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This month on Mailbag Monday, we have A.J. and Laura–boldly taking on the complex “Greta Van Fleet question”:
- “What is the deal with Greta Van Fleet.”
- “Do you think if you’d never heard Led Zeppelin before, Greta Van Fleet would sound pretty good?”
So, without further ado, it is time to dig into the old Mailbag once again!
“What is the deal with Greta Van Fleet?”
This wasn’t A.J.’s exact question, it was a bit too long to fit neatly in a heading block so I condensed it a bit. Still, no question goes unanswered on Mailbag Monday, so, to make sure I don’t miss anything, A.J.’s actual question was:
I am hoping that you could help Tara and I in wrapping our heads around something that we saw. We recently watched an episode of Saturday Night Live that had the band Greta Van Fleet as the musical guest. We had never heard of this band before, but since watching their performance I am filled with questions and thought you would be the best person to help answer them.
The first question I have is are these guys really the band of elves fronted by a hobbit that they appear to be? What made me first question this is the fact that as the band stood with the cast as the final credits rolled it was clearly obvious that the guitarist who appears to be elvish is just as short as the hobbit singer, despite his wearing platform boots in an attempt to look taller. Upon further research on Wikipedia I discovered that the singer and guitarist are actually twin brothers! It does not however specify whether they are identical or fraternal twins. Reason would lead one to believe that identical twins would be either both hobbit or elf, but I suppose all bets are off if they are indeed fraternal. In addition the bass/keyboard player is their younger yet taller brother, and is clearly elvin. I know genetics can do some surprising things, but it still seems odd.
My next question is why is this band so popular? It’s fine for what it is, but the music is essentially a mish-mash of various 70’s rock bands like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, etc. Even though this type of music has been done fifty million times before, and honestly to much better effect, these guys are topping the Billboard charts and have been nominated for four Grammys! Even Robert Plant has gone on record to praise the hobbit as “a beautiful little singer,” and while that is an odd yet nice thing to say it still leaves me scratching my head for an explanation.
My last question is one that actually only came up while composing this message. Autocorrect wants me to write Hobbit with a capital H, but that doesn’t seem quite right to me. Which way is correct?
I hope you are able to help with this. I can’t go another night without sleep.
OK, there is a lot to tackle here, let’s see if I can adequately address your questions and get you some sleep!
First off, I need to clarify my own particular taste in 70s music. Unrelated to your question A.J., there was apparently a rumor going around that I liked 70s soft [sawft] rock, and that is just untrue. My 70s rock tastes are strictly in the proto-metal realm of early Scorpions, UFO, Budgie, Hawkwind, Uriah Heep, etc, etc. Which, also means that, despite their popularity (and despite my desperate need to be an elitist), I also must admit to liking Led Zeppelin. Or, at least I like Zeppelin I, II, the A side of III, and parts of IV.
Thus, despite Greta Van Fleet looking like some hipster bullshit if there ever was some, I suppose they are in my wheelhouse at least.
Let’s start, as with all things, with the Tolkien shit. I say Tolkien, because when one deals with matters of the fey, only the good professor’s definitions of the faerie-folk will matter. With Tolkien’s conception of both Elves and Hobbits in mind, I took at look at GVF’s SNL performance:
I have to say that, based on this, I don’t think you can technically call these dudes Elves. While their slender limbs and androgynous cheekbones seem to scream Eldar, elves are, in reality, far taller than these little fellows. Galadriel herself was supposedly “man-high,” and, importantly, this was “according to the measure of the Dúnedain and the Men of old,” which is to say, 6’4″ tall. And, many of the Elves of old were far taller than that!
Hobbits on the other hand are far shorter than even Greta Van Fleet’s singer (with, or without his try-hard hemp-rope sandals). And, not to get into a discussion of race in Trump’s America, but identical or fraternal twins would necessarily be the same mix of races based on the parent, so, in GVF’s case, they would necessarily all be the same race (or Hobbit/Elf race mix).
