Hot off the Press

Brad Tolinski | Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page

by Alissa Ordabai
– Senior Columnist —

Light and Shade:  Conversations with Jimmy PageBefore we have a definitive compilation of all of Jimmy Page’s interviews, this recent book by Brad Tolinski becomes our nearest substitute. Guitar World editor-in-chief Tolinski has been speaking to Page extensively over the past 20 years. In fact, more than any other journalist. Although their contact began over a decade after Led Zeppelin broke up, the span of topics covered in this book rules out thinking of Tolinski as of Johnny-come-lately. In fact, the distance in time between Led Zeppelin and the time when Tolinski began talking to Page puts the guitarist’s career into a greater perspective. Page’s famous adage “distance equals depth” applies here too, acquiring a meaning beyond recording technique.

Some interviews in this book have already become classics, reproduced and reprinted dozens of times. Others are less known, but Tolinski every time comes through as an unpretentious, although shrewdly astute interviewer who asks philosophical questions in the same deadpan way he’d ask about gear. “Were your occult studies contributing to the vibe of your musical vision?” he asks Page, only to receive one of guitarist’s trademark elusive answers.

But at other times his persistence pays off when Page decides to open up. And on one occasion Tolinski strikes it truly lucky, as Page not only begins to explain about mysticism, but also talks in a remarkably open way about drugs and excesses of the Led Zeppelin days – the other two topics he almost never discusses at length. The famous quote about drugs having been “an integral part of the whole thing, right from the beginning, right to the end” is one of Tolinski’s treasure catches.

Not the most outgoing of interviewees, but a man who throughout his career consistently managed to avoid giving straightforward answers about his innermost beliefs and motivations, Page nevertheless comes alive in this book. From simple human advice on how to take breaks when stuck for ideas, to dry humour, he gives off an affable vibe of someone who is both supremely self-assured and coy, knows his purpose, but is at the same time remains a perpetual seeker.

Large portions of conversation are about equipment, or about the writing and recording process behind specific songs. Still, it all becomes more than simply chronology, music theory, or shop talk, given how central those subjects are to understanding Page as a musician, producer, and a band leader. Additional insight in the form of interviews with John Paul Jones, Chris Dreja, Paul Rogers, and publicist Danny Goldberg provides good contrast to Page’s own words.

And as it is bound to happen in a book about any rock icon, toward the end both the wacky and the consumeristic also rear their heads. “Stargazer” Margaret Santangelo provides a chapter on “the astrology of Jimmy Page”, and designer John Varvatos supplies a short treatise on Page’s impact on fashion. Apart from beefing up the page count, those chapters also show that nothing can stay intimate or idiosyncratic in show biz for long. Or, simply put, that mass media can turn anyone’s spiritual and creative strivings into something that can be treated with familiarity. As if in contrast to this, Tolinski’s own tone comes through as consistently respectful, knowledgeable, and with a genuinely human – if not existential – interest in his subject.

Whether you will find this book completely fulfilling or not (some would find “musicological” and gear sections too superficial, if not slapdash), it is to Tolinski that Jimmy Page once said, “We were cutting with a machete knife through the jungle, and discovered a temple of the ages.” Receiving such a quote alone amounts to a professional achievement most music journalists can only aspire to. Not to mention the fact that most musicians can equally only dream of ever articulating anything of this magnitude.

To sum up, this book is a great aid for understanding of one of the most gifted and enigmatic of our contemporaries. Earnest and expertly done, it is one of those gems which stand out against heaps of dross and pasquils Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin had to endure for decades.

Publisher: Virgin Books

Hardrock Haven rating: n/a