Led Zeppelin, Celtic Myth, and the Lies of American Culture

Often in American Culture we are fed untruths by the time period and culture in which we are raised. The lies and the uncovered truths of American culture the past 50 years is what this article is about.

In my lectures and blogs online I have often talked about the huge falsehoods told to us by the cultures we grow up in. I was an early GenX child. I have many fond memories of an older American culture now lost that was much more creative than the one we have today in 2020. Most of the culture of the 1960’s and 1970’s was about freedom, about drugs and partying, and about the “cultural need” to rebel against authority on every level. It was a very free time, but a time filled with a very violent youth-culture which quickly devolved after the more inspiring earlier rebuilding period in America before 1950.

I was born in 1965 and I remember a very different America than the one we have today. Years later I found out many of the things I feared after 1975 were in fact hidden from me by that culture of people that had come from the 1960’s hippie era of change. Many of the things told to me about the culture were false. It turned out that this Baby Boomer dialogue I was exposed to was but a Postmodern generational reaction to things completely outside my realm of understanding. After 1975 I found out ideas and myths used by the generation in front of me were built by them to further their own changing agenda – an agenda built on a string rebellion against authority, of their own decadent pleasures and desires, but also their inherent grasp of and desire for a deep intellectual and spiritual freedom in America they had wanted and never found. It was about about their need to remake America for themselves after 1963 and the death of Kennedy; which wasthe death of their parents much older desire for a more cautious and kinder post-war America.

Knowing now that backdrop to that age of people, this view of my own cultural moment growing up as a young boy in the 1970’s exposed me to the music and art of that spiritually rich but often narcissistic and selfish people; their psychedelic music, their intense free-ideals, and the highly spiritualistic art forms that sprang up around me. These would all become a big part of the inspiration for how and why I wrote my novel, The Phantammeron.

The 1960’s and 1970’s was an age of pure rebellion. It was a time when authority was being dismantled in the shadow of a 1950’s Post-WWII America the young people had wholly rejected by 1965, the year I was born. Timothy Leary had just discoverer LSD in 1965, I read. Unlike today, however, these people were not reacting to racism or corruption or fascism but war, to great cultural restraint, and to the rebirth of a dying, much older Modernistic society.

That’s what the Phantammeron books became for me; an idealization of the vision that came from these freedom-loving flower children I remembered as a boy, their deep spiritual views of themselves, and their immense personal expressions without constraint by culture, war, or society. And yet my writing was also a rejection of their evils, too – a drug, booze, and party culture that destroyed itself after 1970. My bitterness at seeing society collapse into its own decadence was framed in that time period, as well.

Its those darker things that destroyed the beauty of their music in my mind, to me. It was the lies told to me as a boy about so much of the beauty of that period that destroyed it all and corrupted what should have been art’s monumental celebration in the 970’s; music I hated then but today love. Instead music and concerts evolved into one great drug party. The decadence I grew to despise about the 1970’s and that older generation inflamed me to write a book about the last goodness of others cornered in such a vile world and how that narrative might be framed within a much larger fantasy story.

This huge reaction to my culture began to evolve through my novels after 1989 when I was 24 years old. It was an attempt to recognize that I had been duped by the lies of a culture in America back then; a culture so hyper-focused on its decadent needs, its perversion, selfishness. My writing was about my own sense of freedom, my rejected sensitivity and intellect by that culture back then. And yet it became a defense of my goodness, too, as a sort of dual-reaction for and against the Baby Boom hippie culture; a reaction as both a loving embrace of Postmodern freedoms (being a child of it) yet a rejection of its evil, its sexism, it’s racism, it’s violence, it’s drugs, and its lies.

Here in 2020, as American Culture finally says goodbye to 60 years of this freedom-loving and rebellious generation, I see things I will miss and yet things I am ready to say goodbye to forever. One is the lies told about the beautiful progressive rock n’ roll created during that time.

When I was at SMU in the 1980’s and researching ancient mythology for my Phantammeron novels, I stumbled on a little book in the Fondren Library called “Magic Arts in Celtic Britain by Lewis Spence”. This 100 year old book on ancient Britain and many others would later form part of the inspiration for my novel the Phantammeron and the start of a long period of research into Western mythology and ancient religion.

30 years later, ironically, I found out this book was also the inspiration for Led Zeppelin’s famous song, “Stairway to Heaven”. According to Robert Plant and the band, he was reading this in a Welsh cabin with his family and band members when that song was put together. As one member has said,

“Robert Plant is a great admirer of all things mystic, the old English legends and lore and the writings of the Celts. He was immersed in the books Magic Arts in Celtic Britain by Lewis Spence and The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.”


Wow! Could it be that Led Zeppelin was into mythology like me? Why had the Baby Boomers convinced me that their music was about something else?

