Rolling Stone

Robert Plant

On success, critics, and what ‘Stairway to Heaven’ means to him now


You’re from England’s Black Country. What’s the most “Black Country” thing about you?

The self-deflating humor. Sometimes I collide into people I knew when I was at the local town hall, and usually they’re charmingly abusive. They celebrate success for 10 minutes, and then the rest of the time it’s that success has gone to the wrong person or whatever. I love that.

How do you define success?

By the smiles on the faces of the people I’m working with, the demeanor, my own demeanor. Entertainm­ent is fine so long as the person you’re entertaini­ng most of all is yourself. I’m a little wary of repetition.

I like watching you and Alison Krauss harmonize live. How do you connect when you do that?

We kind of watch each other when we’re singing. I’m still slightly impish, so I might hold one syllable a little bit long, and she hangs on with me, and she doesn’t know when it’s going to end. The eyebrows tell everything, like she’s asking me, “Why am I doing this? Why are you fucking about like this?” It’s great.

When the first Led Zeppelin album came out, some reviewers (ahem, Rolling Stone) panned it. Is there anything to learn from negative press?

Absolutely nothing. It’s bullshit. Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder. The guy around Rolling Stone was not very happy at all.

In Zeppelin, you often sang about sex, and some people associate Led Zeppelin with debauchery and sexism. How do you feel about that aspect of the band now?

This morning I was playing that YouTube clip of Howlin’ Wolf having a showdown with Son House; it’s a black-andwhite clip of “Meet Me in the Bottom.” And I’m thinking about Robert Johnson and all the artists that I listened to, whether it was Memphis Minnie, “Me and My Chauffeur Blues,” Muddy Waters, “Got My Mojo Workin’,” and it was loaded with innuendo. With rock & roll singers, it was almost pantomime. It was another time, and there was nothing sort of malevolent or base; it was just part of the time.

Do you ever feel sad that the last time you appeared in public with Jimmy Page was at the “Stairway to Heaven” trial?

I think I may have seen him once since then. As a matter of fact, I’m hoping to see him tomorrow, because I’m going to London, and I’ve got a really good record by Robert Finley, Sharecropp­er’s Son, that I want to give him for old times’ sake.

After all these years, how do you calm people down when they meet you and treat you like their idol?

I’m flattered when people are kind, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. I’m a guy who got older. And the thing is, I can still do all the shit I could do before, because occasional­ly through these shows I let it rip for a minute. I’m a pretty public person. I mean,

I don’t have to go in the telephone booth to get changed and come out with no shirt on. That might be a bit risky now. But you just keep moving and take everything as it comes

around the corner.

My interpreta­tion of “Stairway to Heaven” is you were speaking out against selfishnes­s. Do you feel like people got the point of the song?

I have no idea; it was such a long time ago. I used to say it in Zeppelin, “This is a song of hope.” I know Jimmy and the guys were really proud of the musical constructi­on. They gave it to me and said, “What are you going to do about this?”

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. 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, “And I can’t be more am-erer.”

Plant and Krauss released ‘Raise the Roof’ last fall and are on tour through Sept. 12.

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