Led Zeppelin Jars, McCartney Moves: Rock Heard After Hibernation

Jan. 10 -- Having spent the last half of 2007 either in the hospital or in recovery, I entered 2008 with my ears refreshed.
As I began reviewing again, I remembered that part of my job is to listen to music I don't like. One of the outstanding examples of this is Led Zeppelin, so I was sad when the band made a splash in London with its first concert in 19 years.
I hadn't listened to the group in years, and I was reminded of why when I received a new copy of ``BBC Sessions'' (Atlantic), a compilation of remastered broadcasts from 1969.
When rock was being born in the 1960s, we jazz musicians took it as a threat from a vulgar art form that was bound to be more popular than our intelligent music. We were, of course, right. Jazz has never recovered.
While rock turned out to be more complicated than that, I would continue to define Led Zeppelin as coarse.
I realize that this is a minority opinion, but their music has always made my teeth ache. The late John Bonham's maniacal pounding on the drums. The soulless pyrotechnics of Jimmy Page's guitar. Robert Plant's screaming vocals. (He's better now, but the way he deliberately sang flat back in 1969 made me feel as if I needed a root canal.) Mostly, though, I still resent their shameless white exploitation of the blues.
After my hibernation I also rediscovered just how complex -- and moving -- good rock can. Watching a recent recording of Paul McCartney live at the Olympia Theater in Paris on TV, I was impressed by the brilliant melodies, the daring modulations, the poetic lyrics.
I've never been a big fan of McCartney. The more I listened, though, the more I realized just how wrong jazz musicians were to generalize negatively about rock. I was struck, in particular, by ``Lady Madonna,'' with its graceful rhyme of ``Sunday morning creeping like a nun'' with ``See how they run.''
McCartney's combination of musicianship and showmanship was startling. Speaking to the French audience, he recalled how people have told him that they learned their English from Beatles records. When he met the Russian minister of defense, McCartney continued, the minister said, ``Hello goodbye.''
Listening to ``Back in the U.S.S.R.,'' ``Eleanor Rigby,'' and on and on, one after the other, I reflected on how the Beatles have defined my life. I had never dreamed rock musicians could do that. Yet I still have musician friends who will consider any favorable comment about the Beatles to be heresy. Plus ca change.
The first time I heard ``Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,'' it blew my mind, as we said back in the 20th century. I was so excited -- and naive, I guess -- that I touted it to every musician I met in Greenwich Village cafes and clubs.
I got the evil eye from jazz people I thought were friends after I wrote about it in the Village Voice. ``How can you take up space in a jazz column writing about rock?'' they asked. ``Why don't you write about the cats? They really need it.''
In my innocence, I thought good music was just good music.
Although there may be those who still object after reading the above, there is no doubt that times have changed. Will anybody give me the evil eye if I say that the Beatles, like Mozart, added a dimension or two to music? They changed our ears. And McCartney is still doing it.
Watching his concert on television, I was happy to have lived, and to still be living, in the age of McCartney. If only it weren't also the age of Led Zeppelin.