In 1973, Led Zeppelin was robbed. During a stand at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Zeppelin ensconced themselves on an entire floor of the Drake Hotel. Despite security with the band and at the hotel, $203,000 (millions of dollars today) disappeared from the band’s safe deposit box.
With no clear suspects, Zeppelin’s tour manager Richard Cole was questioned by police, but he was ultimately released. No arrests were made in connection with the robbery and the crime became one of the most notorious rock ‘n’ roll stories; the real perpetrators have been debated and mythologized for decades by fans, crime buffs, and the merely stoned.
In Black Dogs:The Possibly True Story of Classic Rock’s Greatest Robbery, Jason Buhrmester weaves the tale of what might have been. Shiftless teenagers, absent parents, drugs, liquor, and rock ‘n’ roll play equal roles in this wicked, preposterous, highly entertaining imagining of the Rock Crime of the Century. The plot features instigator Patrick and his buddies Alex (recently released from jail), guitarist Frenchy, and stereo installer/thief Keith. The quartet have been committing petty crimes and living nihilistic existences since their early teens.
Patrick returns home from New York for Alex’s welcome-home-from-jail party and, undeterred by the consequences of their last job, lays out his latest scheme. A robbery this audacious might appear to be the work of careful planning, but Buhrmester’s fearless four lay out their operation in one night with the help of a couple of 12-packs. The inclusion of Alex’s uncle, a dumb ex-jock with delusions of grandeur, raises the obvious red flag to future mayhem.
In no time at all, Patrick and the gang compound their problems, incurring the ire of a deranged motorcycle gang called the Holy Ghosts and making the acquaintance of a funk band called the New York Giants and a fan club called the Misty Mountain Hoppers. The plot gets more and more convoluted and dubious as the pages go by, but readers will be having too much fun to care.
Burhmester has a rambunctious imagination and his writing is especially nimble when it comes to dialogue. The voices of his young dudes are absolutely spot-on—his hillbillies, soul brothers. and hippies are equally accurate. Humor plays a huge part in the storytelling, taking the edge off the dead end lives of the main characters and the violence around every turn.
After Keith’s untimely arrest, Danny is added to the team hitting the Drake in New York; absolute pandemonium breaks out at the hotel. Danny’s double-cross after the botched robbery requires fast footwork on Patrick’s part—in the ensuing chaos of hippies, groupies, Zeppelin crew, cops, and security guards, he manages to leave Danny behind to be beaten and charged. After they make their escape, presumably broke and desperate, Frenchy opens the guitar case he snatched from Jimmy Page’s room on the run. And there is $203,000 hidden inside.
The guys head back to Baltimore and set business straight with The Holy Rollers, the New York Giants, and a scandalous local DA who is coerced into releasing Keith from jail. Black Dogs closes with a reunion in Frenchy’s skuzzy basement, where Patrick, Frenchy and Alex share beer, pizza and the rest of the story with Keith. They present him with his share of the cash, while spinning Neil Young’s “Everyone Knows This is Nowhere” on the turntable. There is such thing as a happy ending. Buhrmester’s first effort fits neatly on the shelf with some of the cooler rock novelists, from Nick Hornsby to Joe Meno.