I was not intending to wade into this subject, initially. There were already far too many angry hot-takes out there complaining about the pseudo-phenomenon of the band Greta Van Fleet. I say “pseudo” because the phenomenon seems entirely focused on complaining about the Michigan-based band, and I didn’t want to add another log to that logjam.
Nevertheless, here we are.
I am indifferent to the band. I don’t hate them, but I’m not going to rush out to buy their music. It is clear that they are deeply influenced by Led Zeppelin, a point of particular contention with many. This alone is a foolish argument that blithely ignores history, being that as much as GVF is complained about for appropriation, so too were Zeppelin for the same crime, only their theft was from American bluesmen.
And that was hardly an isolated crime, either, as Eric Clapton by way of Cream and Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” details. Before the introduction of Christine McVie, Bob Welch, and later Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac was a blues-rock band driven primarily by Peter Green, and the Mac was an offshoot of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and must I go on?
What gets under my skin about all the GVF hate is that it is so small in comparison to the larger audience, yet that smallest subset holds the loudest mouths. These are the same folks who readily post the meme comparing Beyonce’s “Run The World (Girls)” to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Hunker down, because there’s a lot to unpack here.
First, using “Bohemian Rhapsody” for nearly anything in the past ten years is inherently lazy (aside from, you know, titling the biopic after it). I have a sneaking suspicion that most people who throw that song out as a shining example know extremely little about Queen aside from a smattering of hits and how many times aspirants used the track on American Idol.
Second, using it as the measure against “Run The World (Girls)” is equally lazy because they are two different types of songs. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is an example of prog-pomp. The Beyonce song, however, is a war chant, a battle cry. It’s not some impassioned plea for equality like Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman.” It’s not asking for anything at all. It’s a statement of ownership of the control that women already have, and I apologize if this comes off as a piece of mansplaining, but women already get that. It’s the guys out there that typically run this meme in some vain effort to demean something new in comparison to their favorites.
This is key: it’s not about quality or fair comparison. It’s about their favorites and the level of respect they believe the world must forever pay to them. If it was, in fact, some apples to apples measure, they’d have used “We Will Rock You,” also a chant. But lately, “We Will Rock You” is not as beloved as “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
That comparison meme is used to show that today’s music is inferior to yesterday’s. (And by the way, your grandfather called. He wants his argument back, you thief.) It’s accompanied by the tortured moans of why can’t new bands be more like – oh, I don’t know – Led Zeppelin.
And again, I fully recognize that GVF take that a bit too far, but they are the first uncomplicated guitar-rock group to make much headway on the charts in a very long time, something the incessant meme-rs keep asking for. Even if one recognizes the band’s deficiencies, the effort is appreciated and the complaints are few. It’s up to the individual, now more than ever, to choose if they want to hear the song or not. If they choose “not,” they won’t. Radio simply doesn’t have the bully pulpit position it once held. I think the majority of folks who don’t like what they hear simply look upon Greta Van Fleet, say, “Good luck and godspeed,” and that’s it. No gripe, no hate.
The haters on the other hand reside in an opinion camp that is so narrow, it’s embarrassing in its specificity. They aren’t angry at Greta Van Fleet sounding like Zeppelin as much as they’re angry it’s not Zeppelin. They’re angry it’s not Zeppelin sounding as they did prior to 1980, prior to drummer John Bonham’s death. They are angry that it is not 1977 again. These are impossible things, but they seemingly demand the impossible.
These are the folks that say they want rock music as the dominant popular music again, but they don’t. They want the rock music of their youth as the dominant form. These folks have purchased and repurchased The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band dozens of times, but will give the stink-eye to any new effort Paul McCartney tries his hand at. These folks will spend $200 per ticket to see their favorites trot out the hits on tour and religiously use “a cut from our new record” for beer purchasing and recycling breaks. These are the folks who work at classic rock radio stations across America and have mandated that nothing past 1989 ever gets played on air. They “kinda think Rush is okay,” but will play “Tom Sawyer” and ONLY “Tom Sawyer” until their lips turn blue and they fall over from asphyxia.
In short, by their insistence on magnifying only the smallest class of music endlessly, they have enabled the conditions that keeps guitar-based music from crossing over into the mainstream anymore. How will they ever give recognition to new bands that try to make it when they won’t even give recognition to members of the bands they claim to love who attempt to make new music?
This is what bothers me most. Greta Van Fleet basically heard what these folks were saying – why can’t new bands be more like Led Zeppelin – and gave them what they were asking for, and still it is not enough, and never will be. It is a pernicious argument, so much so that I fear the crap the band is taking will actively dissuade others from trying. “Why bother? All they really want is someone to play ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on an endless loop. How can we hope to succeed in such a close-minded society?”
Like I said at the outset, I’m not really a Greta Van Fleet fan. Yet I am actively hoping they succeed and aren’t cut off at the knees like another band that drew the comparison and ire of the crowd, Wolfmother. If GVF can return rock to the top 100, not to overthrow pop, hip-hop, and rap, but to coincide with these genres, that’s a good thing. That opens up popular music to all kinds of opportunities with young artists who can take up the mantle of their influences who won’t be around forever. So long as things aren’t undone by that small, vocal few who dishonestly frame their position, things could be better.
“We’re not going to get to this rock and roll Valhalla you suggest if the bands are just copying.” True, we’re not. The copying tends to be the first step, and the growth comes afterward, provided you don’t trample them at birth, and so far as I can tell, that’s what’s happening right now. Stop ruining nice things.