A chance to meet guitar god Jimmy Page goes sadly awry.
Throughout my adolescence and into adulthood, Led Zeppelin was always THE band for me. It was the discovery of their eponymous first album among my parent’s library of vinyl that set me upon the incontrovertible path of rockerdom. It was during a overnight school trip to Washington D.C. in junior high that I first listened Led Zeppelin IV while high on some weed and wine coolers my roommate had smuggled along. During my high school years, there wasn’t a single day that I didn’t listen to at least one Zeppelin tune. Then, when I turned 18, I announced to my parents that I was getting my first tattoo—of Led Zeppelin’s “Swan Song” art. Worried I might somehow regret my choice, they requested I hold off for a year, and that if I still wanted it after that I’d have their blessing. Out of respect, I agreed … and spent my 19th birthday at the tattoo parlor. When asking one last time if I was sure, I replied: “It’s impossible for me to ever regret this tattoo,” I said, “because even if I live to be 100 years old, I’ll still be listening to Led Zeppelin.” So when I discovered in my inbox an invite to an exclusive “special conversation” event with the band’s legendary guitarist to celebrate the launch of his new photographic autobiography Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page, I practically leapt out of my seat.
The event was being hosted by fashion designer John Varvatos, at the high-end rock couture boutique he’d built inside the semi-renovated corpse of former punk mecca CBGB. I arrived 15 minutes early, but the line was already snaked around the corner.
Waiting to enter, a security guard laid down the evening’s strict ground rules:
“There’s no photography or video allowed. Jimmy will not be posing for any photos, nor will he be signing anything. If you purchase a book, you’ll have an opportunity to have Jimmy stamp it.”
When I finally made it inside, the first thing I saw was a table covered in Jimmy’s books. As I reached out to have a look, another security goon interceded.
“Those books are for display only,” he chided. “There are copies available for purchase behind the counter.”
“I’m not allowed to look at it before I buy it?” I asked. “Isn’t that what display means, to look at?” Apparently, in this place we really did have to judge a book by its cover. I glanced at the counter—the book line was almost as long as the one to get in. Now the bar, on the other hand, seemed rather accessible. I ordered a Stella and began working my way through the capacity crowd.
It’s depressing to see what’s become of this place, I though to myself. I mean sure, CB’s was a filthy, run-down shithole, but that was the point. It was gritty, raw, real—the least pretentious venue imaginable, because it was about the music, not the décor. A place where even the lowest of the lowbrow could be seen and heard. The thousands of stickers that peppered its black walls reflected its proud history as the punk capital of NY. Now, only a small section of that stickered wall remains—in a huge frame behind glass, like some degenerate museum artifact to be gawked at by tourists.
And while on the surface, Varvatos’ Gallery appears to honor the rock and roll legacy of the space it occupies, it is actually its antithesis—commodifying and commercializing the rock aesthetic, marking up and marketing it to rich elites. Browsing through the clothing racks along the side wall, I found one dress shirt I liked, and only one cool coat that wasn’t too… shall we say, “Sgt. Pepper”… for my taste—tagged at $250 was tagged at $3500 respectively. Basically, you’d need to be a member of Led Zeppelin to afford these clothes.
Before I’d emptied my bottle, the room was aroar, as Varvatos and Page were taking the stage. I headed toward the front, but didn’t make it far—the crowd was so dense I couldn’t even see the dais. I shifted from spot to spot, stood on my tippy-toes, hopped up and down, but no matter what I did I couldn’t see more than the top of Jimmy’s head for a second or so at a time.
Nevertheless, I listened enrapt as he regaled us with tales of excess and excellence from both the road and the studio—particularly his prolific period as an axe for hire. I always knew he’d played on The Kinks’ “All Day and all night,” but I had no idea he’d played on The Who’s “Cant Explain,” Joe Cockers “A Little Help From My Friends” and even Shirley Bassey’s iconic theme from James Bond’s Goldfinger—much of it while still a teenager! As the conversation wound down, I headed back toward the front for a refill and a copy of the book.
“I’m sorry,” said the clerk at the counter, “but we’re sold out.”
“You’ve got to be shitting me… you sold every book in the store?”
Great—with no book to stamp, security prevented me from getting in line to meet Page. Instead, I was forced to stand and watch from behind the accursed velvet ropes as nearly every other jackass in the place took turns meeting my idol except for me.
Crestfallen, I headed back to the bar for one last free drink before leaving. They were out of Stellas—all they had left was chardonnay.
“Leave the bottle,” I joked to the bartender, but he was unamused. As I leaned there sulking, a familiar face with a mop of bushy gray hair strode past and posted up next to me at the bar: it was Bob Gruen—a true legend in rock photography, whose shots no doubt abound in Jimmy’s book. Shit, I thought—maybe I can at least still meet one rock icon tonight. With my trusty business card at the ready, I gave Gruen’s shoulder a firm but gentle tap. He turned, looked me dead in the eye, then without so much as a smile or nod of acknowledgement, spun back around and charged off.
“Un-fucking-believable!” Gruen’s rude rebuff was the final straw. “Fuck this place,” I thought aloud, and charged crestfallen toward the exit. On my way out, I passed that display table again—now devoid of books, but still guarded by that same security gorilla.
“I guess those books weren’t for ‘display only’ after all, huh asshole?” I snapped. I was pissed—pissed that I’d spent all night stuck in this couture clusterfuck with barely a buzz to show for it. Pissed that I didn’t get to shake the hand of one of the greatest guitarists in history or inquire about an interview. But most of all, pissed at myself for squandering this once-in-a lifetime opportunity. Because in truth, it wasn’t Varvatos or those dickhead security guards that had prevented me from meeting Jimmy Page—in the end, it was nobody’s fault but mine.