under construction: BONZO

So. Many. Cobwebs. 

The good news is that, in the two hours of cleaning out various webs and dark spaces, there was only one spider that wound up crawling up my sleeve and inciting a freak-out. In my mind, each of its legs were as big as the St. Louis Archway, and its fangs were like claw hammers, and its eyes were jet-black baseballs of death.

I’m too afraid to google for spiders and find out exactly what kind I saw in my garage. Mostly because I had a bunch of weird dreams last night. Also because it’s 6:30 in the morning, and I don’t want eight legged freaks invading my subconscious that early in the day. 

The carport at the back of my house was used, by the former owner, as a motorcycle repair shop. With that in mind, there’s a lot of various apparatus I need to remove — pneumatic tubes, pulleys, chains — before I can do anything resembling a proactive remodel. It’s a bit like Doc Frankenstein punched his ticket for the coast and left the shop with half the gear dangling from the ceiling. 

However, what the carport is almost immediately useful for — is my drum kit.

Because, you know, priorities. 

*

Well there's a light in your eye that keeps shinin'

Like a star that can't wait for night.

I hate to think I been blinded baby.

Why can't I see you tonight?


An' the warmth of your smile starts a burnin'

An' the thrill of your touch give me fright

And I'm shakin' so much, really yearnin'.

Why don't you show up and make it alright

*

Led Zeppelin entered into my life via Kyle Heath, a late-twenties janitor at church with long blond hair and an affinity for both Big Gulps and the Oakland Athletics. My brother and I took a shine to him, and during our junior high/high school years, we attended, on average, 10-15 A’s games a year. I grew up in San Jose, and yes, the Giants have “territorial” rights to San Jose, but the A’s were closer and cheaper, so there.

Our 45-minute drive to the Coliseum was a crash course in music education. We’d always kick off the drive with Ozzy’s “Crazy Train.”

“ALL ABOARD!!!!!!!!”

After that, however, it was fair game as to what we’d hear. Kyle introduced us to Van Halen and Eddie’s brain-melting, finger-tapping, bewildering solos. To my brother — a budding guitarist in his own right — this was like hearing the Sermon on the Mount from Christ himself, buddy. Christ himself. 

Kyle also played rockabilly (Paladins, Stray Cats), early and late-stage Journey, Cheap Trick, and more Butt Rock (80’s hair metal) than I care to recount. 

One sunny day during batting practice (we always arrived early for BP), I asked him about Led Zeppelin. “They were a band back in the seventies. They’re pretty hard rock. Their drummer died though right at the beginning of the eighties.” Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning” played over the Coliseum’s loudspeakers as Jason Giambi stepped into the box. We, in the right field bleachers, readied out gloves. “I can lend you a couple CD’s; see what you think.”
He lent me Led Zeppelin I, II, III and IV/Zoso/Untitled, depending on your denomination.

I was hooked from “Good Times, Bad Times”, the first track off the first album. You can almost see the audience waiting in anticipation, and the lights cut to black at the opening crunch of Jimmy’s guitar. There’s Bonzo, John Bonham, stomping along with Page, slowly ramping up the tension, right up until that Motown-by-way-of-Worcestershire swagger drum fill ushers him, Page, along with bassist John Paul Jones and lead vocalist Robert Plant rollicking into the blasting light. The crowd goes wild.  

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads. 

*

And if you promised you'd love so completely

And you said you would always be true

You swore that you never would leave me baby

Whatever happened to you?


And you thought it was only in movies

As you wish all your dreams would come true

It ain't the first time believe me baby

I'm standing here feeling blue!

*

My first drum kit is, so far, my only drum kit: A six-piece used Magenta Tama Rockstar. 22-inch bass drum, and five, count ‘em five, toms (8, 10, 12, 13, 16). I remember the exact number on the Guitar Center receipt — $523.16 It was, at that time, the most expensive thing I’d ever paid for with my own money. That receipt was like Wonka’s golden ticket.

