30 years + sizable research = “Immigrant Song” appreciation

Recently I’ve studied Irish history, including history of the Viking raids and settlements during the 9th – 11th centuries. Then I read some history of the Vikings. Then I watched the 2nd and 3rd volumes of the Great Courses lecture series “The Vikings.” I also read a retelling of Norse myths by Neil Gaiman.

Yes, very erudite of me. Thank you for noticing.

Well, I first heard “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin when, in high school, a friend wanted to introduce me to real rock, so he loaned me a tape of Zeppelin music he’d picked out. It was too fuzzy to understand the words, but he wrote the title on the case liner, so I knew it was about immigration, and I guessed it was probably a political protest song because it was made in the 70s so what else could it be?

I heard it again while watching “School of Rock” with Jack Black singing along, and because he made that big hammering arm motion when he sang “hammer of the gods,” I now knew one lyric. I thought it a weird line, but guessed it was poetically expressing the idea that fate is harsh to refugees.

Then, when watching the “Thor” movies, I recognized that song in the fight scenes, and thought it an odd fit– “It has that great thrumming beat, so it works, musically, but thematically, why use a song about the challenges immigrants face in coming to America? I mean, we’re dealing with Norse gods fighting monsters. Maybe Stan Lee really wanted it, like how J. J. Abrams makes them use Beastie Boys tunes in Star Trek.”

So, I was flipping through radio stations in the minivan a couple of days ago, and it came on, and I told my kids, “You have to hear this, it’s a classic.” I turned it up, listening carefully in case there were any bad words I needed to censor. I was thinking, “Hmm. Land of ice and snow, midnight sun, hammer of the gods, and did he just say, ‘Valhalla I am coming’? What the heck? Is this a song about the medieval Viking invasions?”

I got home and looked up the lyrics: “Whoa, those are really cool and powerful, and, huh, that’s terribly clever to use it with Thor, and, hey, it all makes sense, now!”

*homer face slap*

Yet another example of learning something new, and then finding that its secrets had been hidden in plain sight everywhere around you for your entire life.