DJ Sue

DJ Sue
Welcome to my blog. I’m a DJ in Second Life and I find myself discussing the music I’m playing with many of those in attendance at my shows. Unfortunately, when I am busy DJing, I can’t participate and discuss the music as fully as I would like. I’m hoping this blog can help change that. Look here before my set to see if I might be playing something interesting today or maybe after to see if discussion on a topic might continue. You are invited to join in the conversation and leave comments.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Stairway to Heaven

Yesterday was the Fairy Ball at AWT and I remarked how appropriate it was to end that show with Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin.  This song is something of an anthem to my generation so I suppose that I should have expected a bit of a disconnect, especially among the younger attendees.  They seemed to be surprised by the fairy connection.  Last year I posted here about Led Zeppelin in general as one of my “Sojourns” and I linked that post last night but I felt that it might be of interest if I could fully explore the song, Stairway to Heaven.

The song was written in 1970 and Jimmy Page wrote the music on one of their now famous excursions to Bron-Yr-Aur, a manor house in the Welsh mountains where they’d go to compose.  Vocalist, Robert Plant, on hearing the music, improvised the lyrics and most of them were written and set during that session.  Plant had been reading a book, the Magic Arts in Celtic Britain by Lewis Spence (1949).

Spence’s book was a scholarly study of the magical and folk beliefs in Celtic Britain.  The book looks at many facets of this subject, including the Druids, Arthurian legend, magic and of course, fairies.  In fact, the entire subject matter touches upon the Fae in some manner or another.  Even in the segments on Arthurian legend, we look at the related fairy influence including Avalon and Morgan Le Fey. Plant has admitted that the lyrics were inspired by his reading of Spence’s book.

I think what I’m going to do is quote the song lyrics below and highlight in bold certain lines.  I’ll then address those lines and what they might mean.

Stairway to Heaven (1971), by Led Zeppelin

“There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stairway to heaven.

“There's a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.
In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings,
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.

“Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it makes me wonder.

There's a feeling I get when I look to the west,
And my spirit is crying for leaving.
In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees,
And the voices of those who stand looking.

“Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it really makes me wonder.

And it's whispered that soon, if we all call the tune,
Then the piper will lead us to reason.
And a new day will dawn for those who stand long,
And the forests will echo with laughter.

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now,
It's just a spring clean for the May queen.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on.
And it makes me wonder.

“Your head is humming and it won't go, in case you don't know,
The piper's calling you to join him,
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind?

“And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold.
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last.
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll.

“And she's buying a stairway to heaven.”

Discussion of the Lyrics

In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings.
One doesn’t find fairies in human civilization.  They are relegated to the forests and wilderness. This line firmly places the song’s subject in the forest.

There's a feeling I get when I look to the west,
And my spirit is crying for leaving.
There is a feeling we get when looking at a beautiful sunset.  It is compounded many times when that sunset is viewed out in the wilderness.  If any feeling we universally experience can be called on to prove that magic exists, it is this feeling. It burns deep in our chests and our souls.

Our ancestors watched the sun set and it seemed to parallel the experience of death and dying.  The sun would go to the west and die.  When King Arthur fell at the Battle of Camlann (537 A.D.), he was mortally wounded but did not die on the battlefield.  He was taken, still alive, by the fairies over the sea to the west, to their island of Avalon. There he was healed and now sleeps. The once and future King sleeps and awaits the call when he will be awoken, when Britain once again needs him.

In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees
Smoke rings do not occur naturally and only happen when someone smoking creates one.  They often seem magical in and of themselves. This line has always brought to me visions of some gnome at the base of a tree, smoking a pipe and blowing smoke rings, floating among the trees in the forest. I’m also reminded of Bilbo and Gandalf enjoying a good smoke together and blowing smoke rings.

And it's whispered that soon, if we all call the tune,
Then the piper will lead us to reason.
There is an old phrase, “he who pays the piper calls the tune.”  It goes back to the Middle Ages and even the Dark Ages when pipers were used to provide music for dancing in the Hall.  The Lord or King in that hall would pay the piper; therefore they got to pick the tunes he played.  Pipes are ethereal and have a magical quality to them. One only has to think of the Pied Piper of Hamlin.  By making reference in this way, it is hard not to relate these lines to legends. There is a lesson here. If we all come together to give input in a matter, we will come up with a reasonable solution.

