History comes when the mind is awake, and, at this time of the year, it is often difficult to just sit down and think about what has happened, what has almost transpired, and what has not. Often, one gets a fleeting glimpse of what may or may not be true, but it appears more like a dream, rather than some form of historical fact. And, hey, life can appear more active in that sense, anyway. One should be able to breeze through the pages of some spiritual, or cultural, or metaphysical history book, and re-write the pages, insert a new belief, a new idea, a new concept for the future, re-conceiving events to place them into a proper modern context.
Ahhh…such a dangerous game, no?
Which is all a really pompous way to introduce the current modus operandi at hand as we dig into a pair of films for this edition of Hidden Flick, and enter the post-death, maybe even the post-zombie apocalypse version of this little column that somehow could. Perhaps, this is the Undead Season—the one where anything is possible, and nothing, or no one, ever dies. Either that, or we continue to look at old portraits in a new frame—consistently checking to see “did that really happen, or is my third eye, my tricky little mind’s eye, playing games with me/us/it?”
History is a living breathing beast, and, so, we use that pulsating thought to explore two documents released this year, which focus a new light on some rather old subjects, or a fresh perspective on some off-the-radar, hidden thought process. Indeed, this edition will feature the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Is My Darling and Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day.
Charlie Is My Darling: Originally directed by Peter Whitehead and produced by manager Andrew Loog Oldham, the 2012 restored film documents the young Rolling Stones on a tour of Ireland in 1965. Ostensibly filmed for release following the success of the Beatles cinematic endeavors, the band and management chose to shelf the curious piece, where it stayed until fairly recently, when an extensive restoration and re-editing process took place, that placed the film in a new historical context. Actually, the film is being released during the current 50th anniversary of the Stones, and it is a bit jarring because they are all so fresh behind the musical ears. And that is precisely what makes this brief film—at 64 minutes, Charlie Is My Darling, still packs a subtle punch—so intriguing. The Stones are monolithic icons of such a legendary stature that one has a difficult time listening to any of their music in 2012 with a sort of ‘first take’ appeal.
In this relic from 1965, like Dylan in Don’t Look Back—perhaps, the ’60s demigod’s most accurate statement about his creative process captured on film; Dylan wrote mad poetry because he WAS living in a mad and chaotic poetic era that demanded either brilliance or death; often, both—the Rolling Stones were seeking a generous muse, but in a different form. It is fascinating to see them create music, craft songs out of the ether, while not really knowing a thing about how they are going to forge a career. History is found in those precious offstage moments where Mick Jagger and Keith Richards drunkenly drift through either a cover or an original selection, but it is also found during the full-on torrential downpour of notes that the entire band—Jagger, Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts—create on stage while the whole world is spinning around them at a pace that seems quixotically insane because, well, it is.
Nearly 50 years on, one wonders how the majority of the band survived, but you can see some of those hidden clues in the quietly moving and haphazard yet beautifully productive passages with Jagger and Richards. Somehow, someway, the work gets done…and it is the work that survives.
Celebration Day: This one is a bit difficult. Recorded five years ago, and amassing an impossibly legendary status with almost universal acclaim both from the critics and few fans that saw the performance in an age when anything at any time can be experienced by everyone, it still holds a pretty miraculous mythical and mysterious place in rock history—much like the band itself, Led Zeppelin. Without any doubt, Celebration Day is, indeed, a celebration of a band that is performing at the peak of their collective powers as a quartet…in 2007. The work survives.
Now, it isn’t necessarily a document of a band at their zenith. That would be early 1973, perhaps on one of their Scandinavian dates before the legendary American campaign would solidify Zeppelin as the biggest band in the world, a status that, almost incredibly, the group still holds in 2012, despite a legion of competition, changing trends, disco, punk rock, alt and/or indie rock and bands like the Stones attempting to usurp the crown that they lost almost as soon as they grabbed it post-Beatles’ demise, and everything else that has transpired in popular music since 1969 when Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham conquered the planet.
That is the hidden truth, the huge chunk of hidden history that is found in Celebration Day—the band recaptured their alleged former glory by rehearsing for a one-off benefit gig in honor of the late Ahmet Ertegun, their patron saint at Atlantic Records (if I need to recount the man’s importance, not only for Zeppelin, but a tidal wave of artists in the 20th century, please stop reading now, and ponder his story elsewhere, as the man’s legacy is as equally robust as the quartet he championed back in the ’60s), and then going out and executing that formidable mojo in front of 20,000 people at the O2 Arena in London on December 10, 2007.
The band almost looked like they were rehearsing in public, as they gathered in a tight ball of energy, and then exploded outwards, layering their classic songs with a passion that had been tucked away in some dark and lonely place for far too long. Led Zeppelin never needed to reunite. What they needed to do was remind themselves as artists about that hidden power of their timeless music: it’s the songs, stupid. In the end, Jason Bonham, in glorious affirmation that sometimes, the apple not only doesn’t fall far from the tree, it hits the ground like the hammer of the gods, showed the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin the way to that buried fact. Celebration Day captures a magical performance on a magical night, which beget a magical film. Kudos to director Dick Carruthers, who helped producer Jimmy Page mine and bring to light most of the old cinematic gold for 2003’s career-spanning Led Zeppelin DVD, for placing the focus on that hidden flame, and, then, staying out of the way, so it could shine without a hint of ever going out.
And that is what makes good history—hidden, revisionist, or otherwise—staying out of the way of oneself, sitting quietly, observing, seeking what may have been in the shadows, looking at the distant light with fresh eyes, burning brightly in some faraway future, a vision never quite dying out because it will also offer something new to those that listen to its poignant echo.