Based upon twenty years of conversations, Brad Tolinski’s Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page is the definitive story of the man who created Led Zeppelin, in his own words. Notoriously wary of the press, Page obviously trusts Tolinski, the editor-in-chief of Guitar World, whom for the most part steers clear of the salacious, and delves deep into the music and vision of Page.
The interviews unfold in chronological order and, while not dated, provide the historical perspective of the artistic and personal growth of Page. The sequencing of chapters is very good and makes for a fast, compelling read. Each chapter begins with a singular question and it’s a very effective format. It allows Page to answer the question in detail, as well as veer off-subject when appropriate and expand on various diversions, musical and otherwise, that provide insight into Page, his creative process and the influences surrounding him.
While not a biography, per se, Tolinski (who calls it an “oral autobiography”) provides timelines and details throughout the book to give background to the story, and context to the questions that illustrate the guitarist/producer’s career arc, with some fascinating information, particularly on his session years and the Yardbirds. There are also other conversations, called “Musical Interludes” interspersed — with Jeff Beck, John Paul Jones, Paul Rodgers, even an inventory of Pages gear — and they provide additional perspectives and voices into the narrative. I found most of these passages quite illuminating on both the generosity of spirit and musical and technical prowess towards Page.
And, although the questions are posed by Guitar World, the book never gets bogged down into too much music theory and wonky detail. To me, it strikes an excellent balance exploring Page’s compositional and playing skills, with just enough detail and information that the average fan can not only follow it, but also gain some additional insight into their favorite songs and solos. More knowledgeable fans and guitar players will drool over two “Interludes” in particular; the inventory of Pages primary guitars, amps and effects and another where the “Top Ten Led Zeppelin Guitar Moments” are broken down by the musicologist who transcribed every guitar note in the band’s catalog. These sections will have you headed to your vinyl or CD collections for a more attentive listen.
Throughout the book, Page is thoughtful, smart and funny. He never seems aloof or condescending, instead happily diving into the details of how a particular song was constructed, a guitar sound achieved or an album conceived and recorded. Led Zeppelin had complete control of their product —songs, production, artwork, advertising — and it’s clear that Page was the man with the vision, carefully crafting each component of the Zeppelin mystique to further enhance the myth and he is justifiably proud of his work. No detail was overlooked or left to chance (right down to the legendary “dragon suit” and “opium jacket) and it’s clear in reading this book that Led Zeppelin was, and still may be, the mother of all rock bands.
The book, unfortunately, ends on a bit of a sour note for me. After spending so much time on the music and musicianship, technique and vision of Page, the reader is left with two final conversations. The first, with men’s fashion designer John Varvatos, isn’t so bad. Page was always one of rock’s most stylish dressers (see the aforementioned stage suits), but I’m not sure a clothing designer’s take on the guitar player’s sartorial style is necessary. What is totally unnecessary is the “Grand Finale” with “noted stargazer” Margaret Santangelo, interpreting the astrology of Jimmy Page. While the art of “magick” and mysticism play a significant role in Page’s life and mystique, it comes across as frivolous to hear the meanings of his sun sign, Scorpio rising and the meaning of astrological glyphs as they pertain to him. It’s a small quibble and may not have meant as much if it did not come as the final word on a remarkable man, a remarkable career and a remarkable book.