And the forests will echo with laughter
Often in tales of fairies, they are heard but never seen. The forests echoing with the sounds of laughter just comes right out and invokes images of fairies hiding deep within.

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now,
It's just a spring clean for the May queen.
A “hedgerow” often refers to the line of shrubs and greenery that lines the side of the road.  This line makes you think of a “bustle” or rustling within these shrubs as you walk past.  It’s nothing to worry about, it is just the fairies at work, putting things in order (a spring clean) for the May Queen.

The May Queen is an interesting bit of folklore that has evolved from the concept of the fairy folk. Some would say that the Fairy Queen and May Queen are one in the same.  Sir James Frazer in his iconic book, the Golden Bough, links her with the worship of the tree spirits.

The piper's calling you to join him,
We are back to the piper.  He now calls you to join the dance and you fall under the spell of his pipe.  Could this be in the Fairy Circle, deep in the forest?

There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
We are now forced to deal with the “Lady,” who has been mentioned and alluded to throughout.  Was she just a lady?  Was she the Queen of the Fairies or was she something more?  We now learn that she “shines white light.”  Who else can this be but the goddess, Arianrhod?   She is the personification of the night sky and the full moon, whose light is often described as silver or white.  Arianrhod has many connections to the fairies and many would argue that the Goddess is the Lady referred to throughout the song.  I should also mention that the Welsh goddess, Rhiannon, would also fit as she is also a Celtic Moon Goddess.  The Goddess motif also relates directly to Heaven.

I have been listening to this song since it was first released in 1971 and it remains one of my favorites.  I’ve also read the Lewis Spence book referenced above.  These interpretations are my own but you will find that I am not alone in my views. But maybe it is best not to forget what Led Zeppelin guitarist, Jimmy Page, said about it in 2003:

“The wonderful thing about "Stairway" is the fact that just about everybody has got their own individual interpretation to it, and actually what it meant to them at their point of life. And that's what's so great about it. Over the passage of years, you know, people come to me with all manner of stories about, you know, what it meant to them at certain points of their lives. About how it's got them through some really tragic circumstances ... Because it's an extremely positive song, it's such a positive energy, and, you know, people have got married to [the song].”

The song is in and of itself timeless.

What About the Devil?

Jimmy had always had an interest in the occult and was a big fan of ceremonial magic, especial the works of Aleister Crowley.  In 1970 Jimmy bought Crowley’s old manor on Loch Ness, Boleskine House.  This created speculation that he was dabbling in the Black Arts, including that he had sold his soul in a pact with the Devil for Led Zeppelin’s success.

There was supposedly further proof of this in that if you played Stairway to Heaven backwards, the line, “There’s still time to change the road you’re on,” becomes, “Here’s to my sweet Satan.”  When this sort of thing is usually done, it is done by recording something forward and then overdubbing it into the recording backwards.  It is called “backwards masking” and many bands did this.  I don’t think this was a product of that process and it is just coincidence it says anything backwards.  I’m sure if I played enough records backwards, I could find the line, “Donald Trump is smoking dope in my hovercraft.”  Where do people find the time?

Enter Disney

The original master tape of Stairway to Heaven was remixed by Disney’s Sunset Sound Studios in 2014.  Nothing has been added or taken away, but 21st century technology has been used to allow you to hear the song in a new light.  You hear nuances that you never knew were there.  I recall hearing songs on AM radio and then being amazed when I finally heard those same songs from a record played on a high fidelity stereo.  The difference was night and day, yet it was the same recording.  This new version has done it again.  It’s like the recordings I’ve been hearing all these decades were the AM radio version and this new Disney version is what I should have been hearing all of these years. 

I will play this version to end my show this Wednesday, 2-4 PM at AWT.  I normally stream at 128Kbs but on Wednesday, I will up my rate to 192 Kbs, the highest the server will allow to assure you the highest sound quality.  I recommend headphones and turning it up for this grand finale!

In the 1970’s, Stairway to Heaven became a very popular slow dance number at high school dances across the country.  This may have contributed to its popularity with a generation as it became “THE” dance of the night at eight minutes long in school gyms everywhere. For me, it became special because it was filled with beautiful pagan imagery that sang to my soul.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your insights on this timeless classic and explaining the lyrics. I for one have always loved this song tremendously and it's always been one of my all time favorites. Led Zeppelin will always and forever be remembered for this song among the other great classics they have done. Thank you Sue for bringing extraordinary life to this song with your enlightening posting.

    Felicia & Kai