How much of the music and writing and movies today has been directly inspired by ancient mythology, poetry, and fantasy fiction? How many rock musicians wrote music to Tolkien’s fantasy novels? Led Zeppelin, Rush, Hawkwind, etc. etc. etc. ? Quite a bit, apparently.

Growing up listening to Zeppelin in the 1970’s and 1980’s didn’t exist much outside the late afternoon and evening radio play and what I considered the hidden “pot parties” and drug use at social events that was widespread in the 1970’s and 1980’s across the United States. To say Led Zeppelin was only about weed would be silly….and yet everyone I knew back then under 30 that knew of and listened to Zeppelin were doing massive amounts of drugs including weed.

From this “fallen” rock n’ roll culture in America came a sort of worship of the band and it’s mysterious and dark associations with America’s counter-culture phenomenon and drug use after 1970. The band became associated with all kinds of “other” sinister associations, as well. And that was one of the reasons I avoided their music. It felt devious on some level. Seductive but not in a positive way. And so years later as the progressive music of that era faded from radio stations and teenage parties I often wondered what was in my mind that had created that negative image about this band? What was that about?

One of the “myths” about Zeppelin’s songs (at least in 1970’s Texas) had been the idea that the band were in fact satanists and the “Stairway” was to be played backwards in order to conjure up some hidden meaning tied to the dark arts. It turns out that was false.

The other lie about their song “Stairway” was it was about women and sex and that the band was continually immersed in songs about affairs and one-night-stands. That also turned out to be a lie.

The third falsehood was the concept of pot and weed and it’s connection to the band and their music. For years I had friends and family members sharing with me the secret meaning of their music such that Zeppelin’s songs were continually immersed in weed-culture and the furtherance of cannabis, so much so that “Stairway to Heaven” was just a song about a bad trip, a bad high, and but a psychedelic poem to getting high much like most of the later Beatle songs were portrayed when played backwards. This was what my sister told me and my peers and what was conveyed in bar conversations back then. It turns out these were the biggest lie of all!

When I read years later that in fact many in Zeppelin were in fact married at that time in the early 1970’s and some with kids when the Stairway song was written, and that in fact it was written in a Welsh cabin while reading ancient mythology with family nearby, it suddenly felt as if I was there with a bunch of family-oriented people much like myself…..that these were artists mesmerized by history and the mystery of their past and something more. The same feeling of the mystery of life I felt as a young man, minus the drugs, women, and rebellion was theirs, as well. And so what I had rejected as a sensitive young man growing up was in fact music based on a lie to to me about Led Zeppelin by others. They were inspired like me by mythology!

Such a beautiful tone-poem as Stairway then started to make sense…sadly 40 years later.

I felt as if the real truth about Led Zeppelin and their huge success in America back then was simply that they were GREAT ARTISTS. And the TRUE reason their music touched so many of us in the 1970’s had NOTHING to do with America’s fatalistic drug and party culture, pot-smoking, sex, satanism, or one-night-stands. Led Zeppelin was about something poetic and beautiful.

It turns out those lies about Led Zeppelin were fabricated by a fallen drug-addicted weak, uneducated American youth-culture who made up those myths to rationalize their own needs at that moment in time. Their rebellious and selfish needs to use art and music as an excuse to do drugs and party was why such myths were made back then. It was all a selfish lie. And I realized that quite possibly most of America had completely missed the beauty of so much music back then in the 1970’s as a result. How tragic, I felt!

As time has moved on from such things, I’ve begun to listen to Led Zeppelin again, but no longer fearful of Satanic ritual, it’s sex appeal, or an excuse to party and smoke, but just in the pure act of hearing the true BEAUTY of the music itself! It’s an amazing song, Stairway to Heaven. And reading Spence’s Welsh views of ancient Druidic rituals I feel the true meaning of that music hidden within and it’s strange connection to a past I’ve known yet never known…..the mind of my ancient ancestors in England.

Strange how Zeppelin and this one song to me then became like tasting a fine wine rather than a call to hanging out with broke stoners on a Friday night in Texas (or God-forbid worse things that went on under the influence like I was told as a scared 10 year old boy in 1976).

My point to you all is to realize the cultural myths and lies society inflicts on us…..the violence, the ignorance, the selfishness, the blindness culture can use to diminish great Art and Music is real. It numbs, it destroys, it slays the poetic souls of our better nature by removing us from art and music and it’s better purpose.

This need not be a warning but maybe just a cautious tale…..that we must all trust our instincts, even as children, over the powerful words and influence of young men with evil intent and design to use music and art and even people to influence our views, if not just the music’s meaning, then our view of ourselves and our inherent value.

