When Your Heroes Turn Out to Be Awful People

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When you gradually apply today’s standards to people who lived forty or fifty years ago, you come away with a sense that they were awful in more than just a few ways:

Led Zeppelin’s peak epitomized rock’s most egregiously excess-driven period, and while it has been romanticized in pop culture via movies like Almost Famous, that period represented just how normalized fans, media and enablers were when it came to some of music’s most depraved personalities. Sex, drugs and rock & roll became a mantra, and groupie culture became chic, but it wasn’t just a big post-‘60s party. Looking back now, the ‘70s classic rock era looks like libido run amok—with some glaring examples of just how dark the public would allow its favorite rockers to be without ever calling them into question. Zeppelin stories were often fictional, but made them heroes to teenage boys who wanted to be rock stars and, much like Zeppelin’s actual music, proved to be a template for what would become depressingly clichéd by the time hair metal hit the ‘80s.

With Led Zeppelin, it all comes down to the theft of songs that has been swept under the rug. They most likely did not steal Stairway to Heaven, but they nicked more than a few pieces of music that they should not have taken. And when a band is sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars, the lawyers are going to come for that money. If Zeppelin were broke, no one would be suing them on a regular basis.

Everything that went on with young girls and groupies is appalling and wrong. There is no way of knowing how many underaged females were abused in the 1970s by people who should have known better, whether we’re talking about Zeppelin, David Bowie, virtually everyone who was active in music at that time, or in film, like Roman Polanski and Woody Allen. But they were abused.

It was wrong!

It was awful. It should have been criminal behavior that was not tolerated at the time, but, for some reason, it was and far too many people got away with it. Somewhere, basic parenting broke down and young girls who should have been protected and taken care of were allowed to become the playthings of adult men. It went the other way too - far too many young men were the victims of pedophiles and amoral individuals as well. If anyone tells you that it wasn’t like that in the “good old days,” then they’re lying.

I don’t know how we can reconcile all of this in a fair and equitable way, but you can’t deny it happened.