburbs were all about forts and hideaways and private enclaves, barely hidden places where many firsts happened; first kisses, first heartbreaks, first harsh life lessons, all played out with a soundtrack that consisted mostly of Led Zeppelin.
The forts were clumsily put together hives, a 70s edition of today’s man-caves; we could call them boy-caves and you’d get the idea. Black light posters, candleholders made out of empty Miller quart bottles, Farrah Fawcett pinups and battered skateboards lining the walls. The most important items in each of these boy-caves were the ever-present turntable and stacks of rock and roll records. These forts were an enticement for a girl like me, one who just wanted to hear new music and was enthralled by the prospect of fresh albums, and perhaps a little beer stolen from dens when parents weren’t looking.
It was in one of these forts I first heard Led Zeppelin IV — forever known as ZOSO. I was twelve; the album was already three years old at that point and Zeppelin themselves had been around for years. I’d heard them mentioned by the older kids, the ones whose conversations I listened to just to find out what music I should be listening to. I finally got my chance to hear the fabled Led Zeppelin IV while sitting in an egg-shaped chair in Daryl’s backyard fort in the summer of 1974, after Daryl “borrowed” the album from an older cousin. It’s a moment ingrained in my head like a short film, every detail, every sound memorized for posterity.
The small silence before “Black Dog” began. A scratchy static. Then Robert Plant’s voice, full of a sexuality I was unable to define at twelve. I just knew there was something. Something that made me feel at once enthralled and engulfed.
We listened to the entire album without exchanging a word. At one point a few of Daryl’s friends joined us and they just took a seat and listened as we motioned for them to be quiet. We were twelve. And we were reverent about our newfound lords. Because right then and there, that’s when Robert Plant and Jimmy Page became gods to us. From “Black Dog” to “When the Levee Breaks” And back to “Stairway to Heaven,” everything on Led Zeppelin IV was certified gold in my head. When it was all over we debated the meaning of “Stairway” and “Battle of Evermore” and honestly, we had no idea what they were going on about. It just sounded good. It sounded like poetry. It sounded deep. In turn, we thought it made us sound scholarly and thoughtful when we sat around ruminating about the Prince of Peace and his Queen.
Daryl managed to convince his cousin to lend us the first three Zeppelin albums. Hours upon hours spent in that fort, forgetting about everything in the outside world, just taking in the sounds, letting the aura of Led Zeppelin wash over us.
Led Zeppelin II for me became the antithesis of the suburbs. It was dangerous, abrasive and loud, things people in their tidy little homes on neatly paved streets knew little about. Everything felt safe on Long Island. It all felt so stagnant, never changing, always the same idyllic sceneries over and over again playing out like the background to a Hanna Barbera cartoon.
Zeppelin was changing that. Maybe they weren’t changing it outwardly, but inwardly, I was feeling a momentum, a pull that was new and exciting. I wanted more like this. I wanted more loudness, more pounding drums and screeching guitars. More Robert Plant. There was an awakening going on and maybe there were a lot of girls my age being sexually awakened by the image of Robert Plant all shirtless and long hair, but I was oblivious to that; I was being awakened musically; the top 40 hits of the early 70s weren’t going to do it for me anymore. I didn’t want 45s. I wanted albums. I wanted Led Zeppelin albums and anything that sounded like a Led Zeppelin album. On that day in that fort in Daryl’s backyard, a rock and roll fan was born. And it wasn’t just me. It was all of us. From that day, every plan we hatched, every long, deep discussion about what we would do with our lives were soundtracked with the wail of Jimmy Page’s guitar.
But it wasn’t just a musical awakening. There were other things, more primitive things the sounds of songs like “Whole Lotta Love” and “No Quarter” and “The Song Remains The Same” brought to the surface. I was starting to feel restless and incomplete, wanting something more than what was offered me in the sprawling back yards and green lawns of Long Island. It wasn’t a need to get out, but more of a need to change how I lived. I became rougher around the edges. I started to care less about the people who since first grade had refused my friendship. I had this. I had the music. I had Led Zeppelin and I had rock and roll and somehow that seemed like enough.
I don’t listen to Zeppelin all that much anymore. But every once in a while a wave of rock and roll nostalgia comes at me and instead of ducking, I dive in. And as soon as I do, as soon as the first note of, say, “Heartbreaker” plays, it all comes back. I remember my first listen to every one of the songs. I remember the places, the sights, the smells — oh how the smell of stale beer and cigarettes and adolescent boy sweat mingling together stays with you — and I remember the adrenaline I felt as each song went from new to familiar, as I met, courted, dated and became entangled with each tune. Just one note is all it takes, and I’m back there in that place. Fourteen years old, full of angst and turmoil, five of us in the dark in Eddie’s basement, listening to “Dazed and Confused,” contemplating life the way teenagers who listen to music too deeply are prone to do.