gatot’s comment on my post about being rebellious reminded me of none other than… stairway to heaven. firstly, it’s simply because he mentioned it. but, secondly, it’s more about the rumor.
he was right, the song rumored to contained backward satanic messages, as if led zeppelin sold their souls to the devil in exchange for, well, “stairway to heaven”; and these messages could be listen to by playing the tape reverse-wise. i heard about it, probably sometime during 1977 or 1978. it was quite a while after the album, led zeppelin iv, in which the song appears was released for the first time (1971).
a rumor, as irish essayist jonathan swift said, is “what some invent the rest enlarge”. that’s why we never knew the truth. and it was also the case at the time with stairway to heaven, even there were “supporting fact” that jimmy page bought aleister crowley’s house in scotland, which had become a well-known satanic church and was known as “the toolhouse”, doubt were everywhere. (you might find it funny, but in his books, crowley advocated that his followers learn to read and speak backwards.)
of course, there were people who tried to play their tapes as suggested. i remember my friends admitted doing it and one of them said he heard scary-strange sounds bursting out from his speakers. i never bothered myself to do it for obvious reason: i don’t believe the rumor. i just thought that if we ask someone who conveys the rumor (with or without “enlargement”) whether there’s the truth in it, i was pretty sure we’ll never get the answer. this fact is what scottish novelist sir walter scott exactly put it: “i cannot tell how the truth may be; i say the tale as ’twas said to me.”
i know the truth several years ago when i came across an article that quoted an exerpt from the interview given by robert plant to musician magazine. he dismissed the rumor. he said: “stairway to heaven was written with every best intention, and as far as reversing tapes and putting messages on the end, that’s not my idea of making music. it’s really sad.”
rumor of similar kind had been attached to legendary delta blues musician robert johnson. it was said that, while travelling on a cross-road in the delta in early 1930s, he sold his immortal soul to the devil in exchange for mastery of the guitar. he died at the age of 27 in a mysterious way. he never cleared the rumor up. while plant, well, he is luckier: he got his chance to relay his refusal and gave explanation of what is true.
but regardless of the explanation, and the fact that plant doesn’t share his fondness of the song with page, stairway to heaven remains as one of rock’n’roll best lyrically composed songs of all time. and it’s also one of the most famous rock’n’roll songs of all time. this is the song many novice guitarists try to learn. (does anyone remember the movie wayne’s world where stairway to heaven is banned in the guitar shop where wayne starts playing it?) most of them end up messing it up.
i was one of them.