Recently, Vulture published a new interview with Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant where he discussed his whole career. Among other things, Plant also opened up on Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and how he feels about it today.
The talk about it came up when he was asked about watching Heart’s Ann Wilson performing the piece, along with John Bonham’s son Jason Bonham. The performance in question took place in 2012 while the surviving members of Led Zeppelin — Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones — were receiving Kennedy Center Honors. Plant said:
“Look at the company I was keeping that night. Who was I sitting next to? What was going on? I didn’t even know the people anymore. How did we move across from being a British blues band to this ridiculous achievement? Well, ridiculous is a multifarious term.”
You can check out the performance in the embedded player below.
As he further explained, the song has a life of its own to the point where he felt “estranged” to it. Plant continued:
“We all stood back at the end of the sessions, reeling from the transitions throughout the song. But ‘Stairway to Heaven’ has its own life. Later I often felt estranged. It began intimate and vulnerable and sincere, and then the years carried on. It was no longer ours and neither should it be. Now it’s out there driving people to distraction and then maybe driving a hard bargain.”
“I’ve left so much of it all behind. And that night I was watching a reenactment — clever, well-intentioned, and respectful. I was in the gallery peering and following an excellent display. Me and my contribution to it all were hung out to dry in the land of timeless tributes, so far from the cover and the scene, and so far from the home that we’ve given it.”
“I felt estranged from the whole deal, from the song, and the fact that the years did carry it through. It had its own impetus. I watched it go. It was like a beautiful feather, balloon, or bubble. Something out of a clay pipe that had been blown with soap.”
“It was just something that I’d never, ever thought I would look at from this gallery. I didn’t ever see myself as smarting around seeing an artist’s impression of it. I knew it was coming — the Kennedy Center told us to expect something — but I didn’t know how it was going to be.”
Of course, Robert Plant was impressed by the performance. On the other hand, he feels like the piece is no longer his responsibility, even admitting that he feels like a “voyeur” of sorts. He added:
“It was a spectacular performance. I’m now a voyeur. I’m not responsible for it anymore. I’m not in guitar shops being told not to do it. I’m not going down the aisle at a wedding playing it with a flute. I love the song. It came upon me and stripped away all the years of being a part of all that.”
“It just rubbed it right back to the bone. Because maybe it was all over for us a long time before it was all over. It was definitely all over without John. I mean that. We’re talking here about one song from 50-plus years ago. It’s just a magnificent performance to watch and it kills me every time. It kills me in two or three different ways. It’s just like, Oh my God.”
Over the years, “Stairway to Heaven” achieved somewhat of an “overplayed” status. Plenty of jokes and urban legends of the song arose as well, including the one saying that most guitar stores don’t allow you to play it. Of course, this originated in 1992 film “Wayne’s World” although people did feel like guitar lovers tend to play it once too often.
Plant has even expressed his feelings about the piece getting too much attention, although he wasn’t disrespectful about it. But, as he reveals now, the song no longer belongs to him or Led Zeppelin — it’s a timeless classic comparable to jazz or classical music pieces.
Photo: Raph_PH (Robert Plant (2022))