Her kiss of fire
A loaded invitation
Inside her smile
She takes me down.
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An abandoned building in the Mojave desert
The desert is a place that's hard to describe if you haven't lived in it. If you just view pictures, it looks bare and desolate. But there is life - an abundance of it. The desert may lack the thriving abundance of life you find in the forest, but it makes up for it in soul.
You feel that soul when a roadrunner overtakes you to peck up a lizard in its beak, regard you with a beady eye, and race away, too fast to catch. You feel that soul when you watch the mountains at sunset, watching them emit a spectrum of colors together with the sky that defies description. You feel the soul when the temperature's over 110 degrees Fahrenheit and there's a wind of 35 MPH moaning through Joshua trees and rattling your windowpanes. You feel the soul when you're all alone on a desert road at midnight and a tumbleweed blows past, wandering alone, just like you. You feel the soul in a monsoon that feels like a hot shower and smells like a bridal bouquet.
The desert is not for sissies. It tries people by fire. It challenges you to survive. But if you persevere, then it rewards you with a magical display of roaming spirits and faded watercolors.
City's Welcome Sign
Robert Plant's "29 Palms" is one song that evokes that curious magic of the desert in just the right way. By turns, the song may be about his infatuation with a woman, or a love song to the desert itself. Plant plays with this poetic ambiguity, using wordplay which could refer to desert motifs or passionate heat in every verse.
The isolated aspect of desert communities plays a role as well. Anybody who's driven through San Bernardino County, California, can tell you that it's a long way between towns out there. Thus, there's a lot of traveling down "the road that leads back to you," while hearing voices on the radio. Is it, perhaps, a telepathic voice of your lover, evoked by her favorite songs playing on the oldies' station?
There's one more note evoked by this piece: a curious sense of being trapped. The desert is a harsh mistress, for it seems like after you've been there awhile, you feel like no place else will do. Yet it is monotonous in tone, with no seasons, no changes in character. It has a deep personality, but it has only one. In lyrics which revolve around being knocked down, taken down, and having one's head turned around, there is a sense of inescapable obsessiveness.
Joshua Tree National Park
You might see that as a metaphor for Robert Plant's solo career. Isn't it jarring to think that the same howling buccaneer from Led Zeppelin is singing this mellow, gentle ballad? The song's central focus is settling down, but, at the same time, with a sense of regret. In 1994, a year after "29 Palms" came out, Robert Plant said in an interview while talking about his Led Zeppelin days, "I can't take my whole persona as a singer back then very seriously. It's not some great work of beauty and love to be a rock-and-roll singer."
Clearly, he is taking himself more seriously in this song. And not losing a bit of his passion while he is doing it.
29 Palms Songfacts
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