The curse of Led Zeppelin. People started to whisper about this in the late seventies. Nobody had any particular facts. But when Zeppelin drummer John Bonham died in September 1980, things started to pick up. So—is there anything to this so called Led Zeppelin “curse”? Nonsense, right? Let’s see…
Most of the curse talk is centered around the little understood late 19th century magician, Aleister Crowley. To say the word magician in the 21st century conjures up images of David Blaine or David Copperfield working illusions. In the late 1800’s, there existed a different kind of magician. These guys were serious-unlocking dimensions, communication with extra terrestial intelligences, communication with the dead, thought teleportation, spirit photography-spooky stuff, and grounded in science. The spiritualist movement was huge at this time, and though many charlatans inhabited the terrain, making the public think this was all some tomfoolery, others knew better. (Read up on the influence of Helena Blavatsky in the spiritual movement and Theosophy). Much of this work was centered in England around the Golden Dawn Society. Founded by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers in the late 1880’s, it was a secret society based loosely on Freemasonry, and like the Masons, had access to ancient secret Egyptian knowledge…supposedly. Their intent wasn’t evil or underhanded, they knew that humans had unlimited potential, and had vast untapped reservoirs waiting to be discovered. In short, they wanted mankind to rise up to a higher level of consciousness and awareness, not bad aspirations. They attracted high society intellectuals (William Butler Yeats was an early member), but infighting for control of the group, and a new member, Aleister Crowley, caused rifts that tore the group apart. . By the early 1900’s, the group had splintered into several sects and Crowley was off on his own.
The salacious aspects of Crowley are the easiest to locate in books and internet articles: copious use of drugs and sex. Lots and lots of sex. And sex while on drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. You get the idea. His life is far too much to cover here, but suffice it to say, Crowley continued on an esoteric magical path that continued to confound and mystify-and push the boundaries of understanding of the unseen further than anyone in the last 200 years. (he is indirectly responsible for Scientology, but was long dead when L Ron Hubbard foisted that scam onto the public). He became known as the master magician of the early 20th century-part devil incarnate or part receptacle of interdimensional knowledge? It was easy to find both opinions.
Enter Rock n Roll. From Beatle-esque good times to the psychedelic movement was a scant three years. Fans and bands were looking for something further. LSD and a rainbow of other drugs gave the insight that there actually was something further out there. Bands started to get weird and fans got weirder as the sixties shifted into 1970. It was around this time that Jimmy Page began to have a large fixation with Aleister Crowley. His bookstore he financed, The Equinox, was named after a Crowley journal, and it stocked some seriously rare and pricey occult books. One of the first public mentions of Crowley came in a February 1970 Melody Maker interview with Page which noted a large amount of Crowley memorabilia in his house. (in February 1970 Plant was nearly killed in a single car crash, requiring some performances in a wheelchair, then two months later Plant’s Aston Martin fell on him while he was working under it, crushing his ribs. Hmm)
This is the time when supposedly Page asked the band to perform a magical ritual with him, a ritual that would bring the band power unimaginable and something akin to everlasting life. Now for anyone who has heard or talked to people “in the know”, this kind of magic is nothing to fool with. It supposedly involves forces with powers beyond any human imagination, and is not to be trifled with by anyone not steeped in mountains of experience, certainly not for novice magi or stoned guitarists.(The oracle at Delphi giving mixed prophecies is a good ancient example). Blame hubris, blame drugs, but Page allegedly got the band, minus one, to join in this solemn and ancient ceremony. Jon Paul Jones was either skeptical enough or learned enough to stay far away.
