The untethered decadence of Led Zeppelin

In Led Zeppelin’s heyday, the early 1970s, I noticed that certain women of my acquaintance seemed to shake with a near-visceral disgust when the band’s name was mentioned. Now I know why. At first, rock journalist Barney Hoskyn’s oral history of the band, “Led Zeppelin,” captivates, and then slowly it begins to horrify. Not everyone described in it is a villain, but enough of the main characters become so grotesque that it’s hard to avoid a sickly feeling that worsens as one turns the pages. As a group, the musicians and their entourage are like star athletes who turn up in the headlines as thugs; you can’t forget the thrills they gave you, but you’ll never feel the same about them again.

In the beginning, the four musicians were like any other hardworking lads besotted with a new sound. There was singer Robert Plant, a blues enthusiast who could go on for hours about his favorite American roots musicians when the rest of the band just wanted to party. Guitarist Jimmy Page was one of the most in-demand session players before he helped form the group. Page’s studio work sometimes had him playing next to the third member, John Paul Jones, a virtuoso on several instruments and a skilled arranger as well. Percussion was supplied by John Bonham, the loudest, fastest drummer of his and perhaps any era....

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