Led Zeppelin vocal legend Robert Plant is featured in a new career-spanning interview with Rolling Stone, which touches on his love of doing cover songs, his success, writing the lyrics for “Stairway To Heaven”, and his current work with Alison Krauss. Following is an excerpt.
Rolling Stone: How do you define success?
Plant: “By the smiles on the faces of the people I’m working with, the demeanor, my own demeanor. It’s crucial. My whole deal is entertainment is fine so long as the person that you’re entertaining most of all is yourself. I’m a little wary of repetition, and no matter where I play or what I play or how it works, I’ve got to feel really good about it, because the bird is on the wing. Time is flying by. If I’m going to do this, I’ve got to get the best out of it that I can.”
Rolling Stone: When the first Led Zeppelin album came out, some reviewers (including Rolling Stone) panned it. Is there anything to learn from negative press?
Plant: “Absolutely nothing. It’s bullshit. Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder. The guy around Rolling Stone was not very happy at all.”
Rolling Stone: My interpretation of your “Stairway to Heaven” lyrics is that you were speaking out against selfishness. Do you feel like people ever got the point of the song?
Plant: “I have no idea. I mean, it was such a long time ago. I used to say it in Zeppelin, ‘This is a song of hope.’ And it’s crazy, really, because it was gargantuan at the time. The musical construction was, at its time, something very special, and I know that Jimmy and the guys were really, really proud of it, and they gave it to me and said, ‘What are you going to do about this?’ So I set about trying to write something which I suppose drops into the same idiom as something like ‘The Rover’ later on, or maybe ‘Rain Song’, something where there’s some optimism and reflection from someone who was really not [old]. I was 23 or something like that.
And so what do I think now? When I hear it in isolation, I feel overwhelmed for every single reason you could imagine. There was a mood and an air of trying to make it through. The world is a different place. Everybody was reeling from Vietnam and the usual extra helping of corruption with politics. There were people who were really eloquent who brought it home far less pictorially and did a much better job of reaching that point. But I am what I am, and as my grandfather said, ‘I can’t be more ‘am’-erer.'”