"I recognized it in Bonzo immediately," Jones claims. At Led Zeppelin's first-ever rehearsal, in 1968, they started with an old Yardbirds cover, "Train Kept A Rollin'." "As a bass player, my first concern was 'What's the drummer like?' If we don't gel, it's useless. And right away, it was like we were on our twentieth tour. We felt and moved in the same place."
The DVD release of The Song Remains the Same, a peculiar blend of prime-Zeppelin live footage from Madison Square Garden in 1973 and overearnest fantasy vignettes filmed later, shows a John Bonham unlike the one unleashed each night during his quarter-hour "Moby Dick" solo. In their respective sequences, Jones gallops through the night like an eighteenth-century highwayman, Plant plays a heavy-metal King Arthur and Page is a mysterious guru swinging a light saber. Bonham rides a tractor on his farm, plays snooker and kisses Pat as they walk down a country path. A prophetic shot features Jason, not yet a teenager, playing drums while John watches proudly, jamming with his son on bongos.
"That was his real character," Jones says. "He was a homebody. He was portrayed very badly in a couple of books. But one of the things that was difficult for him was being away from home."
"The finale – he didn't plan it," Plant says soberly. "Intervention, the idea of confronting people, saying, 'This has got to stop now' – it's part of our hip, babyboomer society now. But it didn't happen then. Everybody would go, 'Oh, he'll be all right.'
"There were negatives all the way through," he says of Bonham's excesses, "but not half as many as people thought. It was John who looked after me after I lost Karac. He used to drive over with Pat. He was very tender, with a humility and understanding that was fantastic. It was he who got me back to writing 'Carouselambra' and all that stuff with the guys."
"He might have been Bonzo the god on the road, but at home he was Dad," Jason says proudly, nursing an espresso late one night in a London hotel. "I did motorcycle racing on weekends. But if my grades weren't good, he would go, 'No, you broke the rule. The bike goes.'"
Jason saw his father perform with Zeppelin only three times. But Jason is the only drummer other than his dad to have played with Zeppelin in the Seventies – at the soundcheck for Knebworth, while his father was listening to the PA mix out in the field. "We played 'Trampled Underfoot,'" recalls Jason, then thirteen. "Dad made me rehearse all week. I asked, 'Will it be the same as it is on the record?' 'No, the solo will be longer. Wait for Jimmy to give you the nod when he's done – the hand going up.'"
In a way, Jason knows and loves his father's work a little too much. He can point out John's rare mistakes on record: "He goes to the ride cymbal at the end of 'Trampled Underfoot' by accident." And in one rehearsal, Jason asked the others about doing some kind of tribute to John during the London show. "They said, 'You're doing the work. Don't you feel he'd want you to stand tall, rather than go, "Here you are, have it back?"'
"That was hard to accept," Jason admits. "I want to be respectful to where it comes from. He couldn't give me the last twenty-seven years of his life. Let me give it back to him for that one night."
But is Jason prepared for it to be only one night?
"To give a truthful answer, probably not. To walk away afterwards and go, 'Thanks, keep in touch. …' I try not to think about it. If I thought about it going any further, it would take away from what we set out to do. My mum's worried for me on that aspect. She says, 'Take it for what it is.'"
Page, Plant and Jones all respond to the hopes and rumors of additional shows with genial evasion. "I've got to go through it, see how I feel," Jones says with an added dash of hesitation. "I'm not sure how I feel. But I'm not concerned that I'm not sure. I've lived my life like this. Something comes along, and if it's interesting, I do it."
"It's a collective, isn't it?" Page says, acknowledging that the band he started was never merely an instrument of his will. "What I know is that we've had so much genuine fun just getting together. It's good to be able to do this gig and show what we're about – still. Our target is the 02. That's it." And if it sounds too good to stop? "It's just one day at a time."
Plant is already filling up his 2008 calendar: a tour with Alison Krauss; a new album with T Bone Burnett, who produced Raising Sand. "The conveyor belt of expectation is bullshit," he says impatiently. "If people don't talk about a tour, anything is likely. The more people talk, the more pressure it puts on everybody."
And if there is no more Zeppelin after December 10th, "That's fine," Plant says, "because we will do it with a good heart. Ahmet will look down and go, 'Hey, guys!' Bonzo will smile. Pat will feel really good. Jason will stand up and go, 'Yeah!' Jimmy will take a bow. Jonesy will shrug. And" – Plant briefly turns on the old rock-god wail – "I'll be going, 'Baby, baby, baby!'"
This story is from the December 13, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.
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