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In Defense of Greta Van Fleet

I already know some of you won’t like this one. But give it a shot: it’s about a lot more than it seems.

The release of this week’s post comes around the one-year anniversary of Greta Van Fleet’s album The Battle at Garden’s Gate. To celebrate, I had a retrospective-type piece in mind: I’d revisit the record after a year and talk about what’s grown on me since my first listen.

But early in the writing process, things took a hard left turn. I quickly realized there was a lot more that needed to be said about this band’s music and what it means to me as a lover of rock-and-roll.

A couple weeks into writing this, my now-ex saw the title and said “maybe (he) just wouldn’t read it.” From then on, I had no choice but to go all-in.

To be clear: this article will not defend the current state of Greta Van Fleet’s fanbase. What was once a “peaceful army” has turned into a gaggle of wild animals and I cannot condone choice fans's rude, invasive, disrespectful, and un-peaceful-for-all-the-wrong-reasons behavior. To onlookers of the awful fan behavior displayed at the current Dreams in Gold Tour: the fanbase was not like this five years ago. I know so, because I was there.

This post is me defending Greta Van Fleet’s music, and defending being a female fan. You’re allowed to call out my bias on all this; it’s pretty obvious I think.

Pictured: My copies of Garden’s Gate and the From the Fires EP, with my “Heat Above” candle burning. Side note: since when was From the Fires a “collectors’ item”? Have I really been around that long??

I think you already know what I’m going to kick this off with. In order to uphold my integrity as a true-blue rock-and-roll listener, there’s one point that I cannot in good conscience overlook, and that is…

The LZ Word

Yeah...had to get this one out of the way. During Greta Van Fleet’s initial mainstream breakthrough, they couldn’t escape this comparison. I’ve been on both sides of this argument, so I’ll share an observation of mine with you.

If you want my cut-and-dry opinion: the take that Greta Van Fleet's music sounds like Led Zeppelin is a reductionist one.

When The LZ Word was really getting thrown around, I saw it coming from YouTube comments sections full of guys who'd been alive much closer in proximity to Zeppelin's heyday than me. It was evident from their comments that they hadn’t brushed up on what Led Zeppelin really sounds like in years. Decades, even. Think about it. When was the last time they heard a Zeppelin album in full, and not on classic rock radio? Zeppelin wasn’t just “Whole Lotta Love” and “Stairway.” Zeppelin was also “Tangerine” and “That’s The Way.” At the same time they were “Black Mountain Slide.” They were also “Achilles Last Stand.” And they were also certifiably weird, borderline-unlistenable shit like “Hats Off to Roy Harper”!

If anything, Greta Van Fleet at the height of The LZ Word debate sounded like AC/DC or Aerosmith. And they’ve come so far from that sound over the years! Give The Battle at Garden’s Gate a listen and you’ll hear a variety of influences; from stadium rock to prog. When you really examine the discographies of both bands, Greta Van Fleet “ripping off” Zeppelin just...doesn’t hold up.

(Quick note: you’re allowed to think Josh Kiszka’s voice is annoying. Or without “good technique” or whatever, but since when has rock-and-roll ever been about technical perfection. Everyone has that one voice they just don’t like. Mine is Brian Johnson’s.)

I'm A "Fake Fan"

This leads me into the next “issue”: that of Greta Van Fleet emulating the classic rock sound. To detractors, they “rip off” the classics; cheapening old-school rock-and-roll for the current watered-down state of rock radio. I get it, guys. Rock radio sucks now. Imagine Dragons is out here winning Grammys for apparently producing today’s standards of a “rock album” and I’d rather gouge my eyes out than see it.

But to best illustrate my view on Greta Van Fleet sounding “too much” like classic rock, well...I kinda have to expose myself. Despite what my record collection may look like from what you see on Vinyl Monday, I don’t strictly collect stuff from the ’60s and ’70s. The reason I have so much of it is because that’s what I listen to the most – not to mention I got a lot of it for free. My music taste is a lot more diverse than what you see. Death Grips is in The Stacks with Deep Purple. Modern Baseball, The Moody Blues, and the Mountain Goats all share a shelf. I keep my Lana Del Rey records with stuff by King Crimson and The Kinks. And well, Greta Van Fleet comes alphabetically after Grateful Dead! I simply collect what I listen to.

Pictured: A touch of my record collection; unencumbered by genre or decade of release. Look closely and you’ll see my Greta Van Fleet albums next to The Grateful Dead and Grimes.

This will horrify some of you. Look away if you must. But I have a duty to be honest with you, dear reader…

I got into Led Zeppelin because of Greta Van Fleet.

I’m being 100% serious. I’ll repeat it for those who had their ears covered in dismay: I got big into Zeppelin because of Greta Van Fleet! Not the other way around. The horror!

