A Gift for Jimmy Pageby Annie Hollinshead
When someone has helped you in a very significant way, a natural response to that is to want to thank that person. I love hearing stories from people who had their lives changed by someone who inspired them. People who influence you deserve thanks, but what if the person who changed your life and helped you is a famous person? You can't just call them up and thank them, or invite them over for dinner. There's usually not much you can do, but the talents of well-known people really do make a big difference in the world, and music is one of the things that influences people most. It can reach you in the most terrible times and inspire you to carry on and fight another day, to pick yourself up and be happy, or to let out some sadness and cry. Music was extremely important to me in this way, and no musician inspired me throughout the difficult times of my life more than Jimmy Page. Something in his music reached me and it helped. He made a very big difference to my life circumstances by sharing his music. I've always been very thankful for the privilege of hearing it.
Being famous shouldn't prevent you from receiving thanks, even from a ordinary fan like me, and because he made such a difference to me I decided to try and find a way to send him a thanks. Having thought about it, I felt that a little book, like a very fancy birthday card, would be good. Inside it I would put a message to tell him exactly how his music influenced me and made me a happy person. But then I thought, there are millions of other fans that his music had reached too, and it would be much better for him to hear as many of those fans as possible. If I could go find some of them and get their messages too, that would make this gift more special. Fans don't often get a chance to say thanks, but having spoken to a lot of them over the years, I knew they had such great stories to share. A close friend of mine was near suicide during his first years of university, but listening to Jimmy play gave him a new perspective on life, and now he is a highly successful person. Stories like that would be wonderful for Jimmy to know, so I set out on the book project in 2007.
Now, you can't just give any old thing to a person as amazing as Jimmy, so I didn't want this book to look like an amateur item. That just wouldn't do. With all the effort he put into his music, the great care he took creating it, recording it, packaging it, and then performing it, how could I present anything but the very best too? That was what he inspired me to do, always my best, and so I determined to really push the boat out. I wanted to create something that was my idea of Jimmy, and so it had to be a one-of-a-kind, totally unique, extremely well made piece of art, not just a blank book that you could buy in any shop. In my mind that would have been too ordinary. I looked in the phone book and on the web and found an amazing bookbinder called Terry Buckley. Terry had made books for the Queen, Prince Charles, important businessmen, and artists – he was just what I was looking for if he would do it. His work was amazing, and he lived right near me. I went to see him, explained what I wanted to do, and gave him my ideas. He agreed to create the book, and the adventure began. It was really exciting, but intimidating too. Making something for a man as artistic and talented as Jimmy was really intimidating, and I was a bit scared. Then there was the problem of actually getting this book to him, but I concentrated first on the design and collecting the messages, and thought I would worry about getting it to him later.
The design was based around Jimmy's black dragon suit, to be made of black leather, with the dragon from his suit on the cover along with his symbols and astrological signs. He had worn it, so I figured he’d like it! Terry’s creativity and skill changed aspects of the design along the way, and it was fascinating watching him work whenever I got a chance. The entire book was made by hand just the way it would have been done in the Middle Ages. Making it that way meant it was built to last, and Terry is sure that with reasonable care it will be around for hundreds of years - another aspect that reminded me of Jimmy. I am sure his music and influence will be around at least that long too.
One very unique thing about the book was Terry's idea for the dragon. He had learned of a Japanese technique to create dragons on objects using eggshell, the cracked eggshell resembling the dragon's scales. This technique had only ever been used once outside of Japan, but he knew how to do it. The dragon was actually carved into the book cover and when the leather was laid over the top, it made an impression that was layered with eggshell and gold, and then painted. The symbols were carved into metal plates and then embossed on the cover in 22 carat gold, the leather was best quality, along with the paper inside, which was made of Italian goatskin. Even the thread that made the binding was special. It was made of Japanese silk that Terry wove into a colourful design. Terry even had me sew in the first few pages myself, and I helped draw the dragon for the cover. I was really pleased, and with Terry working on it, being a master craftsman, the book was breathtaking. He even worked on it on Christmas day to be sure it was right and would be finished for Jimmy's birthday. The book had real presence and commanded attention, just one more thing that mirrored Jimmy.
