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Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013

Light and Shade: Conversations With Jimmy Page (Crown Publishing Group) by Brad Tolinski

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Of all the influential aging rock stars, Jimmy Page has assumed an unexpected position in the pantheon of the loud ones who altered the course of popular music. He has achieved a reverential spot and is serene and, one might even suspect, rather wise. Brad Tolinski’s Light and Shade: Conversations With Jimmy Page demonstrates this with seriousness and dignity.

Tolinski, editor in chief of Guitar World magazine, says his book has a specific agenda. “It is not a tell-all biography but rather (I hope) an enlightening and definitive look at the musical life of a rock ‘n’ roll genius.” Page briefly speaks to what the term “light and shade” means to him in the documentary film It Might Get Loud: “Dynamics … whisper to thunder; sounds that invite you in and intoxicate.” “Think of this book,” Tolinski continues, “as an expansion of those basic ideas and a rare opportunity to actually hear a master artist explain his music.” We get Page’s own words but also the pronouncements of others (Jack White, notably) regarding his epic influence.

In conversation with Tolinski, Page is the arbiter of the chronological journey taken by his several musical identities and projects. Led Zeppelin is, of course, central, yet Light and Shade is not for the casual Zeppelin fan. We hear much detailed music analysis from Page in this “oral biography,” from alternate guitar tunings to innovative recording processes. His ingenuity and artistic sophistication lifts him above the level of mere pop star.

In a legendary dictum, Rolling Stone forbade mention of Led Zeppelin at the height of its popularity, ruling that editorial preference must be given to serious rock music and not pretentious pop. The film It Might Get Loud and now Light and Shade even the score. Zeppelin was outrageously decadent, even to the point of resembling Spinal Tap. But as with Dick Dale, so too with Page. Dale is now a favorite of the hip intelligentsia—where once he was kid stuff—and now Led Zeppelin can be heard as more than just stoner music.

Jack White’s comments in the chapter about “The Connection Between High Art And The Low-Down Blues” brings forward a defining element for Page’s accomplishments: “What was interesting about Led Zeppelin was how they were able to update and capture the essence of the scary part of the blues,” he says. Sounds like a partial definition of The White Stripes’ music, does it not?

Page, whether talking about American traditional music, discussing his soundtrack for Kenneth Anger’s short film Lucifer Rising, building an antiquarian bookstore or discussing the occult philosophy of Aleister Crowley, demonstrates a devout openness, honest simplicity, educated perspective and, above all else, achieves a level of wisdom. Light and Shade arrives at places beyond the stories told in recent books by Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Keith Richards and Neil Young. With Jimmy Page, we have a model for the contemporary gentleman scholar. 
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