Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pilgrims & Immigrants: Immigrant Song

Led Zeppelin: Immigrant Song

Sometimes the right choice is the obvious one. For people of my generation, I would bet that if you said, “name a song about immigrants or pilgrims,” the majority would mention Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” And while I have been trying to come up with other things to write about, and I still might, I kept coming back to this one.

I’ve written in the past about how my friend Chris and I learned about music together in high school, and how we introduced each other to bands. There was a time when he liked Led Zeppelin, and I wasn’t a fan. He dragged me to see The Song Remains the Same, and my mind was changed forever. I know, it is a crappy movie in many ways, and the performances might not have been their best, but in an era when you didn’t have access to YouTube clips and online videos, I didn’t have much to compare it to. And I was blown away by their sound and their power. Not long after that, we saw them play live at Madison Square Garden, and again, that tour was not considered to be their best, and they messed up “Stairway to Heaven,” but it was still incredible. By the time we saw them, though, “Immigrant Song,” was no longer part of the setlist.

The song was written in response to a show on the band’s 1970 tour in Iceland, and is filled with Viking imagery, telling the tale of the Norsemen’s conquest of new lands. It uses the phrase “hammer of the gods,” which became synonymous with Led Zeppelin’s sound, and was the title of a notorious book about the band, which they hated. And it probably started the connection between heavy metal music and Scandinavian/Viking themes. But most of all, it has an incredible riff and Robert Plant’s iconic wail. One of Zep’s few actual singles, it was successful around the world.

Almost two years ago, I started working from home, and while there are some downsides to that arrangement, one plus is that I can occasionally grab a midday nap. I know that there are innumerable studies that make the case that the nap increases productivity, and I certainly agree with that, and wish that our Protestant Work Ethic society would be more accepting of grabbing a few Z’s during the day. But now that I’m my own boss, I can implement the “Naps Allowed” policy. When I try to nap, I like to put on a half-interesting TV show to help me doze off. It works for me.

One day, I felt the need to crash, and saw that the History Channel was running a marathon of a show called Vikings. With the History Channel, though, the chance of getting actual “history” and not some pseudo-historical crap is low, but when I turned it on, I found out that it was actually a drama about Vikings, and not a dry documentary. Turns out, it was too interesting for napping, and I got hooked. I went online and found out that the show was, in fact, getting good reviews, so I binge watched the first season to be ready for season 2, which was about to start. And it was great.

The show tells the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, a semi-historical figure, who, according to the show, was the Viking who suggested that they stop attacking each other’s villages in Scandinavia and head west to find new lands, ultimately finding England, which was a whole new market for pillaging. Although most episodes have some graphic violence (and, apparently in the version that airs in Europe, some nudity), for the most part, the show is about the politics and lives of the Vikings. From what I have read, it is relatively accurate (although poetic license has been taken with some of the characters and plots). I suspect, though, that as harsh and dirty as their lives appear on the show, it was worse in real life, and I also suspect that not every Viking, male or female, looked like a model, but that’s TV. And next season, they will be storming Paris.

“Immigrant Song” was covered by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross with Karen O as the opening theme for the English-language version of the film The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (in which a prominent role is played by Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård, whose son Gustaf is an important member of the Vikings cast as the eccentric shipbuilder Floki). Some enterprising YouTuber set this cover to scenes from Vikings:

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