So around the release of their first LP, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, I got curious about this band that had drummed up so much controversy over The LZ Word. And I liked what I heard, from both Greta Van Fleet and Zeppelin!

I warmed up to a lot of classic rock because of Greta Van Fleet. In their LP Spree interview, the band members picked out albums by John Denver, Van Morrison, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. So I listened to – and proceeded to love – John Denver, Van Morrison, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Guitarist Jake Kiszka played the “Crossroads” solo on Rig Rundown, so I bought my copy of Disraeli Gears and worshipped Clapton's solos on "Crossroads." Regardless of if you’re a fan or not, Greta Van Fleet did their homework; and their replication of the classic rock sound has opened the door for their fans to discover more music. Honestly, I’m proud to say a huge reason why I’m doing what I’m doing today (dressing vintage, listening to rock-and-roll, writing this here) was from this domino effect set off by loving Greta Van Fleet. I understand this might affect my credibility to some of you. If it really does, trust me – I was looking at you sideways first.

How can rock-and-roll music live on if you’re confining it to such a strict time frame and such a short roster of groups?

There are songs of Greta Van Fleet's that harken to the great Zepp, I won't lie. (*clears throat* "The Cold Wind.") But Zeppelin is a cornerstone to the "classic rock" sound. Some elements of their sound are bound to overlap with others in the genre by association. The area where I see the Zeppelin comparison is in the excitement Greta Van Fleet sparks in the hearts of modern-day rock-and-roll fans. Every time they've released a new song, been on TV or been interviewed for another publication I think, "This is the kind of excitement young people must've felt when Led Zeppelin was making music." It fills my heart up.

At some point you’ve gotta sit down and ask yourself: is there really anything wrong with doing your research and emulating a bygone sound? Is it really so “derivative” if, once upon a time, that’s just what pop music sounded like?

Pop Music and The Young Muse

Look at that, a perfect segway into my next point!

Say it with me: rock-and-roll was pop music! I want to scream it from the rooftops and I will until my breath runs out.

To show you how rock-and-roll became pop music, I’ll to tell you a little story. Once upon a time, Chuck Berry picked up his guitar and sang “Sweet Little Sixteen.” That was by no means the birth of rock-and-roll, but it’s a watershed moment for what the genre would become.

A man’s artistic inclination becomes his very powerful asset. It creates this cloud of mystery; this character of the poetic, flashy, moody, bright, shiny, capital-G Genius. That's exactly what it is though: a character. And I’ve fallen for it every time. Every girl wants to be special, and an artist’s muse is arguably the most special of all! The allure of the muse’s pedestal has been around long before the modern music industry. It’s existed since man first picked up a paintbrush.

Pictured: Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Regina Cordium, completed in 1860. No, this isn’t evidence of Scarlett Sabet being a secret time-traveler; the subject of this painting is Rossetti’s wife, Elizabeth Siddall. She was an artist herself, but that’s often overlooked as her legacy is so fixated upon being Rossetti's and so many other Pre-Raphaelite painters’ ultimate muse. There are estimated to be thousands of works featuring her! Perhaps Siddall was the 19th century Pattie Boyd?

The rock stars of the ’60s and ’70s got where they are today partly because they idolized and emulated rock-and-rollers and blues men that came before them. Legends sure do make pretty illusions. These guys all figured out that singing about young girls was a fool-proof formula. Records from “Sweet Little Sixteen” to “I Saw Her Standing There” ("She was just seventeen, you know what I mean,") and beyond sold like hot cakes! And that’s partly because so many girls pictured themselves as the muse of the dreamy, guitar-wielding crooner’s masterpiece. Hell, it happened to me through “Layla” and Dylan's “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”

That’s where the allure of the Genius comes into play with rock-and-roll: it creates an endless supply of hit records and young female fans to buy them. The fans age, but the muses never do. It’s a stable economy that fosters the disposal of women as they grow up. Not only was rock-and-roll once pop music, rock-and-roll was also built on the backs of young women and girls. It’s messed up that female fans aren’t taken seriously, as girls are essential to rock-and-roll as a pop music format.

This came to me in a lightbulb-over-the-head moment while listening to Lucretia Tye Jasmine’s guest spot on the Muses podcast. While I don’t agree with all of her takes, she stated something about the culture of rock-and-roll I’d been struggling to articulate.

Pictured: Your typical Beatles show crowd, at the height of Beatlemania. Because The Beatles were a pop group, dammit! (photographed by Jack Manning of the New York Times outside the Paramount Theater in NYC, 1964)

The Never-Ending Strife of Being a Female Fan

You may be asking, “What does any of this have to do with Greta Van Fleet?”

Quite a lot, actually. A sizable chunk of their fanbase – the portion that isn’t old guys that overlooked The LZ Word – is young women and teenage girls. In fact, I was a teenage girl when their debut EP came out!

I’d hate to think Greta Van Fleet’s credibility as a rock-and-roll band is affected by having large female fanbase. But it is. That’s the hard truth of it. A lot of the initial Greta Van Fleet flack (“Greta Van Flack,” if you will,) came from guys who experienced rock-and-roll when it was still pop music. From my perspective, those guys dislike this band’s music because they’ve popularized something sacred. If you feel that way, I totally get it! I hated when TikTok got ahold my favorite ’60s one-hit wonders: Edison Lighthouse!

The myth of the capital-G Genius has been dead since Duchamp and Warhol assassinated it. Rock-and-roll was never high art. So the reason as to why there's this desire to preserve rock-and-roll's sacred-ness is beyond me.

And you know...maybe some of those old guys who so openly dislike Greta Van Fleet do so because they’re achieving something those guys never could. I don’t know for sure, seeing as I’m not a Boomer nor a man. But what guy didn’t want to be a rock star in the ’70s? If you envy the modern rock star, and if you really want rock-and-roll to carry on, then good grief stop tearing down the bands carrying the torch!

Shattering The Illusion

Before I can round out the topic of rock-and-roll and the female fan, I need to make a couple things clear:

Coming from an unapologetic female fan of can be hard to feel comfortable as one. It’s a tough strata to fill! Especially when Iggy Pop was out here bragging about sleeping with a 13-year-old. Ew! While I adore The Rolling Stones, Zeppelin, Clapton and all his groups, and my beloved MC5...their histories with women all (to say the absolute least) raise the eyebrows of critical onlookers. That’s not to say it makes me enjoy the music less, that’s not the case at all. I have a degree in art history, which is in all honesty a degree in “separating the art from the artist.” The art world sucks just as much as rock-and-roll’s underbelly does, I promise you! So I know that loving the music and wanting to surround myself with it is different than condoning rock stars’ treatment of young women and teenage girls.

I'm NOT here for killing your idols. My generation has practiced that so much and so hard that we're all completely directionless now. Rather, I'm here for cutting through the cigarette-smoke haze that is the legacy of the rock star. By recognizing rock-and-roll for all it is – good and bad – we shatter the illusion of the bright shiny Genius.

All that being said...

Part of why I’ve latched onto Greta Van Fleet's work is for the lyrics’ portrayal of women. The lyrics aren’t just welcoming to us, they uplift us. When I was first getting into rock-and-roll, I noticed the difference in the lyrics between these guys and rock-and-roll’s forefathers almost immediately. Here’s some lyrics from fan favorite “Light My Love” to show you what I mean:

“Your mind is a stream of colors,

Extending beyond our sky,

A land of infinite wonders,

A billion lightyears from here now”

This is just one of a great deal of examples. Need more? “Flower Power,” “Mountain of the Sun,” and “You’re the One” come to mind. Women are celebrated by these lyrics, not made disposable by them. The muse isn’t just the muse. She’s her own person, outside of the artist’s interpretation of her. She's allowed to grow up. To a female fan like myself, Greta Van Fleet's tunes are good old-fashioned rock-and-roll music sans a lot of the “ick” that comes with it.

Rock-and-roll made its name on selling records to girls, treating them like shit, then lionizing the bad behavior of their male stars. The music of Greta Van Fleet takes the nastiness of rock-and-roll culture and dashes it against the rocks. It keeps the good parts of rock-and-roll alive. That being said, it’s up to us not to edit the sad parts. Greta Van Fleet has the right to sound like rock-and-roll because nothing about rock-and-roll is sacred!! The Genius is dead, the untouchable rock star is dead, and behind that glittering curtain, the life cycle of his muse is brutal.

In the end, I refuse to believe rock-and-roll is dead. Rock-and-roll is alive as long as we let people love it for everything it can be. And that is why I defend Greta Van Fleet.

Thanks for hearing me out. If you made it this far and still don't see what I see in them, then I respect you even more.


- Layla


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1 Comment

Aug 09, 2022

Was rock never high art really? I wouldn't be so categorical. I'd say sometimes it was and is. Sometimes. Which is quite normal when it comes to any creative work. Brilliance is a rare phenomenon in general, but not unheard of. The only problem is, 20-century avant-garde (with all due respect to it) caused a certain confusion as to what high art is. Namely it raised a belief that a real art depends on avoiding of being likeable. But it wasn't always like that.

The great masterpieces of classical fine arts portray beautiful women, beautiful landscapes and so on. The great masterpieces of classical literature tell interesting stories, praise love and adventure. And the great masterpieces of classical music base…

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