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Hammer of the Gods by Stephen Davis

Hammer of the Gods (1985)

by Stephen Davis

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This is, by far, the greatest book written about Led Zeppelin. Davis dives into the history of the group, their trials and tribulations, their triumphs, and their eventual tragic downfall. It is very well researched and interestingly presented. This is a must read for any Rock and Roll fan, especially those into Zeppelin. ( )
  rsplenda477 | Apr 17, 2013 |
I like Zeppelin, but I don't love them. It was hard to get through this book. ( )
  LaurinLooLoo | Apr 1, 2013 |
What was, and what might have been

Stephen Davis' mid-eighties account of the rise, antics and fall of Led Zeppelin is a famously scurrilous affair, cutting a track that a string of copycat efforts concerning the likes of Motley Crue, Black Sabbath and Metallica have wilfully followed in much the same way, I suspect, as those bands wilfully followed in Led Zeppelin. Looking back at it now, whence Led Zeppelin's commanding status in the rock pantheon seems ever-more Zeus-like it is difficult to believe that, at the time of publication (1985), Led Zeppelin's credibility could hardly have been at a lower ebb. Everything the band stood for had been rejected as, in quick succession, disco, then punk, then new wave and lastly new romance (which I decree to be the noun for which "new romantic" is the adjective) followed hard on each others' heels. To Johnny Rotten (displaying a surprising lack of historical perspective, even for him), Led Zeppelin was the archetypal dinosaur.

In one way it is odd, then, that this unauthorised (and roundly denounced) biography made such a splash. But lusty tales of bondage with sharks, wrecked hotel rooms and satanic backward masking must have been a welcome relief from the glassy neuroticism of A Flock Of Seagulls - so perhaps no wonder, and it is always darkest before dawn. In any case, in 1985 a young Axl Rose, was warming up in the wings, and the mighty Led Zeppelin's legacy hasn't looked back since.

It's quite a legacy at that, if Stephen Davis is even partly to be believed. (Messrs. Page and Plant would bid you not). Davis writes colourfully, outrageously, bombastically but most of all entertainingly, and in that way as many others does Hammer Of The Gods befit, and reflect the glory of, its subject matter.

For all that it is a little uneven. Davis' attention to the story does wane somewhat as the seventies wears on - far more space is devoted to Jimmy Page's brief dalliance with the Yardbirds than to the two years between Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti - to some minds (though not this one) Led Zeppelin's creative apogee. I suppose there's only so much gigging, rooting, boozing and fetishising of Aleister Crowley you can write about without boring your audience, but all the same more effort could have been put into charting Led Zeppelin's hubristic and ultimately tragic decline. The best Davis manages is quashing the transparently silly suggestion that the decline and fall might have been brought by Jimmy's fixation with matters diabolical - thanks for that insight - and noting the increasing reliance on heroin as the seventies wore on took its toll on the creative spark. You have to think there's more to it than that.

Davis is obviously a fan of the band, but all the same he's no stooge: the characters he draws are mainly believable (though I still have trouble crediting a roadworker from Birmingham ("tar in his hair, tar on his hands, and when he opened his mouth it was like an air-raid siren going off") with the insight and deep celtic fascination to pen tunes and lyrics like Kashmir and, yes, Stairway to Heaven. Page remains, throughout, the impish creative genius of the band, Plant the Daltrey-esque Shepherd's Bush screamer (though as mentioned, this doesn't seem to do his intellect justice), Jones the completely unengaged professional, and then there's Bonzo.

Bone of contention here. In my book Davis is far, far more charitable to John Bonham's memory than, on the content he sets out in this book, he has any right to be. To claim the same man to be a caring, loyal and loving family man (* while sober) and a "beast" - by Davis' account, repeatedly guilty of at least aggravated assault and attempted rape - (* while drunk) is frankly an asterisk too far, particularly when Davis' record also tends to suggest Bonham was in any case perpetually drunk, and angry, throughout the seventies, leaving no time for "nice considerate John" to come out. I think Davis should have said it: Bonham was a pig.