Some people I have loved, even family, got sucked into the lies of the 1970’s, seeing the purpose of all of culture as but a tool to please the drives and desires of people around them that used them; of the white Boomers who once dominated all of culture back then and who saw the world as but their oyster as we all did. For I was born male and white too, at the beginning of the next generation, though not a boomer but privileged like they. And so I can relate to what I’m implying here.

So many of us drank that kool-aid back then so used this music and many other forms of art for power, money, sex, and control. Now as I see society completely changing in 2020 where those ideas are dying fast, and will soon be gone forever. And so it’s very easy to look back on the summer of 1976 as a preteen and see how cultural lies to me about so many things, especially the music of that age, negatively affected me and my art.

Seeing those I loved doing drugs and alcohol and worse back then, I’ve come to see how culture can influence and deceive us. I’ve seen how by trusting my inner child I was one of the few to avoid those traps and avoid drugs and so much worse than my family and friends who so easily succumbed to that cultural influence out of need to be loved by those powerfully weak men and women, back then.

We must look back and see the Truth in History, and in music and art, if we are to value the real beauty and lessons in those things. Listening to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven again – voted over and over as the greatest rock song every written – and knowing the young Englishmen that wrote it were reading the exact same mythology books I was into when I was 24 in 1989, has made me realize these musicians were me and I was them. We were but kindred spirits searching for something in ourselves and in our art and in the universe. But culture sidetracked it all, sadly. A fallen party-culture ruined it for a generation, and for many decades.

When we realize that it’s the Human condition of Being that all molds us and our great art that builds us, we no longer need drugs or partying, sexism, or falsehoods to connect us to ourselves, to beautiful art, or even the feeling of belonging in American Culture. It was needed in 1976. The people that should have been driving society then as now should not have been these shallow selfish people but the artists and the poets of that time. It should have been a celebration of beauty and beautiful souls, not dark drug-addicted ones.

And that becomes the true purpose of making Art…..to influence culture and people for higher purposes and to inspire and move us to build beautiful art and music, not as cultural tools to get high or meet girls at parties or pretend our silly cults we create have any purpose other than to rub our huge egos or feel loved by strangers.

Great art I realized was lost back then simply because culture failed to celebrate it for what is was. And by doing so, sensitive and introspective young people such as myself and many others were warped into believing their views were meaningless and the drug and sex culture back then was meaningful. It wasn’t. And it destroyed lives and families. It destroyed great art. And for those two things I weep…

I see now the lies of culture and how they destroy lives. They destroy the creation of real art with real meaning. They destroy the inner life of our sensitive and beautiful youth. I’d like all young people to see this as a tale of caution….not so much as a call to reject the very shallow culture you now live in in 2020, but be wary of it. For culture, especially American Culture, I see clearly now can de-evolve and weaken and warp the individual and the value systems of good men and women with the power to change culture for the better. But it can give us beautiful, life-affirming value, too. But it takes a loner mentality and a broad rejection of one’s peers to overcome. I was able to achieve that but not without a cost. Many may not.

But my culture from the 1970’s taught me to be free….much freer than the kids today are, artistically and in terms of artistic expression. Culture today IN 2020 is WAY MORE REPRESSIVE than the one I found myself in in 1979, for example. I treasure that gift and experience I had.

But the culture back then was just as demeaning for me back then in asking me to be a part of a “party culture” I wholly rejected as shallow and meaningless, just as the culture today is asking everyone to conform and participate in being PC Warriors or social justice marchers. Those things too are ultimately meaningless and very damaging to personal creative expression. So be wary.

If you are an artist you must follow and trust your instincts far more than your peers. I would say it’s critical if you are to “create” anything beautiful or meaningful as an artist, musician, or writer. Only you alone can remake a domain, not your friends in union with you. Doing so, having a healthy rebellion and rejection of your culture, it will help you survive its lies and deceptions years later. it will help you escape its shallow traps that later will seem meaningless in the grander scope of History. Embracing some ideas will help you stay connected, but removing yourself from its false views at times is critical.

Trust your own instinct, always. Trust your views of your art, especially. If it feels shallow views and calls of inclusion doesn’t move you to be a better person it’s probably cultural waste. If it’s ideologies and artistic artifacts sell beauty and meaning to you on a plate it’s probably culturally and intellectually insignificant and will not stand the test of time. What’s in YOU will!

Such is the power of the Self that’s needed in debunking the lies of cultural moments. I’ve found once you trust your heart then years later when you are old like me the puzzle pieces of not just the culture around you but your place in it will suddenly fall into place and make sense and hold the time of great art and expression in a truly timeless state that cannot be erased. Then anything of real beauty created back then and in your own life will suddenly shine like a diamond from within the dark cave of refuse that is your culture today.

— the Author

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