'No Quarter' Neither Galvanises Nor Destroys Jimmy Page's Mythic Persona
Jimmy Page's mythic reputation is preserved with grace and pathos in Martin Power's biography.
No Quarter: The Three Lives of Jimmy PagePublisher: The Overlook Press
Length: 704 pages
Author: Martin Power
Publication date: 2016-11
Biographies written about Led Zeppelin have a reputable history, but not the kind of reputation you may want to drag around with you. The band’s members have had to carry the many biographical works written about their exploits as the world’s heaviest band around with them less like trophies, symbols of their accomplishments, and more like ball-and-chains. Inaccuracies would be bad enough, but more interesting is the lack of objectivity taken when crafting these books. Several seem keen to demolish the mighty Zeppelin’s perception of a band transcendent in the decadent splendour of rock’n’roll into a dim-witted orgy of musical sounds.
This makes Martin Power’s biography all the more refreshing. Stepping away from the overwrought and perhaps told-too-often story of Zeppelin as a community, Power’s biography is an extensive, diligently researched and thoughtfully narrated account of the band’s musical director, and arguably most cryptic figure, Jimmy Page. As the title suggests, we traverse through Jimmy’s life and career both in and out of Led Zeppelin. Over 600 pages long, it’s a hell of a read, and the book’s very title can’t help but give the mild illusion that you’ll be tucking into three books in one. But of course, we have to remind ourselves that such a large volume can be pinned down to the fact that there’s so much more to Jimmy Page than Led Zeppelin. Sure, the largest chunk of the book, and perhaps the most enjoyable, is reading about Jimmy’s adventures with the band. Reading Power illuminate every tour, album, and first encounter with each Zeppelin band member makes for snug, rock’n’roll reading. This was Page in his prime, after all.
However, the most intriguing parts of this book come from when Power isn’t writing about Led Zeppelin at all. From his suburban, lower-middle class origins and family history to a scattershot, post-Zeppelin career littered with film soundtracks and collaborations, the spectrum of Jimmy Page’s work is displayed in full force. In terms of information, there’s nothing relatively new presented here that any hardcore Led head won’t already be familiar with, particularly Page’s post-Zeppelin life. However, Power’s trim, stately gathering of intel and history into a swift narrative package lends gravitas to Page’s career, especially the aftermath of drummer John Bonham’s unfortunate death, which spiralled into a prolonged period of inactivity on Page’s part.
Power himself writes with a quiet authority that’s a pleasure to read. Given the hefty weight of No Quarter, any non-authoritative approach would most probably result in a sprawling mess. But Power never runs out of steam; throughout the book, he remains eloquent and informative in his depiction if the guitarist’s juggernaut of a career. He does have a tendency to lean towards the theorist, however, when piecing together how chance meetings and conversations with industry pros provided the groundwork for Page’s creation of music, but it doesn’t take away from the otherwise engrossing narrative.
No Quarter certainly lives up to its title. Essentially three books packaged into one, it’s a mountain of a read that’s welcome on any Led Zeppelin fan’s shelf. There’s little risk of No Quarter’s excessive length feeling bloated over time, since there’s so much material both in and out of Page’s Zeppelin days to pour over and breathe fresh life into. However, Power is as precise a writer as he is astute. He knows that a large factor in Page’s legacy as a musician has been his cryptic public perception. A figure of mystery and intrigue to his audience, Power wisely keeps his objectivity at bay by not forcing us to accept any overall result of Page’s person. Instead, the mystique is preserved. Teasing away at solo tours for close to a decade and constantly retooling the Zeppelin back catalogue, the fantasy-like aura of Jimmy Page is neither destroyed nor galvanised -- it’s simply preserved.