What Robert Plant learned from reading Neither Wolf nor Dog

I have often said that being a writer is like shouting from inside a glass box:  you can see the people moving out there, but you have no idea if they hear you.  Here is an unexpected example of Neither Wolf nor Dog being heard.  Robert never told me this, but it makes life in the glass box feel ever so more worthwhile.


The book that made Robert Plant search for silence
(Credit: Alamy)


The book that made Robert Plant search for silence

Once, when Robert Plant was travelling the US on tour, he briefly stopped by a bookstore in Colorado. In the years leading up to his visit, he’d been between places whilst on the road but was drawn to the south. He described it as having a culture of European immigrants and wound up on a quest to see what had gone on in a time before the Europeans moved through.

The period before the rounding up of the great Comanche empire was of huge interest to him, given the empire, built by the Comanche tribe of Native Americans, fell victim to European colonialism in 1875. Plant was fascinated. “I started trying to track down what happened, the change of power, the hierarchies, the push through to the west coast by the European travellers and the whole frontier spirit,” he told BBC Radio 5. “I was constantly amazed by what I was reading about the tenacity and the wisdom and the guile of the original fathers of the new world.

He was at the end of another very dense book; one concerned more with dates than a sense of adventure and conquest. But then he stumbled across Kent Nerburn’s Neither Wolf nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder, and flicked through its pages. “I started going, ‘My goodness, this is somebody who has actually, as a European stock, European-blooded guy, he’s been around these people enough to express the words that I can’t quite get out,’” he said.

He was amazed at how Nerburn charted both the guilt and the adventure in tandem: “The whole idea of being so uncomfortable with getting too close to something that’s so profound, that you just feel like some sort of spaceman trying to even comprehend what these guys carry with them, the way they touch the earth.”

Once he’d finished the book, he decided he had to meet Nerburn, if not to ask him more about why silence was so important to Native Americans. “It’s [been] a treasure,” Plant said. “I don’t really do it great service. Since Kent and I have met, I spend quite a lot of the time babbling and enthusing, and being the same ‘RP’ that I’ve been for many years. But I do find my silence. I live close to the Welsh borders, and I know the special places to go, to be, to actually recharge.”

Famous for his shockingly high shrieks with Led Zeppelin, silence is an alien concept for Plant. He described the sheer volume of his performances at times becoming too much, “almost like it was every second had to be filled with some musical comment”. He mentioned that in the early days of his career, insecurity and nervousness led, “like most Western communications,” to too much noise.

But, with the book’s spiritual take on the importance of silence, he learned to find it. “It’s got more and more fluent, my time in silence since,” he said. “I’m very pleased with that.”

Led Zeppelin - Since I've Been Loving You (Live at Madison Square Garden 1973) [Official Video]




7 thoughts on “What Robert Plant learned from reading Neither Wolf nor Dog”

  1. Reading your post I hear two comments about silence: The first is about a writer’s typical lack of feedback i.e., silence from readers; and the second, to seek silence, as non-Indigenous peoples, in the midst of our typically chaotic lives.
    As a nearly life-long writer of 72-years of age, and self-publisher of a northwestern Minnesota magazine for 24 years, I know a lot about what you said that, “‘ … being a writer is like shouting from inside a glass box: you can see the people moving out there, but you have no idea if they hear you.’” And is why I kept the little scribbled notes attached to re-subscriptions; feedback that was sent out-of-the-blue after reading something that resonated with them; or emailed us over the course of years as positive comment or criticism — any feedback is better than no feedback.
    And as for experiencing silence about oneself, too much silence is intimidating to my wife and her family who man, woman and child all need ‘white noise’ to sleep here where we live, ‘far from the madding crowd,’ “ in the middle-of-nowhere.” While that’s true enough for almost all non-inhabitants visiting us, it’s just as true that others embrace it for its total escape from their environment in the cities where they reside. They long to come back to our rehabilitative places for I believe silence is relative to their life experience; that one must attempt silence to recognize what is inevitably resounding around you that you have not heard before.

  2. I read Neither Wolf nor Dog many years ago and was deeply affected by it. I’ve since reread it nearly every year. Recently my son who is 40, and not until now a reader!, borrowed my precious copy and was moved to tears several times. I think he was surprised by the force of your writing, it’s difficult to express how your style , simple, flowing, manages to touch the soul. Thank you. Much love from Italy.

  3. It’s really wonderful to read what someone like Robert Plant experienced reading your great book Neither Wolf Nor Dog. I’ve always loved his music and much of what he’s written. But amplifying the impact, crux and lysis of what this country did in taking tribal lands pushes me deeper to the core of my being in trying to resolve this for myself and “touch the earth.”

    I complain a lot from the pain I feel for the rightful owners of this land, even while hiding out in a hole in the ground like Crazy Horse praying my prayers. I can’t calm down. Especially when I see Native Americans begging on street corners. I remember as a child how it upset my mother. I beg of them to pray for me and never forget this is their land, that many of us do care, like you Kent and all your readers. Their comments help me, too.

    The reparations that Congress mandated are outweighed by endless injustices, many from the past finally coming to light. But the worst is the wrongful conviction of Leonard Peltier when there was no direct evidence to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt. All the online petitions haven’t made a dent, even trying to obtain a presidential pardon. There will be Hell to pay for it. I can’t stand before God if I don’t do all that I can.

    Leonard’s dream of being free speaks to the heart of every human being who cares about the earth and that all people are free:
    “Being free to me means being able to breathe freely away from the many dangers I live under in maximum custody prison. Being free would mean I could walk over a mile straight. It would mean being able to hug my grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” said Peltier, aged 78. (from an exclusive interview with The Guardian 2-6-2023)

    As we well-know, life on the rez can be like an open-air prison.


    Thank You Kent, as always.

    And please thank Robert Plant. The Muse has blessed him, especially who he is as a human being.
    He helps a lot of us too, like you.

  4. Gosh. Fascinating. Life is so complicated, so subtle, so rich. If we could only get our head around it and feel it all of the time. I guess that is a place for silence. But sometimes noise brings understanding too, big noise and loud, like Led Zeppelin. Amazing band. Wonderful story. Great book.

  5. This is a wonderful tribute to the power of Neither Wolf Nor Dog. Lasting power of the spirit energy of the Indian people. I think Dan would be smiling.

  6. It was a story on public radio years ago about Robert Plant and Neither Wolf Nor Dog which moved me to read the book. Definitely impacted me greatly and I recommend it constantly (including just yesterday).

  7. We are reading this for our book club, all over 60. I am excited for our book discussion in January 2024. For me this was an education with Dans words. And I wish I could apologize for what we have done and continue to do. How small this apology seems! I hope to reread Neither Wolf nor Dog many times and learn something new about the true history, myself and current history every time. Thank you for this work and education.

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