Zepfics: A History

Left to right: John Paul Jones, John Bonham, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page. In keeping with their fanon characters Bonham is hulking, Robert hippy and chill, Jimmy grumpy and concentrating on a riff, and Jonesy just there. Artwork by Kevin Roualland.

I became aware of Led Zeppelin fanfic in the late 1990s when the web exploded with archive sites. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I’d known of Star Trek fanfic for years, and Buffy,  X-files, and Xena fanfic sites were all over the place. But Zep fanfic was a new thing, especially as most of it concerned Robert bonking Jimmy, or vice versa. I deemed it too potent to examine more closely at the time.

Now, 25 years later, it is still going strong, helped by a revival of interest in Classic Rock fandom from those young enough to be grandchildren of the bands in question.

A word about Classic Rock, or simply Classic, fandom. It’s one that centers on the rock bands of the 1960s through the 1990s and their aesthetic, for this fandom has as many artists as writers. It’s born from a hunger for the nostalgia of an earlier time, good music and larger-than-life characters. The 60s bands are the most prominent, but it can include anyone featured on a Classic Rock radio station, podcast, or playlist.

I thought that the origins of Zepfic lay in great fannish explosion of the late 1990s, but truth is, it’s more complicated than that.

Fan conventions began to be held in the 1980s. This one was in New Jersey to draw the greater NYC urban crowd.

According to my research, the first Zepfics arose in the late 1970s, even before the band had broken up. The stories were typewritten and circulated among fangroups and Zep APAs (amateur press associations) throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. When email and listserves came along fans took advantage, and for a while both formats, hardcopy and digital, existed side by side. Still, the material was available only to a few in the know.

When newsgroups, then specialized writer and archive sites, came along in the mid 1990s, all sorts of fandom caught fire, including Zepfics. But because the fandom was about real people doing fictional (and often naughty) things, it was classified under RPF – real person fanfic, and looked down upon by the fannish standards of the time. A sort of red-headed stepchild, as it were. Reasons given were the threat of lawsuits from the fanfic subjects, or the writer’s  supposed lack of respect towards the subjects who were written doing things they surely never would in real life. Invasion of the subject’s dignity and privacy was another issue. Such stories were routinely prefaced with disclaimers from the authors. Even so, Fanfiction.net, the premier fanfic site of the time, eventually banned all RPF stories in 2002. Luckily, Archiveofourown has taken up the banner.

In the early days Zepfic writing, a whopper of a series called Tris and Alex came out. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in all but name, the series was created by Nancy Arena and Pam Rose in the 1980s and detailed the twosome’s slashy adventures in a thinly disguised LZ analog called Paradox. The stories were circulated in typewritten form; a few were published in fanzines. The series was an unsung pioneer and I’m sure I would have gone gaga for it if I had gotten my hands on it way back when. Eventually, the series made its way to AoW where I’ll be reading them when time allows.

Decades the megaseries spawned a similar one called, colloquially, Farm Frolics, showing the strength of the pairing. The plotline is similar: Robert and Jimmy declare their love for each other, marry, retreat to a country estate, and have lots of sex. This time, the names were undisguised. (I will be reading that one too.)

What makes fics like this so appealing is the sheer physical beauty of the two men, the contrast of personalities they project, their yin-yang of light and dark. Add to that the drama of fateful accidents, drug addiction, supposed occult doings, and the dark, downward trek of their career — add in the intimacy of creating and playing some of rock’s best music together — and you’ll know why.

I am 100% certain there are many, many more unpublished and uncirculated Zepfics in the same vein, perhaps disowned by their writers sine then as being “immature” or “silly.” Which is silly.

Fantasy is fantasy. It’s not to be policed.

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