And nor is Bonham's unfortunate (but hardly tragic) death, nor his (literally) fabled drumming prowess an excuse. I suspect Bonham's reputation survived largely because his behaviour was of a piece with band manager Richard Cole's, and Cole was a significant source of material for Davis' book, and thus commanded a sympathetic account. No matter: perhaps our 21st century moralising has got to me, but to my mind Davis could, and should, have been more eviscerating than he was.

Hammer of the Gods is now updated to somewhere near the present day, and the comparative lack of any interesting output since the band split (the one genuinely interesting project, Page & Plant's No Quarter, hardly counts as new material) only serves to gives one a sense of what was, and what might have been. ( )
2 vote ElectricRay | Jul 26, 2010 |
Too much about the debauchery, too little analysis of the men and their music.
  GrumpyBobsReading | Feb 18, 2009 |
Read this book twenty-four years ago. It's no longer in my possession, so I can't cite it verbatim. I should also disclose that I'm a dork of sorts. In the mid-1980s, when The Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, and the A-Ha's of the New-Ro or New Wave world (whatever the hip kids called their hip music then) ruled radio airwaves, I wore my dated, feather-banged, long blonde locks parted down the middle with zest, and without fail wore faded denim, t-shirt and checkered flannel, too. And Vans. So yes, I was a dork extraordinaire. I proselytized Zeppelin-this and Zeppelin-that to anyone who would listen -- which meant I spoke of Led Zeppelin to mostly nobody, except myself. But now, thanks to LibraryThing, I can speak to you.

Stephen Davis wrote a biographic masterpiece for Zeppelin fans who'd fallen in love with the band years after their breakup (and for those who were fans all along during their heyday) and yet who were both starved for band information besides album liner notes and whatever else could be gleaned from that bloated, visually and sonically unstunning concert film / acid trip, The Song Remains The Same. Keep in mind that in 1985, hardly anyone owned a PC so forget about easy access to the internet; and the two major hard rock fanzines at the time, about the only solid sources for hard rock information, "Circus" and "Hit Parader," had long abandoned journalistic forays and photo spreads into what, considering the mid-80s hard rock zeitgeist, had become the dinosaurs of hard rock (i.e., the Zeppelin's and Sabbath's and so forth), and on into the heavier, allegedly edgier, more three-chordish and outrageously theatrical likes of Motley Crue, W.A.S.P., Twisted Sister, and Ozzy. Style -- and big hair and cartoonish videos -- had mostly replaced rock's core substance. A dearth of literature, Led Zeppelin-related, existed during this dark Reagan-80s epoch in our sick culture and society.

Enter, for the out-of-touch-with-current-musical / couture-trends, Zeppelin acolyte, the glorious Hammer of The Gods, an unauthorized salute to the Led Zeppelin Saga -- and a Burning Bush moment for yours truly. Glory glory hallelujah!, was my instantaneous, practically obeisant reaction seeing Hammer Of The Gods perched vertically on a plastic stand just outside the entrance to B. Dalton Booksellers in the Lakewood Mall, sandwiched inbetween the latest Jackie Collins and Sidney Sheldon releases. Thank God I'd just mowed some lawns and had a few bucks on me to buy it right then and there, or I might've lifted it.

Stephen Davis treated his subject matter, the four brilliant musicians of the band, along with band manager, Peter Grant, and the assortment of hangers-on and infamous groupies, like they were all important historical figures, writing about their childhoods, educations and genealogies. In other words, he took the members of Led Zeppelin and, more importantly, their music, seriously. The songs of every album got dissected like frogs. I learned about the blues and the history of blues and what a word like "hybrid" meant in a hard rock context. I learned about Celtic mythology and pagan and black magic; learned that Jimmy Page, guitarist of Led Zeppelin, so obsessed with Aleister Crowley, had actually purchased Crowley's mysterious manor on Loch Ness -- fascinating facts for a rebellious adolescent who, like that wily Serpent of yore, had shed the suffocating, confining skin of his religious upbringing.

