nirvana - nevermind (album cover)I have the same problem with Led Zeppelin IV that I have with Nevermind, except to an even more extreme degree. I began to listen to classic rock radio religiously when I was about 15 or so, and it wasn’t long before I discovered that Led Zeppelin is the definitive classic rock band. And of course, it wasn’t long after that before I got really into “Stairway to Heaven” and considered it the ultimate classic rock song. Unfortunately, though, I waited too long to listen to Led Zeppelin IV, the quintessential classic rock album and the LP that houses “Stairway.” You see, my local classic rock station played every song from IV. Granted, “Misty Mountain Hop,” “Four Sticks” and “Going to California” weren’t played as often as the other five, but they were played often enough that by the time I checked out IV from the library and popped it into my CD player — yeah, I was still using one of those — I was familiar with every single song.

nirvana - smells like teen spirit (single cover)I still enjoyed it immensely, obviously, or it wouldn’t be this high on the list. It’s just that, while others would insist on sticking it in their top ten, I simply can’t because to me IV has always been just a playlist. I think the first time I ever heard Led Zeppelin was when Cadillac played “Rock and Roll” in the their commercials like ten years ago. Just typing that makes me shake my head. Cadillac and Led Zeppelin are, to me, like oil and water. How they ever wound up mixing is beyond my means of comprehension. (I suppose when your target market shifts to aging baby boomers, you have to adjust accordingly.) Now that I think about it, it’s been quite a while since I’ve heard “Rock and Roll” in a Cadillac commercial. Just a matter of time before they move on to playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (or some related song) in their ads, I suppose.

And by the way, I have always hated Cadillac. I hate what their cars stand for. I hate the idea that if you own a Cadillac, you’ve made it in life. Then again, as their choice of Zeppelin showed, maybe that’s not what they stand for anymore. I know neither I nor any of my friends have ever expressed any interest in owning a Cadillac, and now that I think about it, I can’t recall any of my friends’ parents owning a Cadillac either. But I do know one person who owns one: my step-grandmother Elsie. My paternal grandmother died in 1996 and my Grandad remarried the following spring. I was very young at the time, but I remember we were all really happy about it and the wedding was a big deal. Grandad, unfortunately, is no longer with us, but Elsie is. I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, and Elsie is from Richmond, Virginia, though she was raised near the North Carolina border in a place called Danville. Technically, we’re from two bordering states, but man, we couldn’t be from more different worlds.

I don’t have any accent that I’m aware of, though there is a Maryland accent that I can’t stand: water is pronounced “wooder” and wash is pronounced “warsh.” (Likewise, Washington, D.C. is “Warshington, D.C.”) Around the city of Baltimore the letter o sticks out like a sore thumb — it’s emphasized in every word (the presence of the Orioles baseball team, who are colloquially referred to as the “O’s,” probably has something to do with that) — and women seemingly always address you as “hon.” Well, here are some things to know about Elsie: she just turned 94 last month, and she’s waiting for the South to rise again. (Before she married my Grandad she used to fly her Confederate flag at her beach house in Kill Devil Hills, NC — yeah, she’s not an Obama fan.)

led zeppelin - early days (compilation cover)She’s probably less than five feet tall now, and she owns a gigantic white Cadillac — my mom calls it “the boat” — that’s so big she has to sit on a pillow to see over the wheel. She’s also got probably the strongest southern accent I’ve ever heard, which I find strangely endearing, since southern accents irritate me, generally. One summer when I was at her beach house she noticed me listening to my CD player and she asked what I was listening to. I replied, “Led Zeppelin.” (I think I was about 16, so it must have been one of the Early Days or Latter Days compilations since that was all I had for a while.) She shook her head and looked at me like I was a criminal. (Or at the very least, someone dangerous.) “Gosh,” is all I can remember her saying. If I had been as clever and as much of a smart ass as I am now I would have said, “Yeah, they’re that band from the Cadillac commercials.” Thank goodness she doesn’t know how to use a computer and can never read this.