The flight to Los Angeles is not without incident. As the plane heads west, our spirits crying for leaving, Bonzo succumbs to the effects of the vodka and crashes out in the bedroom at the rear of this spacious plane. I settle into a comfy seat towards the front and pass the time of day with Cameron Crowe, the only Rolling Stone writer that Zeppelin will acknowledge, and
Neal Preston, the photographer, also along for the
ride, and hope that Page will soon grant me an audience which I can record for
posterity in Melody Maker.
He is at present in conference with Grant and Cole in the meeting room, a small
area furnished with scatter cushions and beanbags just along the fuselage from
the bedroom at the rear.
The area where I am sitting houses four tables, two on either side, with seats such as are to found in first class, and there is an open area in the centre of the plane where two arm chairs are fixed in place by swivel-style fittings, opposite which is a long couch. On the next table to me John Paul Jones is engaged in a game of high-stakes backgammon with one of the security men, and in the background hover two pretty, short-skirted stewardesses, employed by the owners of the Starship to cater to our comforts, distributing canapés and periodically refreshing our drinks from the bar. I am told by one of them that the Starship is licensed to carry 42 passengers, though the plane itself was built for almost three times that, so the fact that there are 15 passengers aboard today, including the two pilots and stewardesses, makes the journey all the more agreeable.
Peter Grant stops by.
“Enjoying yourselves lads?” he asks brusquely, the glint in his eye suggesting he has it in his power for this enjoyment to abruptly cease. At 20 stone, he is without question the most intimidating man I have ever met.
“Yes thanks, Peter,” I reply.
“Wanna see the front?”
I am taken by Grant into the cockpit where, for the next half hour or so I sit between and slightly aft from the two pilots, watching the horizon from the wide vista afforded by the plane’s front window. It is the first time I have ever sat in the cockpit of a plane and I am staggered by the complexity of the controls. Also, the view is fantastic, just a massive expanse of light blue with fluffy white clouds some way below us. The plane is on auto-pilot and the pilots themselves are sipping coffee. I chat with them and they ask me if I’d like a go, so I move over to sit behind one of the joysticks and ‘have a go’, pulling the stick ever so slightly towards me so that the plane lifts a bit, then pushing it away so that it dips. I can see the trajectory of the plane on a screen in the centre of the controls and observe the changes I make to its altitude. It occurs to me that the fate of three-quarters of Led Zeppelin is in my hands. I am exhilarated.
When I return to the main cabin, Grant is sat where I’d been sitting, so I take another seat.
“Enjoy that?” he asks.
“Yes, I steered the plane for a few minutes.”
Grant laughs, a deep chuckle, and shakes his head so the coonskin hat covering his massive cranium wobbles slightly. “That’s nothing. Bonzo flew us all the fucking way from Los Angeles to fucking New York on one tour.”
Relieved that Bonzo entertains no such thoughts today, I resume my conversation with Cameron and Neal and before long Cole comes over. Aware that I had shared a limousine with Bonzo en route to the airport, he is anxious to know exactly what the errant drummer might have consumed that has rendered him insensible.
“Only vodka, but plenty of it,” I tell Zeppelin’s anxious
“No pills? No coke?”
“No, not that I saw. He was just swigging vodka, straight from the bottle.”
Cole seems satisfied at this news and the mood lightens. A meal is served, seafood and fillet steak, and afterwards, as we fly over Colorado, most of the party gather around the electric organ that is attached to the end of the bar amidships. It is now dark outside which adds to the party atmosphere. Jones takes his natural place behind the keyboard and begins to play a selection of old
English music hall songs, ‘Any
Old Iron’, ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ and the like, much to the evident pleasure of
Peter Grant who sings along lustily.
I have by this time enjoyed several beers, a few glasses of wine and have moved on to spirits, and just as I am beginning to think that life couldn’t really be much better, that I am probably in the best place in the world right now, hurtling towards sunny California with the world’s biggest rock band in their sumptuous private airliner, than Bonham, forgotten amidst the festivities, emerges from the bedroom dressed only in a loosely-fitting red bathrobe, lurches drunkenly into us and, without even having been introduced, propositions one of the stewardesses in a manner that can best be described as uncompromising. Grant and Cole wrench Bonzo away from the shocked girl and lead him struggling back towards the bedroom. The girl’s cries - surprise mingled with shock - alerted a pilot who appears from the cockpit, demanding to know what is happening. He is very angry. The girl is sobbing now. Grant re-emerges from the bedroom where Bonzo has been forcibly relocated and assures him that everything is under control. Page leads the unfortunate girl off towards a couch where he soothes her with practised platitudes. Calm ensues.
The incident casts a pall of gloom on us all, however, and the remainder of the journey passes virtually in silence, except for when Cole comes down to where Cameron, Neal and I are seated. He doesn’t smile. “I don’t wanna see one fucking word of this finding its fucking way into your fucking magazines. Right.”
Right. Fucking right.