Charles R. Cross publishes new, interactive Led Zeppelin book
An interview with author Charles R. Cross, whose new book, "Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller Than Our Souls," is a biography of the band, enhanced by reproductions of tickets, set lists, posters and more.
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On May 11, 1969, Led Zeppelin, then a relatively unknown but up-and-coming British rock band, played a concert in Seattle before a few thousand people at the Aqua Theater at Green Lake, drawing noise complaints from some of the area's residents.
Led Zeppelin, which would become one of rock music's seminal bands, shared the bill that day with Three Dog Night; this paper reported the concert to be a "smashing success." Seattle, said local rock historian and journalist Charles R. Cross, "has always had more of an appetite for hard rock than other cities," part of what he called that "blue-collar, longshoreman ethic."
In fact, Led Zeppelin proved to be a big influence for many local bands that became famous in the 1990s during the city's grunge-music era: Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam. It was "the template for what a hard rock band should be," Cross said.
Led Zeppelin is the subject of Cross' latest book, "Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller Than Our Souls," due to be released Tuesday. The title is a relatively obscure line from perhaps the band's most famous song, "Stairway to Heaven," and a reference to the book's premise — that the band has had an outsize influence on rock music, one that could not be fully predicted or appreciated when the band was together.
"The band was known more for its off-stage antics, which were a lot of times greatly exaggerated or distorted," said Cross, who wrote a previous book on Led Zeppelin as well as books about Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix. (Cross also occasionally writes about music for The Seattle Times.) "It truly was the records they created that formed their legacy. These albums became the cornerstones of what we call modern rock 'n' roll."
Cross' 1991 "Led Zeppelin: Heaven and Hell" was an encyclopedia and photo essay. While "Shadows Taller Than Our Souls" contains many photographs, it is largely a biography arranged in an interactive format. Each chapter contains removable reproductions of ticket stubs, set lists, posters, magazine covers, backstage passes and a set of news releases from the 1969 Seattle Pop Festival, at which Led Zeppelin performed with Chuck Berry, The Byrds, Santana, and Ike and Tina Turner and others. The book also comes with an audio CD of a rare, early interview with Jimmy Page.
The volume's nine chapters are named for the band's albums and cover that corresponding period of time. The intent, Cross said, was to explain the circumstances in which the albums were recorded.
"It's amazing how well these albums still hold up 30 years later," said Cross. "The band has had a longer impact than anyone possibly imagined at the time. It's remarkable to me how fresh it all sounds today."
That durability, the book points out, belies the scant critical acclaim the band received in its day. Although the band sold millions of albums, it was not a favorite of the critics, who generally preferred its rival, The Rolling Stones. It might have been Led Zeppelin's commercial success, Cross said, that got in the way of its critical success.
"Within a few months of starting to tour, they were playing arenas," Cross said. "Critics like anointing who's going to be the leader, and Led Zeppelin didn't give critics that space."
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