The first evidence of this pact showed up on Led Zeppelin III. It was years before I discovered its exixtence. Between the end of the last song and the paper label is the outro groove. (this is where matrix numbers used by the pressing plant are usually located). Written into the vinyl (carved with a stylus into the test pressing acetate more correctly) was So Mote it Be on one side and Do What Thou Wilt on the other. These are basic stock phrases that are in the core of Crowley’s belief system, and are familiar to most who are aware of him. The magical significance of a Crowley power phrase spinning simultaneously on thousands of turntables across the world could not have escaped Page’s notice. (colleagues of this era say he most certainly was a member of the O.T.O. at this point)
It was on Led Zeppelin IV that the symbolism became more overt. No band name or title graced the cover or spine. Inside, a haunting painting of the hermit, a powerful tarot card symbol, was the sole image. On the innersleeve-more esoterica. Four symbols boldy across the sleeve. From left to right, these represent Page, Jones, Bonham and Plant. Page has said in interviews that most of these were taken Rudolf Koch’s 1955 Book of Signs, a collection of ancient and magical symbols from across the world. Plant’s is the easiest to decipher, the feather of truth from the Egyptian goddess Ma’at. Plant brought the truth and spoke it. Bonhams’s is the least esoteric-depending on who you believe it is either a symbol for a drumkit, the family unit, or the Ballantine Beer logo. Wise pundits refer to the latter as most likely. Jon Paul Jones’ logo, likely chosen by Page, is an ancient Celtic symbol with differing meanings and was co-opted by the early Christian church as a meaning for Trinity. The famed Zoso symbol is harder to pin down. Page famously has said he will never tell anyone what it means, but that it has obvious magical and occult significance. Robert Plant once said that in a quietly guarded moment, Page revealed the full meaning of all four signs, including a lengthy discussion of what Zoso meant. Unfortunately for the rock world, Plant said “I was a bit wasted at the time, and by the next morning I had forgotten. I asked him the next day to tell me again and he said he couldn’t/wouldn’t”
Even Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention, the ethereal voice on Battle of Evermore got her own symbol (cue foreshadowing music here) in the credits. Her symbol is related to both godhead and the power of the female.
That is a lot of esoteric ballyhoo, but where is the curse? According to Pamela des Barres, groupie extraordinaire and main squeeze of Page during this era, Jimmy got very deep into the Crowley myth, tasking her to scour San Francisco and Los Angeles for Crowleyania. She managed to come up with some impressive artifacts, manuscripts and even the magical robes Crowley wore. Then Page dropped a large chunk of change to acquire Crowley’s mansion, Boleskine, located on Loch Ness. Page said that the house had a history of suicides, which was true. London magazine Disc and Music Echo featured a cover story in their April 22, 1972 issue entitled ‘Jimmy Page on Magic’ “My house used to belong to Aleister Crowley, I knew that when I moved in. Magic is very important if people can go through it. I think Crowley’s completely relevant to today. We’re still seeking for truth, the search goes on.” This was now a serious obsession, but he managed to keep it fairly quiet above boards. Visitors to Boleskine said that at dusk, the outdoor patio was awash with shadows-phantoms and ghostly shapes, residue of decades of conjuring and whatnot. Whatever you believe, maids and servants were a quick turnover in employment, as all agreed the place was haunted to the point of being uninhabitable and beyond creepy.
Enter Kenneth Anger, Crowley disciple and filmmaker. He was a noted underground filmmaker, drug taker and subversive. When Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin hatched a plan to exorcise and levitate the Pentagon in 1967, people took it as a Yippie lark, a stage show. However, Anger was ensconced under a truck, busily drawing magic circles, burning incense and chanting spells in Enochian-truly and seriously trying to do a real ritual exorcism. When plans for his film Lucifer Rising began to go astray-the lead actor (Bobby Beausoleil, later convicted of murder as a Manson family member)- had to quit; Anton Lavey of the Church of Satan had a cameo; he had an off and on relation with the Rolling Stones for soundtrack work, (eerily right before the Altamont tragedy); rough cuts and cameras were stolen by Beausoleil. (“To take his revenge, Anger made a magic talisman, one side of which was a likeness of Beausoleil, the other of a toad. On this was written: ‘Bob Beausoleil, turned into a toad by Kenneth Anger.’ ” Beausoleil ended up in jail for life for murder within a year.)
