It’s not often that you get diagnosed with cancer and it is quite absolutely alarming. It is also by equal degrees frightening, frustrating, disorientating, debilitating, alienating and completely all-consuming. Suddenly and without warning nothing else seems to matter. Nothing, that is, except for the unconditional love and support shown by a few close friends who will forever remain in our hearts. So happy New Year to me and boo-fucking-hoo…
Luckily cancer offers you the opportunity to lie in a hospital bed and ponder the evil intricacies of this fragile universe. Life indeed is unfair because I have a tumour the size of a small planet and the other guy hasn’t. Bastard. How does that other guy sleep at night? Why do the gods favour him and not me? What’s so special about that guy anyway? Can we swap places? I’ve learnt a lot about myself during this uncomfortable and undignified ordeal. I’ve learnt that I fucking love intravenous pain killers. I’ve learnt that you can smoke on the balcony in Greek hospitals. I’ve learnt that cancer need not be an awkward conversational car crash. But the most important thing I’ve learnt is that Led Zeppelin are never going to reform.
I’ve learnt this from a stack of old Classic Rock magazines that a friend very kindly donated in an attempt to cheer me up. Back in the real world both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page – those two gnarly old guardians of the Zeppelin vault – have consistently gone out of their way to deny any rumours of any meaningful reunion. Good. Jimmy Page seems perfectly happy to tinker around with a mountain of rare, unreleased and instantly forgettable Zeppelin material. Robert Plant will be 70 this year and still looks great for a mad, dangerous mountain man. The idea that these two grand wizards could possibly join forces once again to create the same magic which propelled their career into the stratosphere during the 1970s is plainly a nonsense.
Since losing their most important member – manager Peter Grant died in 1995 – Zeppelin’s fate has been sealed. It seems to be a state of affairs that is generally accepted by the whole planet except for a very small corner of the publishing cosmos known as Classic Rock. Staffed entirely by journeymen hacks and yesteryear’s snappers, Classic Rock has nothing to say but says it loudly with a dusty, unreconstructed authority nonetheless. At the root of the magazine’s sole reason to exist is the rigid, unswerving and demented conviction that Led Zeppelin will imminently re-appear – like Jesus – to save us from ourselves. This is exactly the same end-of-days conviction which got David Koresh into a spot of bother with the gun-toting Feds down in Waco.
Classic Rock, as a genre, is far more confused than the Branch Davidians. We all have a soft spot for certain jukebox guitar anthems and those who say they don’t are lying. These days the likes of Lydon, Geldof and Noel Gallagher get positively misty-eyed extolling the virtues of Dark Side Of The Moon. Kurt Cobain freely admitted to re-packaging Boston’s More Than A Feeling as Smells Like Teen Spirit. Even Pearl Jam’s monolithic Alive bears more than a passing resemblance to Freebird. Personally I like the way Classic Rock used to smell. As a fan of UFO, Blue Öyster Cult, Thin Lizzy and even, goddamnit, Barclay James Harvest, hearing Classic Rock tunes today is always a welcome trip down memory lane. Classic Rock reminds me of denim battle jackets and crappy motorcycles, white Cuban heels and spandex camel toes, giant speaker stacks and lighting riggers hanging from the rafters in some long-gone ballroom shed. It reminds me of pre-gig pints in pubs tarred with nicotine, burnt burgers at some backyard festival in the pouring rain and the communal rush of excitement as some self-important roadie waved his torch at the front-of-house sound desk to signal the imminent arrival of…well…anybody really. Even Whitesnake.
All of which has very little to do with my current predicament. I guess Classic Rock magazine could be described as therapeutic. It”s certainly the second best cure for insomnia behind marijuana. You don’t need bullshit bravery and a stiff upper lip to tackle cancer. You need love, support, drugs, information, humour and television. In that order. It also helps if you take pictures for a living. I’ve never really considered photography to be therapeutic. On the whole it’s just chaos, ego, technique and vanity. Recently, however, I’ve discovered that photography can indeed be a welcome distraction and a good reason to get out of bed. There are, however, certain limitations as to what I can actually photograph. Which is why I drove 120 kilometres to photograph my favourite tree. Previously I’d always considered all landscape photographers – alongside night fishermen, long haul truckers and astronauts – to be insane. No one is ever going to make any money as a landscape photographer and yet these chaps (because they’re always chaps) spend their spare time travelling to the remotest locations just to sit on a rock and wait for the right cloud to appear. Yet these days I can actually see the appeal. There’s something about the solitude that can be uplifting and life-affirming. It can be comforting to know that there is a bigger world out there beyond my immediate problems. Landscapes have been around for thousands of years. And, like most of the artists featured in Classic Rock, landscapes cannot talk.
I will probably never win any awards as a landscape photographer. I don’t really have the patience or the temperament. I don’t spend any time studying tidal charts, astro maps and weather forecasts. I don’t even own a waterproof hat or a thermos flask. But winning awards is not the point. In these days of constant overexposure and stroboscopic image overload, most photographs have a life expectancy of about 2 seconds anyway. The point is that I managed to photograph a tree. Tomorrow I will most likely try again. Because anything is possible.
When I wake up tomorrow the sky will not have collapsed and the sea will not have evaporated. The waves will not have turned themselves inside out and the wind will not have disappeared underground. The sun will not have crashed into the moon and the beach will not be littered with a million fallen stars. Nothing in life is guaranteed but only an idiot would bet against these things. Similarly I will wake up tomorrow safe in the knowledge that Led Zeppelin will not have reformed.
Tomorrow I will wake up.