I set up the kit in what was my and my siblings’ play room, where we kept our toys, video game consoles, lightsabers, championship wrestling belts, etc. I played and wailed and sounded like drunken elephants stumbling down a hillside. I promised my parents to not play past 8PM, and I kept my word. To this day, in fact, I still can’t play past that deadline.  

When I moved down to Southern California for college, the kit stayed at my parents’ house. Same for the first apartment after college, same for the house after that. I had six roommates in that house; a drum kit was one thing too many. 

However, a year and a half into my time on the East Coast, it was time. I jammed the kit into my car and brought both the car and the kit out to Philadelphia. I set it up in the basement and renewed my love affair with music. With drums. With Led Zeppelin. 

The kit came with me to Portland, and after a few more basement stopovers, she’s found a wonderful home in the remodel-in-process carport.

*

Now I will stand in the rain on the corner

I watch the people go shuffling downtown

Another ten minutes no longer

And then I'm turning around, ‘round


And the clock on the wall's moving slower

Oh, my heart it sinks to the ground

And the storm that I thought would blow over

Clouds the light of the love that I found, found

*

 

In Through the Out Door, Zeppelin’s last album, was released in 1979. The album garnered so-so reviews upon its initial release, though some people (myself included) defend its quality. The album is personally notable for two reasons: first, it includes one of my favorite Zeppelin tracks, “Fool in the Rain.” It’s the song whose lyrics I’ve been quoting throughout this piece. It’s a rollicking 6/8 track that, for me, gives me an idea of what Zeppelin would have sounded like had they made it to the 80’s.

Second, the album was released with six different cover designs. The concept, created and executed by famed English art design group Hipgnosis, is a single scene shown from multiple perspectives. The scene depicts a man, wearing a cream colored suit, seated in a New Orleans Bar. He holds a “Dear John” letter in one hand as the letter’s corner ignites in flame. The album’s colors are muted, save for a wipe in the center of the picture in full color. There’re several people in the bar —  bartender, piano player, additional patrons — and each cover showcases their point of view of the man at the bar.

Collecting all six would be a difficult task in and of itself, but Zeppelin upped the ante by sealing the album itself in brown paper bags. Therefore, when you bought the album, you’d never know which cover you’d be purchasing. Nowadays, when you walk into a vinyl, most of the Zep albums aren’t plastic-wrapped, so it’s easier to look at which covers the store has in its possession. I’d collected four of the six by the time I graduated college, but I put the search on hold for a while.

And by a while, I mean ten years gone. 

But this past Friday, a friend and I walked by a record store, and I told him about Zeppelin, In Through the Out Door…and my passion was rekindled. That night, I laid out the four covers I had and took a picture of them for reference. The next day, I returned to the shop, hopeful but realistic of what I’d find (it’s one of the smaller vinyl shops in Portland). 

When what to my wondering eyes did appear…

The last two covers. 

Thirty dollars fled my account like it was a prison break. Maybe the guy at the counter thought me weird for buying two of the same album. No matter. I had my six covers — more precious to me than Infinity Stones or Horcruxes — and my quest had been completed.

*

Ooh now my body is starting to quiver

And the palms of my hands getting wet, oh

I got no reason to doubt you baby

It's all a terrible mess


And I'll run in the rain till I'm breathless

When I'm breathless I'll run till I drop, hey!

And the thoughts of a fool's gotta count

I'm just a fool waiting on the wrong block!  

*

Today, September 25, marks the 38th anniversary of John Bonham’s death. In the aftermath, we’re left with drums that cascade into the room and reverberate in your rib cage. It’s Hammer of the Gods, from first to last.

Now that the kit’s up and running, I’m playing drums more regularly. I’m rusty, and my chops aren’t what they used to be. Intermittent playing has done me no favors. 

Good Times, Bad Times, sin pregunta.  

However, as I continue to clean out the carport, continue to dream about what the space could be, continue to find more and more chains, belts and spiders, I continue to stop every so often, put on the headphones, and ramble on with the madman behind the kit.

Ramble on, Bonzo. Ramble on.

*

Light of the love that I found

Light of the love that I found

Light of the love that I found

Light of the love that I found