In stepped Jimmy Page to do the soundtrack. This was the start of a love/hate relationship between Anger and Page. The music Page produced was genuinely creepy (some showed up on In Through the Out Door as the intro to In the Evening.) Anger moved into Boleskine and they shared their love of Crowley memorabilia. Anger was eventually asked to leave Page’s house where he had been living as the relationship degenerated and Page pulled out in 1975. Anger did a major flame job in the media publicly, but privately said he had cursed Page and Zep with one monster of a spell, the hugest psychic whammy he could conjure, replete with the worst Crowleyisms he could muster. This is where shit really started to go south.
First Robert Plant was in yet another horrific car crash, plunging off a cliff in Greece in 1975, nearly killing himself, his wife and child Karac. This forced a cancellation of the remainder of the Physical Graffiti tour, and postponed the recording of Presence, which Plant was forced to record in a wheelchair. The make up tour was then plagued by a plethora of highly negative events. A sudden case of laryngitis for Plant after the band had shipped all of their equipment and instruments to the States meant zero rehearsing was possible. Ticketless fans in Cincinnati rioted and stormed the gates (oddly the site of the infamous trampling incident at the Who two years later that killed eleven), In San Francisco, manager Peter Grant and John Bonham roughed up Bill Graham and nearly beat a Bill Graham employee to death-Bonham and Grant narrowly escaped serious charges and incarceration. Then Karac got sick. the best physicians money and private jets could buy all had the same answer-‘we have no idea what is wrong’. He passed away in 1977 right after the Graham incident, and as the band arrived in New Orleans, they got the news. The tour was immediately canceled. Plant quit the band and music in response to Page and Jones not showing up to his son’s funeral. Zeppelin truly seemed cursed.Things continued to implode. Page was nearly comatose on a daily basis from a crippling heroin addiction. Bonham’s alcoholism raged out of control, and he became increasingly violent and unpredictable. In 1978, Sandy Denny, the goddess of Battle of Evermore plunged drunkenly down a flight of stairs and broke her neck and died. Finally, in September 1980, John Bonham was sent home blisteringly drunk from a band rehearsal. Handlers tucked him in bed, he’d only drank 40 or so shots, he would be fine. Incorrect. He died in his sleep, and so did Zeppelin. The curse had cut a swath through the band in under five years. Only Jon Paul Jones, the only one not to sign the supposed pact, remained unscathed.
When all is said and done, it is pretty easy to chalk all of the above up to circumstance and chance. Eerie circumstances, but nevertheless, a round of odd coincidences. Page had said several times in interviews that he was ‘using a system that worked’ when asked about Crowley. Clearly occult practices were genuinely involved on some level, and some creepy and frightening personages dance in the background of the story. Anger does seem to be a demonstrable potential curse source.
Personally? I am not so sure. Things started to backfire just as the band became the worldwide legends they had tried to magically invoke. Perhaps Page had violated the fourth pillar of O.T.O. commandments ‘To Be Silent’ by dropping some larger hints as to what he was into in his 1970’s interviews, which drew some commensurate magickal actions. But this is the thing that gets me–when so called ‘black magicians’ mess with this stuff, they usually do a protective spell on themselves for extra safety. Because black-ish magic is notorious for either backfiring or not working in the way it was supposed to. Collateral damage around events associated with this behavior is well known. But Page’s extra level of spell could be simple, like “make sure nothing happens to me”. And looking back on Page’s career since 1980: his level of heroin addiction, lack of production musically (ignoring the Firm), failed Zeppelin reunions, and general dearth of accomplishments after nearly two decades of brilliance….it gives me pause. Nothing, literally nothing has happened to him. Good or bad. Just as it was phrased. And a fairly decent body count to go along with it is just enough to make you wonder. Really wonder.