Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Immigrant Song" - Led Zeppelin, rock (1970)

We come from the land of the ice and snow,
from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.

The hammer of the gods
Will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, singing and crying:
Valhalla, I am coming!
On we sweep with threshing oar,
Our only goal will be the western shore.

We come from the land of the ice and snow,
from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.

How soft your fields so green,
Can whisper tales of gore,
Of how we calmed the tides of war.
We are your overlords.
On we sweep with threshing oar,
Our only goal will be the western shore.
So now you'd better stop and rebuild all your ruins,
For peace and trust can win the day
Despite of all your losing.

I come from the land of the ice and snow to tell you all about how Led Zeppelin adds their two cents worth to the annals of history, beginning with Robert Plant famously wailing what sounds awfully familiar as the song "Bali Ha'i" from the Rogers & Hammerstein musical "South Pacific", but don't get too cozy just yet. While that opening hook may have you hooked on Tahiti, the rest of the song has nothing to do with any island paradise and everything in common with Ohio (where I live) in, cold, snow, and brrrrr!

"Immigrant Song" wasn't actually written around any particular historic event, really. It was inspired by a concert tour of Led Zeppelin's that kicked off in Reykjavik, Iceland. Long story short, the Icelandic government was on a bit of a cultural diversity kick. Zeppelin wasn't very well received by the working class, and the event was almost cancelled, but the local university made a way for them to play and Zep was blown away by remarkable response they received from the kids. Six days after that memorable concert, the song was written, inspired by that trip to Iceland. It is this inspiration that concerns us today.

Robert Plant wrote the song to reflect the travelling perspective of the Vikings. The song was dedicated to Icelander, Leif Ericson aka "Leif the Lucky". If you're not quite sure who Leif is, well, he's the reason Americans celebrate Columbus least he should be. After all, he was here 500 years before Columbus (who wasn't even here at all, but...).

Leif Ericson was a Norse explorer, and he was is officially the first European to set foot on North American soil. His father, well-known explorer (and sometimes outlaw) Erik the Red, had already begun to colonize Greenland. Following in his father's footsteps, Leif the Lucky set out in search of new and exciting places. According to Icelandic history, there are two stories surrounding his visit to the North American mainland. In 1000 AD, he visited Norway, where it is believed that he was converted to Christianity by King Olaf I. Olaf then sent Leif back home to Iceland to convert his fellow countrymen. On the way back, he accidentally sailed off course and eventually arrived at lush and fertile land which overflowed with an abundance of grapes. In the other story, the "Groenlendinga saga", it is believed that Leif heard about a rich western land from a passing trader and set out in search of it.

Regardless of which tell is true, the fact remains that Leif came to 'Vinland' (that's what he called it). He named it so because no matter which story one chooses to believe, when Leif got here, he found a rich and fertile land.

Because of Greenland's northerly location, we know for certain that in 998 AD he landed in Canada. More precisely, he visited Baffin Island, which he called "Helluland"; the Labrador Coast, which he called "Markland" (because of the trees he saw there); and Newfoundland, which is believed to be the area officially dubbed "Vinland", where he found wild grapes in abundance that just happened to make some highly palatable wine. He and his men even built a small colony and spent the winter in this new place.

While his Canadian detours are well respected, very little is known about his other ventures, including some ambiguity as to whether or not he actually did come to the area we now know as the United States. Nevertheless, in 1963, archaeologists discovered the remnants of ancient Viking settlements all up and down the US's eastern seaboard, which pre-date any other signs of European civilization. In fact, even though we cannot be certain what happened to the many Viking civilizations that occurred throughout eastern North America, there is much evidence of Viking influence as far inland as modern-day Minnesota, where pieces of wooden ships have been discovered; these ships follow the same building schematic as those of the Norse sailors and explorers.

The only other evidence of his mainland trek is the existence of a map. "The Vinland Map" dates circa 1300 AD and comes to us via Papal emissary to the Tartars. This map not only clearly outlines Vinland to include mainland USA, but it also has Leif's name on it. It might seem unreasonable that a map of Norse travels should surface in the Far East, but remember that at this point in time, the whole world was at Man's fingertips, and very little of it was known to any civilization. Thus, it was not uncommon for westerners to move east to explore the nether regions there, especially in the name of discovery. In doing so, there was much exchange of information and discovery (both willingly and by force). You can view this map HERE. Modern cartographers have carbon dated this striking piece of evidence and believe it to be the very first map ever drawn of the North American Continent, and it is quite accurate.

To commemorate the overwhelming evidence supporting the large Viking contribution in discovering these new lands that would eventually become the United States and Canads, in 2001, President George W. Bush formally declared that October 9 be officially designated a national holiday: Leif Ericsson Day.

"Immigrant Song" - Led Zeppelin, 1970

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