"I wouldn't want to be in your band unless I could sing 'Whole Lotta Love' by Led Zeppelin," M. typed to me one day while we were at work.
"Is that the one that starts, 'Been a long time since I rock and rolled'?" I messaged back.
"I'm not telling you," he replied, his sigh of disgust almost audible through the IM window. What I considered unremarkable ignorance, he felt to be shameful.
The first time I visited California with M. and we turned on the radio in the rental car, he informed me, "Rock stations in California rarely play anything recorded past the mid-90s, and every other song is by Led Zeppelin." It was an exaggeration, but not by much. I think we heard at least half of the Zeppelin catalog on the radio in the space of four days.
Because I was never a teenaged boy, and because I did not date any Zeppelin-loving dudes (that I know of) until later in life, I pretty much missed my Zep window. As far as I was concerned for most of my young life, Robert Plant was the solo performer of "Big Log."
I enjoy and embrace most Led Zeppelin songs that happen to get broadcast in my vicinity, but do not own any albums and was not exactly going to be memorizing lyrics anytime soon.
Or so I thought. A few weeks ago when I walked into my band workshop/class (for the only band that I am fit to be in right now is one I have to pay to join), my teacher had a surprise. "I decided to pick an extra song for you to do, something that will push your comfort zone a little bit," he said to me. He looked tentative.
"OK," I said. "What is it?"
"Do you know the song 'Whole Lotta Love' by Led Zeppelin?" he said.
And here's how pathetic I am: Without a trace of the previous conversation with M. filtering back into my brain, I responded: "Is that the one that goes, 'Been a long time since I rock and rolled?'"
I don't know which thing M. had a harder time getting over: The fact that I, and not he, was going to perform "Whole Lotta Love," or the fact that I repeated that same ignorant question while failing to recognize his prophecy being realized in the moment.
Personally, I had a harder time with the former fact. In case you haven't noticed, the song's lyrics are fairly masculine. Also, about the only thing I have in common with Robert Plant is a sizeable forehead. Perhaps you won't blame me for feeling set up to fail here.
Still, I dutifully went home with my assignment. I listened to each verse over and over and over, skipping past the crazy breakdown section in the middle and focusing on Plant's growling, primal vocals. I'll bet Janis Joplin would have done a nice job with this tune; too bad I'm not her, either.
As I winced during one rehearsal, our lead guitarist murmured to me, "I feel the same way you do about this song."
"Really?" I said. "But you sound great!"
He shook his head somberly. He knew that he was no Jimmy Page as well as I knew I was no Robert Plant.
Nonetheless, we got up on the stage in a small bar before a small group of people, and we did it. Our guitarist did the solos, and I did the part where Plant shouts "LOooooovvvvE." And here's the thing: Even though we sucked compared to Led Zeppelin, people applauded us for trying. There were people in the audience who had to applaud, because they had to come home to us at the end of the night, but there were others who applauded because shit, we were doing "Whole Lotta Love."
Yes, my teacher set me up to fail. But we failed with dignity.