I am eating the ham of the gods. Okay, it's actually half of a ham salad sandwich. But it's Jimmy Page's ham salad sandwich -- and he's sharing it with me. As rock-critic career highlights go, chowing down with J.P. ranks up there with scoring an interview with Elvis or being asked to jam with Hendrix in the great beyond -- an event so impossibly cool you hope to one day actually have grandchildren just so you can tell them about it. Valhalla, I am coming.
Pagey (as his -- ahem -- friends call him) and I are sitting in an oak-paneled room in England's tony Sir Christopher Wren's House Hotel, a stone's throw from Windsor Palace. Looking at him today, it's hard to believe this is the erstwhile whip-wielding, groupie-terrorizing, potions-and powders-imbibing, Aleister Crowley-worshiping Überguitarist, who led Led Zeppelin, the four-piece he assembled in 1968, to chart-topping heights in the '70s, creating a hard-rock archetype that has yet to be equaled. Now short of hair, prim of posture, and conservative of dress, Page, 59, resembles nothing so much as a middle-aged university professor.
The rock deity is here to discuss the twin projects he has been working on for the past couple of years: a five-and-a-half-hour DVD of vintage Zeppelin concert performances and a three-CD live set, ''How the West Was Won'' (both released May 27). He feels especially pleased with the DVD (rather prosaically titled ''Led Zeppelin DVD''), a chronological sampling of the band's live shows from 1970 to '79, when Zep broke up after the drug-related death of drummer John Bonham.
''Early on, we decided that Led Zeppelin was an ambient group and that the best way to experience us was in a concert hall,'' says Page. ''Because we seldom appeared on television, there wasn't a lot of footage from across the years. In 1976, we did put out [the concert movie] 'The Song Remains the Same,' but that was it as far as visual documents went.''