Meanwhile I was collecting the messages. When I first had the idea, I thought collecting the messages would be the easy part, but wow was I wrong. I imagined going to a few Led Zeppelin-specific fan sites and asking for contributions would yield hundreds of messages, after all, the fans were there and they wrote messages of gratitude about his music all the time. But, while this project was received very well by some, a lot of people laughed at it, said I would never finish it or get it to him, called me a crazy stalker, and generally dismissed the whole thing as pathetic. I was really hurt and surprised by these comments, but they didn’t put me off. There were also fantastic fans on those sites that sent messages, but despite these lovely fans, very few messages came to me through those sites. I have to confess I was a bit bewildered about how to proceed, but I was determined, so I just worked harder. I searched for fans on general music sites, and when I came across obvious Jimmy fans I emailed them individually asking for their input. These fans helped spread the word and the messages started to come in. I also went to record stores and music events, because I knew anywhere music fans gathered there would be Jimmy Page fans. Over the months I did find them, but it was far from a walk in the park. I worked up to eight hours a day, seven days a week searching for fans and collecting the messages. It was a full time job, and very hard work, but I loved it.
Talking to Jimmy's fans was wonderful and their stories of how he influenced them were brilliant. He inspired people of all ages and backgrounds through every kind of circumstance and has made a real impact on the world. I laughed with people and cried with them, and it was a fantastic experience. I was very careful with the messages and asked people to answer different questions so it wouldn't be a boring read all saying the same thing. All of the messages were lovely, and only those I considered appropriate made it into the book. In the end I had collected thousands of them from 42 different countries around the world. I had many more than I could use in the book. Around 800 made up the contents, along with some drawings of him that were sent. They were printed just as they were sent in, mistakes and all, in the font people had chosen, and made a beautiful gift all wrapped in leather and gold. I am very grateful to every fan that took time to make this project special.
Getting the book to him was another adventure. I had this incredibly expensive object that had taken practically every waking hour of an entire year to make, and I had to be careful with it. Contacting and asking people who might have had a management contact for Jimmy that I could leave the book with for him to collect was a daunting experience. Just like the internet website fans, I had people laughing at me, people who were very dismissive and rude, or I was totally ignored. I know people who have business dealings with famous individuals sometimes have to deal with a lot of craziness and it must get to them. I understood that, but it doesn't cost anything to be polite even if you are saying no. But, I pressed on despite the way some of them made me feel because all I needed was one responsible person that would be willing to take the book from me and give it to Jimmy in private. I gave Terry as the contact because I felt dealing with a professional person who had done work for the Queen might make them feel happier than dealing with me the fan. I also made it very clear that I did not want to be there when the book was given to him, and would not include any contact information for myself as most of them immediately thought, and continued to think even when I said otherwise. I found that so frustrating because I didn't want to give the book to him personally for one important reason: that would make it a gift for me, not a gift for him. I never wanted him to think that I did all this just to meet him, because to me that would make the gift a rather shallow one. I wanted it to be a genuine thanks with no strings attached, and I felt the only way he would know that was if I wasn't there to get in the way of it.
Thankfully I eventually found someone who did pass the book on to Jimmy, and he received it in February of 2008. I heard that he was impressed with it, commented on the craftsmanship of it, and thanked me for a 'wonderful and thoughtful gift.' Perfect! What more could I wish for than to know the person who helped me so much received my thanks, appreciated it, and wasn't made to feel awkward collecting it. I hope it will give him and his family many hours of fun reading it. It is very touching, filled with wonderful stories from grateful fans. I hope it makes him smile and feel appreciated because that was the goal of all the hard work. Hard as it was, I'd do it all again tomorrow. Thanking him was definitely worth it!
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