Most importantly though, and I know you meant no offense by it, but it is generally considered not cool to call someone a Hobbit based on their hair (which I assume had some role in you racially profiling their singer as such). Take it from someone who rocked this haircut all through the theatrical releases of The Lord of the Rings movies in the early 2000s:
Casting Hobbit-aspersions, or calling out “Hey look, it’s FRODO!” is NOT appreciated.
Moving past the teachable moment (oh, two more, elven, NOT elvin, and it’s capital H when referring to the Hobbit people, but otherwise it’s lower case), let’s get to the question of why they are so popular. Because, you are exactly right, 20 seconds into any Greta Van Fleet song, and everyone’s first thought is “wow, these dudes LOVE Led Zeppelin!”
But, the answer to your question lies in my own elitist reluctance to admit to liking Zeppelin. I can name-drop Budgie all I want, but at the end of the day it’s hard to beat getting the Led out and scream singing along with “Immigrant Song.” Deny it all I like, but Led Zeppelin kind of kicks ass. And, because the vast majority of the world also rather likes Led Zeppelin, Greta Van Fleet, with their reasonable approximation of their sound, are naturally going to be pretty popular.
Not only that, but call-backs to older musical times are totally en vogue right now. The public doesn’t just like a band that is aping Led Zeppelin, there is also a recent fad called “new retro wave” that likes to pretend there was an entire genre of music in the 80s that sounded like John Carpenter soundtracks:
And don’t forget the oft voiced dream of every metal head to bring back 80s speed metal:
Bottom line, we all have a nostalgic love for the past–even if we didn’t live it ourselves…and bands that try to tap into that nostalgic love are going to keep getting passes from most people.
Are Greta Van Fleet GOOD? Meh, I doubt I’ll ever listen to them again after this post–they are just soulless Led Zeppelin copycats after all. But, in the field of “best rock” bullshit that the Grammy Awards came up with this year, I’d imagine they are probably better than whatever other junk is out there trying to “rock” in the mainstream in 2019.
“Do you think if you’d never heard Led Zeppelin before, Greta Van Fleet would sound pretty good?”
I was working on this post while Laura was in the room, and she asked this question. And really this is a great follow-up to A.J.’s question, so I added it to today’s post.
Honestly, this is THE question when it comes to artistic homages/ripoffs (what you call them depends on your viewpoint). Hell, this is THE question when it comes to art in general. Snobby, elitist art aficionados like to think that all TRUE art can be appreciated in a vacuum. They think that if a spacecraft picked them up and took them to an alien planet, they could immediately pick out that culture’s artistic masterpieces from their soulless works of populist junk designed for mass consumption.
Can they though? I would like to think that I could tell that “Since I’ve been Loving You” was better than any song Greta Van Fleet ever wrote, but I’ll never get a chance to prove it. And, even if I DID pass that test via some kind of Total Recall memory wiping technology, at the end of the day any artistic value judgments are just, like, my opinion man. Maybe you need to find an outsider tone-poem recording of a circular saw to make it move…or maybe Britney Spears “doing it again” (and, by “it,” I mean “got Max Martin to write exactly the same song as her last album”) gives your nutz/ovariez a tingle. Neither of those positions are incorrectly, and no one can ever tell you that liking Greta Van Fleet is WRONG. Even though it, obviously, is [Note: Laura has never actually heard Greta Van Fleet, she has no hobbit in this race, she was just asking a hypothetical.]
All of this DID get me to thinking “what if you COULD hear an original and a copycat, side by side, without ever having heard either before. Could you tell the “good” one? I obviously can’t try it out with a band as well known as Led Zeppelin, but my non-metal listening readers probably could with some underground metal they’ve never heard.
So, for funsies, see if you can tell which of these two clips is the “GOOD” one. One is a timeless classic of 80’s speed metal, the other is a shameless rip-off from 2014:
Or, try this one. One is a timeless classic of New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The other is a shameless rip off from the 2000s:
How did you do? Because, if you didn’t immediately identify which clip was the “good” one, you are obviously the kind of false and poser that would think it’s ok to listen to Greta Van Fleet.