Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Happy Zeptember to You All

I'd probably heard the phrase Zeptember on a classic rock radio station some time, but I will always associate it with my two years living in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  A friend of mine there and I would get together on September evenings and play Zeppelin while enjoying the last outdoor beer and grilled foods before winter's cold set in.  In a place like western Michigan, where winter lasts for over five wretched months without sunlight and comes with almost daily dumpings of lake effect snow, the last warm evenings of September take on an almost unbearably elegiac quality.  Zeppelin's witchy, mystical side makes for great listening when the seasons change, so I have carried on the Zeptember tradition even though I live far from the Wolverine State.

Of all the songs in their catalog, I associate "In the Light" from Physical Graffiti the most with Zepptember.  The simple reason is that I bought it on CD after years of dallying during my first September in Michigan, and the old copy I purchased from a hole-in-the-wall used record store had disc 2 where disc 1 should have been.  I put it on, expecting to hear the heavy, skanky riff of "Custard Pie," but was instead hit with a synthesizer imitating the eerie moans of an Irish horn.  I instantly fell in love with the haunting sound and spent a couple of weeks playing it right when I got out of bed in the morning.  To this day I associate this song with my earliest days as a visiting assistant professor, working eighty hours a week with music one of the few pleasures to afford myself.

There are other Zeppelin songs, many not necessarily well known, that I reserve for Zeptember, and others more famous I eschew, like "Whole Lotta Love," which speak more to spring's change of season and attendant libidinous awakening.  Despite its subject matter, I think the classic b-side "Hey Hey What Can I Do" has an autumnal vibe.  Perhaps its just the acoustic guitars, which sound like falling leaves in my head.  Speaking of falling leaves, when all begins to wither and die around me, "In My Time of Dying" is an appropriate soundtrack.

Of all their albums, I certainly think that Led Zeppelin III is the Zeptemberist, mostly for its contemplative acoustic tracks, i.e. not "Immigrant Song."  There is perhaps no song more beautiful in the vast Zeppelin canon than the gentle "That's The Way," which sounds like a mid-September sundown personified.  Running a close second in that department is "Tangerine," which might be the band's one attempt at the country rock genre.  It's a song that first grabbed me hard as a teenage romantic with an aching in his heart.  Perhaps the thing I love best about Zeptember is the continuity, that more than twenty years later I can still enjoy something just as much as I did when I got my first taste.  It's hard to say that about much of anything.

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