Moreover, Hammer of The Gods came replete with chapter notes and sources -- like it were a bonafide textbook!-- and not merely some hastily binded record label's latest marketing ploy disguised as a fan-rag designed to sell more copies of some One-Hit wonder's second single about to drop off the charts -- a business tactic so rampant in those days (and still today, I'm afraid, among the teeny boppers). This teenage reader here, talking now as an adult, though still a raving Zep fanatic now as I was then, was enrapt reading Davis' biography, to say the least! The book carried an aura of genuine scholarship and research I'd seen only once before in a rock-bio covering another dearly departed band long out of style by the mid-80s, The Doors, in No One Here Gets Out Alive.

Of course, I'm praising Hammer of The Gods through the nostalgic lense of perhaps an overly impressionable teenager's eyes prone to worshipful, annoying hyperbole. I wonder, am I any different really than a Jonas Brothers slobbering aficionado? Could be. Today, of course, if I held the "Hammer" in my hands, read a few pages, I'd probably shake my head at the over-the-top hedonism (who could forget Zeppelin's notorious "Shark Incident" involving a shark's snout used rather disgustingly as a phallus on an inebriated groupie?) and legendary decadence explicitly and gleefully relayed by Davis to the reader, and think what's the big deal? Sounds like Jerry Springer or Howard Stern schenanigans. Perhaps I shake my head out of a sense of vicarious jealousy, as my life compared to Jimmy Page's life or Robert Plant's life has turned out to be so ... so damn ordinary. Though I'm glad my life hasn't ended like John Bonham's life, true (the iconic drummer for the band who died at 33 having OD'd after an extreme bout of binge drinking). And I guess the big deal for me was that Led Zeppelin at the time had become like my personal gods (think "American Idol"-like fanatical effusiveness) replacing what was to me an irrelevant, impersonal faith, giving me something, if only loud melodic music -- clanging overdubbed guitars riffing through the aether, bass thomp, snare thwack, grating though strangely ethereal vocals -- I could believe in and relate to instead, and Hammer of The Gods became like my brand new King James Bible. Amen!

I wonder when that fantastic biography of 80s Pop luminaries, ABC or The Human League, is going to come out? ( )
12 vote EnriqueFreeque | Jan 19, 2009 |
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a wonderful bit of semi-fiction...i say that because the members of Zeppelin (natch) have basically hated the book since its publication...woe be unto the poor soul looking to get a copy of it autographed.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061473081, Paperback)

The members of Led Zeppelin are major deities in the pantheon of rock gods. The first and heaviest of the heavy metal monsters, they violently shook the foundations of rock music and took no prisoners on the road. Their tours were legendary, their lives were exalted—and in an era well known for sex and drugs, the mighty Zeppelin set an unattainable standard of excess and mythos for any band that tried to follow them. They were power, they were fantasy, they were black magic. No band ever flew as high as Led Zeppelin or suffered so disastrous a fall. And only some of them lived to tell the tale.

Hammer of the Gods is the New York Times bestselling epic saga of the hard reign of Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham—a spellbinding, electrifying, no-holds-barred classic of rock 'n' roll history that has now been updated to include the continuing adventures of the band.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:49 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

If ever there were Satanic Majesties of rock their name was Led Zeppelin. The band that out-sold the Rolling Stones and made Robert Johnson's deals with the devil look like a playground game of conkers were as high, inflated and glorified as their namesake. In Stephen Davis's scorching account of their phenomenally successful career, no aspect - however disquieting - is ignored. The infamous encounters with willing groupies in hotel bedrooms, the narcotic, alcoholic and psychotic wreckage they wreaked, the disturbing influence of the notorious mage Aleister Crowley on lead guitarist Jimmy Page and the death of John Bonham are all recorded. Above all, the exultant, blazing charge of their music and its effects on Led Zeppelin and their fans is scrutinized. This is the last word in rock 'n' roll savagery.… (more)

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