Mage Magic 08: The Sorcerer’s Apprentices Part 2
“In the time that has passed, each of the three [surviving members of Led Zeppelin] has continued to evolve musically, but not together. They have each kept moving forward, but not on the same path. They may somehow arrive in the same place, but their musical stories will not sound the same.
Today, only one of them retains the pure vision that drove Led Zeppelin, because it was his vision all along. The question is, how can he now bring forth that vision to the world?”
Can one powerful mage-class musician, without apprentices or partners, be expected to bring forth a vision that in the past had taken the full partnership and musical strength of four to create?
In a word: No. And in a few more words: Probably impossible; very likely a bad idea.
Why? Because to be alive is to change. Nothing can remain the same if it is living, and to attempt to stop that change only results in something very much like death. Magic needs life to exist.
Musicians, if they are creators and not just performers, cannot prevent the music they make from evolving. It is the nature of the artist to change the art being created. No matter how perfect the song, the need to let it grow into something new is a pressure that cannot be ignored. To not allow music to change is to play music without life - dull music.
Sometimes songs are so tweaked and reshaped that years after the first performance they are barely recognizable as the song started out with. What keeps the songs recognizably the same is not the lyrics, not even the melody, but the vision and intent of the performers to convey the essential meaning of the song.
When the vision changes and when the essence is not shared, then the song will evolve into something very different. When, as is my belief, one of the musicians is also a mage and drives magic into a song – whether on purpose or unknowingly led by the muses to do so – if the vision and essence of that song change sufficiently, the magic will not follow.
We can never know what leads one person to do what he does. Some of the changes brought about by a person’s choices are so miniscule as to be virtually indiscernible, yet we are surprised with how big the changes are in the end even as we marvel how it could have happened (“like magic”). Many choices are made without conscious thought, driven by unknown or unacknowledged fears or desires, and the person makes the choices without even realizing choices have been made at all.
We may never know what truly goes on in a person’s mind or how they got to any point in the evolution of his life, but we can see the results in the real world. Each of the selections of this week’s playlist reveals the results of choices made by Jimmy Page – whether consciously or not – about his music and vision. We may not know what led Mr. Page to those choices, but we can begin to see the story of the musical struggle involved when shared vision falters.
Just because a mage is involved doesn’t mean the magic is inevitable. And just because a vision was true doesn't mean it should not change.
Evolution of Magic in a SongIn the following sequence of performances of In The Evening, we can hear the changes in Jimmy Page’s musical voice as with each version his guitar gets more expressive and individualistic, at times overwhelmingly filled with non-verbal information and so heavily burdened with meaning as to be almost painful listening. Make no mistake - this is not poor guitar, it is mage music that is thwarted: its energy having no outlet, it turns on itself. Thankfully most ears can perceive merely the smallest range of frequencies of a potentially infinite range of magic, for magic with no outlet is unhappy magic.
Studio version 1979
In The Evening appeared on Led Zeppelin’s eighth and final studio album, In Through The Out Door. A work in progress, this studio version begins with an unworldly feel, the guitar hinting at themes. It is clear that the full magical potential of this song has yet to be revealed, as the magic stutters in fits and starts: Breathless pauses of anticipation; sudden thunder when John Bonham channels Thor (3:43 and 4:01); the sweet clarity of Jimmy Page’s guitar; abrupt changes in mood and sound; and a dreamy sequence (4:21) that appears in each of the various incarnations of this song, and that could be understood as the canary in the mine of Jimmy Page’s vision.
Heavy magic reminiscent of Lucifer Rising has been embedded in the song as performed at the Knebworth concert with trippy, phasing drums and the use of the e-Bow and Jimmy Page's powerful and strange chords that usher in Robert Plant’s first vocals. The guitar is speaking with an insistence in this version, an alien insectoid voice that clamors for attention, the emphasized notes on the cusp of language begging for understanding. Thor's crash of drums has gone and the soft, dreamy interlude (4:50) is now primarily keyboard. During the last minute or so, Jimmy Page plays to John Bonham with extraordinary intensity that abruptly ends, as if the guitarist had been suddenly woken from a dream. This version is hard, uneasy music, with uncertain, confused, but powerful magic.
A year later in Berlin the magickal beginning of In The Evening is similar to that of Knebworth, even more reminiscent of Lucifer Rising with phasing drums and shards of thin guitar laid over a pulsing drone in advance of Robert Plant’s vocals. Jimmy Page’s guitar has lost the insistent emphasis of Knebworth, but retains the insectoid tone with a harder glassy edge, while John Paul Jones emulates an orchestra with keyboards. The dreamy interlude (4:53) now includes a flute, keyboards-as-orchestra and Mr. Page is relegated to a few notes. Jimmy Page’s later solo is not as integrated into the whole of the song or with Robert Page’s vocals as we are used to. At the end, the guitar speaks in a language we strain to understand, bringing the song full-circle - but as much as we deny it the magic is failing.
Post-Led Zeppelin 1995
And then John Bonham is dead and In The Evening’s evolution as a vehicle for magic is ended, for by the 1995 Page & Plant performance In The Evening has become Robert Plant’s song. This is not a value judgment, but rather a description that explains something about the magic. The opening drone and Bonham’s psychedelic, phasing drums have been replaced by Moroccan drummers and John Paul Jones’s keyboards by violins. Mr. Plant opens as a muezzin, going in a musical direction that had always been played with by Led Zeppelin and that his voice is well suited to. Jimmy Page’s guitar is small here; he adds musical quality but no more than music to this performance. The song has become ponderous instead of wondrous and has completely abandoned the quest for magic that was begun 16 years before. Robert Plant is a magnificent musician, but he is not a mage, and in 1995 he was not supporting Jimmy Page’s vision.
The song is still powerful, melodic, surprising and compelling – but it has lost the magic that it had. It is just… music.
An artist-mage can stop creating, but he can’t stop being an artist or mage. Jimmy Page has always been a private person who has not shared much about the motivations and drives of his personal creative life, yet we know that as he lives and breathes, he is still a musician and still a mage. These are not things one has a choice about.
Jimmy Page has worked with quite a few musicians since the end of Led Zeppelin, the results for some of which has resulted in powerful and magically loaded music - but his mage music progress has been most evident when playing solo, when the clarity of the magic and the vision are so dramatically and undeniably evident.
Still, no matter how powerful a mage-class musician is there sometimes are just no apprentices or partners who fully give themselves to the Work or who create the alchemical mix that yields Led rather than merely gold. Mr. Page presumably has little need to work in order to earn a living, and possible little desire to play music on a regular basis simply for the sake of playing ordinary music. There has been no recently created Jimmy Page original music released in years – yet we would be wrong to assume that there is no Work being accomplished. Visions change but Purpose does not.
The imperative of the muses are ignored at the peril of an artist’s sanity. The mage musician’s Purpose is to satisfy his soul’s desire to connect to the infinite and thereby to bring light into this world. As a mage and a musician, what might make Jimmy Page most satisfied and bring him most joy could very likely require reinventing himself as an artist and mage and, not coincidentally, as a human being as well – not a task for the faint of heart or the weak of will, and not one that comes with an instruction manual.
YouTube Playlist - all versions
As always, because this is about the music - not the musician or even the Mage himself - it is recommended that you listen to, not watch, the videos.