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Stairway to seven 

Seven stages of Zeppelin

Even though I'm fairly certain Lary is homicidal, I bet one of the reasons I keep liking him so much is that he sort of looks like Led Zeppelin's lead singer Robert Plant. In fact, I think the first argument I ever had with Lary was about the Zeppelin song "Stairway to Heaven." It had been out more than two decades, and during that time I'd gone through seven stages of loving it and hating it and then back again, and Lary happened upon me during Stage Six, which was the strongest of the hate stages.

"Are you insane?" Lary hollered. "How could you hate Led Zeppelin?"

At that, of course, I had to refrain from impaling his curly blond brain on a rusty crowbar. Instead, I exhaled and said with commendable evenness, "I did not say I hate Led Zeppelin, you total tampon. I said I hate 'Stairway to Heaven.' It's just a bunch of pretty words stuck together to get you to open up and let stuff in."

Lary countered with a passionate pro-"Stairway" argument, and normally I would have been surprised, because until then I thought Lary was only passionate about things like amateur taxidermy and objects that could detonate, but I was too busy reeling from having been accused of hating Led Zeppelin, when the truth is I had been a Zeppelinophile since I was 7 and heard their first album. I used to lay my actual ear on the actual speaker of my sister's plastic Imperial Party-Time Turntable in an attempt to mainline the music straight into my brain -- that's how much I loved Led Zeppelin. In fact, I did not just love Led Zeppelin; Led Zeppelin was my first love. Then when I heard "Stairway to Heaven," I loved it so much I begged my mother to pull over and stop the car because I craved a complete absence of any other stimuli that could compete with the sound of it on the radio. So I would call this Stage One.

Then I took to singing all the words like I knew what they meant. I would interrupt my friends during our daily acts of pyromania to discuss the lyrics. "'In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings,' see?" I'd pontificate. "'And it makes me wonder.'" I would call this Stage Two.

Then seven years later I hated the song because people were saying it contained hidden satanic chants, and at that time I didn't want to further tempt Lucifer, seeing as how I was certain he'd already possessed me after I accidentally read The Exorcist, which was sitting on my mother's nightstand, opened like a bottle of prescription painkillers. I would call this Stage Three.

Then I loved it again and ruined my turntable trying to play it backward so I could hear the satanic chants everybody was bloviating about in middle school. "I can hear it!" I squealed. But in the end you hear what you want to hear, and like any misanthropic teenager proud of her carefully cultivated sense of antisocialism, I wanted to fit in. "I can hear it!" I squealed. I would call this Stage Four.

Then there was a long period where I simply hated the song with the force of 50 erupting volcanoes. It turned out that, after repeated inspection, the words meant nothing after all: "And it's whispered that soon, if we all call the tune, then the piper will lead us to reason." "What the fuck does that mean?" I griped, inhaling my fourth Marlboro of the morning. And what the hell is a hedgerow? This I would call Stage Five.

Then seven years later I didn't just hate the song, I was pissed at it. Not only did it disillusion me, it insulted me and made me loathe my impressionable younger self. I bought all those pretty words, didn't I? I swallowed it all, didn't I? The bait and the boat in one big gulp. "Dear Lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know your stairway lies on the whispering wind?" God, what bigger bag of bunk was there than these words? They were just there to serve as a wedge to get me to open up and let stuff in. Never again. Never. I would call this Stage Six.

Now my own daughter is 7, and sometimes she sings along to songs on our CD player with such an absolute lack of insecurity that it reminds me there was once a time when I loved the sound of something so much I used to sit with my face fused to the speaker of a plastic turntable. So I love the song again, and the unrelenting crescendo of its melody, and sometimes I simply let it play over and over as I lay listening with my arms outstretched. The words are still bunk, but sometimes words aren't the point. Sometimes words are just there to serve as a wedge so you'll open up and let stuff in. And this is what I would call reaching the top of the stairway to seven. Stairway to Seven.

Hollis Gillespie will host her Shocking Real-Life Memoir Writing Seminar in Charlotte on Sunday, Jan 20. For more information, visit

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