So last night I had insomia and a headache. Not a good combo, I must say. You can't sleep because you can't relax because you feel blindsided by a headache. You wonder if you need glasses because people with headaches sometimes need glasses. Plus since you are getting older you might need glasses, even though you wore them when you were a kid and the lenses were so thick they were like coke bottle glasses and oh yeah, it turns out you didn't need glasses when you were a kid because the doctor messed up, thinking that hey, if this kid got glasses it will fix everything and she'll be keen and won't have any problems anymore in school. But let's not get into that.
So I was pretty darned miserable. I couldn't read, couldn't listen to an audiobook (bio on Flannery O'Connor is my book; audiobook Wuthering Heights) I tried listening to a NPR podcast, then I saw something pop up. "Stairway to Heaven" is 41 years old. I turned off the podcast. Stumbled to the bathroom, where I took aspirin and benadryl. This is the closest drug cocktail I take. Truman Capote would cry himself to sleep; I'm so darned clean.
Anyway, I got back in bed and I thought how is it possible Stairway to Heaven is forty-one? How did I miss the 40th? Was it because I was obsessing about my own big four-oh that happened five months ago (which was a fantastic birthday) But "Stairway to Heaven" Wow. As the hippies used to say: heavy, man.
Back in my day (yes I sound completely old here) on the oldies stations you couldn't escape "Stairway to Heaven." They played it every single day. You could count on some Elvis, Beatles, Jefferson Airplane (especially the latter since they were a San Francisco band) and usually topping off the hour you heard "Stairway to Heaven." It starts off very mellow with the guitar, sounding incredibly mournful and sad.
Robert Plant starts singing about this chick who is trying to buy a stairway to Heaven. Is she an angel? A real person? Is she like the woman in Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" who used to have lots of money but lost it and now she is so desperate? Maybe these two women could become friends. They could join Pattie Boyd Harrison Clapton and compare notes on what it's like to have songs written about them. Donna from Ritchie Valens' "Donna" could join them. Don't forget Peggy Sue!
So the lyrics go on about pipers and trees and May Queens. One wonders if Led Zepplin was at a May Day dance and started dancing around a may pole to get inspired to write this song. Rings of smoke through the trees is also mentioned. Global warming alert!
But let's face it: We really don't listen to "Stairway to Heaven" for the lyrics. We're all waiting for something else. We're waiting for that part when Plant stops singing, and Jimmy Page has his guitar solo. If you ask any teenage boy who ever wanted to play a guitar, ask them if they ever did air guitar at five forty in "Stairway to Heaven" Even if you never wanted to play guitar, even if you were told in church"you know, you don't have to sing so loudly" meaning you have no musical appitude, you just sit there stunned. No matter what, you will never be as good as Jimmy Page on the guitar. It's something you just have to live with. You will live your life, do fantastic things, but sometimes you think My God, I can never play guitar as well as Jimmy Page did on "Stairway to Heaven." Apparently evanglists played the song backwards for proof of Santanic verses. Guys, just admit it: You're just jealous your claim to fame is saying you speak for God, while Jimmy Page is using his God given talent with his guitar playing his heart out. Which is quite a legacy.
Of course Robert Plant comes back, singing about that lady who shines white light (when she's not dancing with pipers and trying to buy that stairway to heaven) Everything turns to gold (one wonders if they were reading The Outsiders while writing this song. Stay gold, Ponyboy!) and then it goes back to the melancholy beginning when Plant sings "And she's buying a staircase to" voice breaks, "heaven."
Thinking about "Stairway to Heaven" got me to relax, and I got to sleep. When I woke up I thought about the song, and getting older. Many of the essays I've written the past year have been meditations on getting older; forty was so huge for me. (And warning, when I turn fifty it's going to be insane) But there's nothing new about this; we're all getting older, getting grayer. So is Stairway to Heaven. Now go dance with some pipers, why don't you?
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries