Me, You and the Music I’m Putting You Through
~by Sheila Squillante
“Stairway to Heaven”
Led Zeppelin IV
Atlantic Records, 1971
Suite: Stairway to Heaven, New Fairfield High School, 1984
You love Stairway to Heaven because of its slow, sumptuous melody. You love the lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold because you know her troubled optimism. You love Stairway to Heaven because you know if you wait long enough—until the penultimate song at your high school mixer—the cool, smart boy you adore will finally consent to dance. He will lead you on to the gym floor in front of his cool, smart friends, wrap his thin, muscled forearms around your waist and lock his confident hands into the small of your back—a hard knot of promise for what could come later, at the boat launch, on Ball Pond, in the dark.
You love Stairway to Heaven though you know it always betrays you: those loose, lovey notes to which you willingly sway, that sumptuous melody building to something knottier, angrier, something far away from the two of you–all bustle & hormone in this crepe-paper hedgerow under tinsel streamer sky– your arms up around that boy’s neck, your eyes down, your body humming with expectation but without the nerve, yet, to take for yourself what you want.
You think what you want is called love so you hang there, arms up and around, suspended by your deep, inarticulate need, while the boy you adore starts to move in something other than slow, glittering circles.
The song is a multi-movement suite. You are a multi-movement suite.
The boy you adore loves Stairway to Heaven because he knows that if he agrees to slow melody, to echoing circles, to whispered laughter on his neck, if he waits you out, he will be rewarded with an angry crescendo, a hard knot of promise. Now, he jerks his hips toward you. Now his fingers press your vertebrae like minor keys. He loves Stairway to Heaven because it transforms you and your kind beneath his reaching fingers. Now piano, now drum kit, now electric guitar—your body an instrument. You consent to be played. He begins to sing. You rock against him. Oh, you do roll.
You decide–yes– this is love but you know sometimes words have two meanings.
You consent to be played because you don’t yet know about the misgiven thought, how it starts as “an Am-Fmaj7 chord progression with a chromatic descending bass line”—a kiss in the empty stairwell, a kiss back stage during play practice, a kiss in the social studies classroom after last bell. A dry and hard kiss from his songbird-lips and the glitter of all that smiling silver against white. How it gradually moves into your slow, electric middle section, plunges into the faster, hard rock final section–an a angry note in the “greatest of all rocks songs”– and ends 8 minutes and 2 seconds later in the band room after school, with the parting gift of a key chain that says, “Never regret the things you have done; only regret the things you have never tried.”
With these words he does get what he came for.
You hate Stairway to Heaven for the way it brings you close to the cool, smart boy with sure hands on your hips. How it sways you dumbly through its acoustics, leads you to endure chords that turn hard, changes your glittering desire into something angry and unsure. The boy you adore bargains with his body, thinks he calls the tune. Even now you don’t buy it. Hold on, lady, hold out for those final soft bars, before the last, fast song of the night and then up come the lights.
[Sung] Yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.
NB: Seems fitting, don’t you think?, to link to a version of this song sung by a powerful, bad ass woman.
Sheila Squillante writes poems and essays in Pittsburgh.