*Photo taken from the internet and likely copyrighted
It’s hard to explain to young people, like say my daughter, what life was like before the internet. Nowadays you’re merely a few keystrokes away from the answer to any question you have. What time is it in Oslo? Easy, just ask the internet. Any mystery or quandary you have can be resolved in seconds. When I was a kid – and when I type that I realize I sound like the meme “old man yells at cloud” – and I was reading, if I came upon a word I didn’t know or a reference I didn’t understand I had to set the book down and pick up the dictionary or worse go into the den to the encyclopedias aligned from A to Z on the bookshelves. It’s how I learned a lot of things and yet it was a source of great amusement to my daughter when she found out I did that. She also made fun of the fact that I was a league bowler back in those days. It’s hard to make that sound cool.
In the absence of Google, a lot of what we knew was sort of a collective “conscious” if you will. Right out of college I read the long, epic poem/story The Iliad. It’s writing was attributed to the ancient Greek writer Homer. It was written down sometime around 800 B.C. or 600 B.C. I could probably look it up on the internet but it’s not that important. Anyway, I say written down because over the year it’s been acknowledged that those early stories attributed to Homer – The Iliad and also The Odyssey – were actually part of an “oral tradition.” Before you think I’m talking dirty, I merely mean that the stories, told in the form of a poem, were passed from generation to generation not by being written on stone tablets or papyrus, but by being spoken aloud. While I went to high school say, 3000 years later, I’ve come to realize we hadn’t really evolved much. There were certain stories and myths that got passed around from generation to generation.
One of those stories involve another epic artistic venture, Led Zeppelin. When I started listening to rock n roll in the late 70s, Zeppelin was, unbeknownst to us, nearing the tragic end. The first LP that they put out after I had become a rock music fan was In Through The Out Door, an album that I sometimes feel that I alone love. I remember they announced their U.S. tour in support of that album and the closest they were coming to Kansas City was Chicago. Some of the seniors in my high school were trying to organize a trip to go up there. They were going to rent a bus, everyone would chip in. It was very communal, Woodstocky if you ask me. I’m not sure how they intended to get tickets to the show. Sadly while they were rehearsing for the tour at Jimmy Page’s house John Bonham drank enough vodka to kill a small bear and choked on his own vomit – which is how true rock stars went out back then. I never knew if the senior gang got their deposit money back on the bus?
Before all that tragic shit went down, I remember asking a few people why Led Zeppelin wasn’t coming to Kansas City. I guess I wasn’t worldly enough to realize that KC was just a small tour stopover for most bands. I thought we were a big deal not just a cowtown. It was then that I began to hear what I call the “Kansas City Myth of Zeppelin.” People would speak in whispered, reverent tones about why Zeppelin didn’t play KC. I remember sleeping out for Van Halen tickets and this old hippy behind me in line, who may have been the first person to tell me the story, said to me with a wistful look in his eyes, “Oh Zeppelin will never come back to Kansas City… they’ve only played here once and they were booed off the stage.” This was stunning news to me. First, that the mighty Zeppelin would be booed off the stage and second that Kansas City would have been that rude to anybody. We’re friendly here, like Canadians. The story went that Zeppelin was an opening act for some other band and the fans were drunk and impatient for the headliner and so they booed so loud and obnoxiously Zeppelin left the stage and refused to ever play here again. I was incredulous but after asking around about it, it seemed that everybody told the same story. It had become gospel, part of our accepted, Kansas City collective wisdom.
That may sound crazy to everyone. It was made more believable because there was a similar story – that might have been equally untrue – about Bad Company being booed off the stage as headliners. They had Ted Nugent open for them and I guess Ted came out with his usual crazy blow the roof off the joint stuff. Bad Company rock but they’re a little more laid back and riffy than Nugent. The myth was that Ted had got the crowd so riled up that when Bad Co came out and opened with the mellow song “Bad Company” the crazed crowd was having none of it. I find it hard to believe anybody who shelled out money to see Bad Co would boo them off the stage because of… Ted Nugent? C’mon, it’s preposterous? But with that story out there it kind of made the Zeppelin myth seem somewhat truer. Maybe KC audiences were just crazed assholes?
As incredible as the Zeppelin story was, I saw Robert Plant the first time he played Kansas City on the Fate Of Nations tour. He had been scheduled to play KC on the Now & Zen tour but his guitarist or his bassist had slipped and fell of the stage in (I believe) Tulsa a few days earlier and he’d cancelled. So this deep into his solo career it was the first time he’d played KC which only had played into the “booed off the stage” myth. Anyway, on this night at Memorial Hall with Plant on stage – he played “Ramble On” early in the set and I heard my friend’s girlfriend (now wife) ask, “Why is this guy singing Zeppelin?” (Sigh) – he referenced the “Kansas City Myth of Zeppelin.” He said he had heard a story about why he hadn’t played here in a long time, if ever. I mean, that’s quite a powerful myth if you’ve got Robert Plant himself referencing it. I remember my ears pricked up immediately. He said something about making up for lost time and launched into “Calling To You” or some great Plant rock song.
I finally decided to scour the internet and find out if any of this was true. It turns out Zeppelin had played KC only twice but that was more than the “only played here once” myth. They played KC for the first time November 5th 1969. It must have been after the first LP, as the set is all culled from those songs. Apparently they’d played Ontario, Canada the night before and were playing San Francisco the night after. They’d shipped their equipment on to SF and had to borrow equipment from a local band. They were not openers, they were the headliners. Reviews were positive with a few minor complaints about the borrowed PA system. They apparently played two shows that night, 7pm and 930pm. Rumor has it Bonham got a little blasted on Scotch in between shows and almost missed the second gig. No booing.
They came back almost a year later on August 19, 1970. The set list I found online has them opening with the “Immigrant Song” but the rest of the tracks were from Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II. Again, reviews were very positive and even went so far as saying this was a much better performance than their debut shows a year earlier. At least they had their own equipment this time. Apparently several of the band members had grown beards (most notably Page, but also Plant and JPJ) and the reviewer couldn’t resist commenting on the “abundance of hair.” The reviewer sounds like my grandmother who abhorred facial hair. Anyway, he goes on to complement their more nuanced playing and how they’d developed some mellower stuff to go with the hard rocking stuff. Again, no mention of booing is made here.
Why didn’t Zeppelin ever come back to Kansas City? I think at this point we have to agree that it had nothing to do with KC crowds booing them. It was probably scheduling or money or maybe issues with local promoters. Kemper Arena – where most big shows took place in the 70s and 80s – didn’t open until 1974 and Zeppelin were too big to play Memorial Hall or Municipal Auditorium, they’d outgrown our ability to host them. And yet, it was taken as gospel they were booed off the stage and never returned. Even Plant might have bought into that story at his solo show. We all thought that story was true. Thankfully… no it was not. Although as I type this, I know there is a really old hippy out there somewhere still telling that story like a stoned Oracle of Delphi to young rock fans foolish enough to listen.
What have we learned people? First, KC audiences aren’t assholes. Secondly, Zeppelin did play here a couple of times and god bless you if you were old enough and lucky enough to see them. I was not. I was, as Tom Petty sings, “a boy in short pants” during that time period. What we’ve also learned – question everything, especially authority… even if that authority is a hippy in the Van Halen ticket line…