Stairway to Heaven - Richard Cole
Yes, I am in the middle of a 70’s rock phase – I’m revisiting all my old records as well as reading books on these old farts!
I recently found the Hammer of the Gods book (Stephen Davis) for cheap, so I read that book before this one. That is known as one of the ultimate exploitation books due to its tales of excess and debauchery. Many of these stories are the same as those told in Hammer of the Gods - which lead me to believe that Cole was the source for many of those and the success of that tome gave him the idea to do his own book. I do think that HOTG was a little more well-rounded since it wasn’t written solely from one point of view. But Cole does his best to give a personal side to these superstars.
Cole did spend some time with Jimmy Page at the end of the Yardbirds days, so he had a friendship and working relationship with Page long before Led Zep became a reality. It sounds like he never got close to John Paul Jones because Jones tended to keep to himself and had an almost antagonistic relationship with Plant.
While apparently considering himself to be closest to drummer John Bonham (Bonzo), Cole tends to depict him as a mean, selfish, childish, drunken asshole. Episodes such as shitting in women's shoes and purses, throwing televisions out of hotel windows (I am always amazed that they never hurt/killed anyone), starting fist fights though only when his bodyguards were there to step in, disrupting other bands' concerts simply to be the center of attention (when he would most likely have decimated anyone who did this to him), destroying hotel rooms, pissing himself and his seat on a plane and making his roadie sit in it, and even pulling a gun on his bandmates all make Bonzo sound like a complete out-of-control jerk that no one would ever want to have anything to do with - certainly not a fun-loving jovial guy that you would like to have a beer with.
This story does show the heights that a 70's rock band could attain - and how badly sudden acclaim can affect country bumpkins such as Bonzo and sometimes even Plant. Most people are familiar with a good number of the episodes recounted here and Cole tells them pretty frankly though he does seem to sanitize some of the drug use – at least compared to the other book. But he has no problem showing these cats to be neuvo-riche brats who would pout if they didn’t get everything that they ever wanted.
Sure most musicians would love to have lived this lifestyle, but it also shows how out of touch this lifestyle can put you from your fans and the real world.
They lived the life of the biggest rock band in the world for a decade before Bonham’s death (apparent alcohol overdose and choking on his own vomit) caused them to break up. Lots of highs (in every sense of the word!) and several tragedies (including the death of Plant’s son) means there is plenty to write about. It’s an interesting read, if only to show you how crazy the world was back then!
(Funny thing - the one cover image that i could find on the web is completely different than the book that i have.)