Down the Rabbit Hole – the Musical Tragedy of Grace Slick

I doubt that I would ever make a good music critic. A bloke at work whom I sometimes manage is a drummer, and one of the bands he was in happened to be ARIA nominated (he refuses to clarify which one exactly it was), and whilst one of my friends from the office assures me that this bloke is Australian musical royalty, I have heard of hardly any of the acts he has worked with (and of those that I have, I do not know the music of Tex Perkins nor Dave Graney).

I get great pleasure in stirring this brooding musician with overdone talk of my fondness for bubblegum pop like Nikki Webster (I don’t actually like that stuff, but it is good material for some good natured provocation), or the exciting news that Lindsay Lohan is about to release her third album (I actually did not know that she did anything of note anymore except take lots of party drugs in night clubs).

As I mentioned in a post a few days ago, I was in the Countdown Generation. I relied on Countdown for most of my knowledge of music in the 1980s, and I knew very little about anything that was not on Countdown or on 3XY radio.

Which is as good as way as any to segue into not really knowing anything about Jefferson Airplane until very recently.

I think, when listening to Casey Casem, the DJ formerly known as the voice of Shaggy from Scooby Doo, presenting the American Top 40 on Sunday nights on 3XY circa 1984, I first heard the name Jefferson Starship. Some song by them was played by Casey, but I paid it no heed.

It was the following year, when they dropped the Jefferson and became simply Starship, that ‘We Built This City’ with all its hard pop (or is it soft rock?) rhythms burst onto the airwaves, the first of several instantly popular (but inherently appallingly vacuous) songs that stormed the charts (remember ‘Nothing’s gonna stop us now’ or ‘Sarah’? No? Good!).

And that was how I first became acquainted with the music of Grace Slick, co-lead vocalist of Starship, and formerly the lead singer of Jefferson Airplane, by then the distant ancestor of Starship, who had led the smooth slow moving wave of psychedelic rock in the late 1960s, around the time I was born.

Sad to say, I am not very musically curious. Because they were not played on the radio for some strange reason (I wonder why), I know next to nothing about the music of The Ramones, The Grateful Dead, Motley Crüe or The Violent Femmes. Likewise, I only really discovered psychedelic rock about five years ago, when a colleague dragged me along one boozy Friday night after work to an Ethiopian cafe in Footscray, crowded predominantly with late baby boomers, to listen to a local psychedelic rock cover band. They were good, really getting that elusive sound of psychedelic rock just right, making me feel like I had been at Monash Uni 20 years earlier than when I had actually studied there.

It also got me very curious to discover more about psychedelic rock. For that, Apple Music (which I am hopeless at navigating) proved to be pretty useful.

Which led me to White Rabbit, and the band that performed it, Jefferson Airplane. And inevitably to another side of Grace Slick, whom I only knew from Starship.

There are such darkly beautiful brooding lyrics in White Rabbit, like:

‘And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall

Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call

And call Alice, when she was just small.’

Sixteen years is a long time – from 1969 when that song was a hit, to 1985, when Starship burst out again with their insipid soft rock sound (although there was nothing insipid about Grace Slick’s strong vocalising, even then), was my entire lifetime to that point in time. We went from Apollo 11 to the eve of the Challenger disaster, from the bowels of the Vietnam War to the last few years of the Cold War. We went from a time of hippies to the age of yuppies.

And we went from the beautiful music that Grace Slick wrote and sang in her prime to Bernie Taupin’s formulaic hits.

I think it is really sad. Much as I am a very conservative person, I find it a tragedy that the hippies faded away the way they did, and that the troubadours and minstrels who sang the anthems of an angry generation at Woodstock then sold out and gave my own generation such insipid tunes.

Grace Slick never believed in singing into her old age. She retired gracefully, and her voice has not been heard in many years. Perhaps, it would have been better if she had stopped after Woodstock, long before Jefferson Airplane reinvented itself into the musical space wreak (morbidly apt given NASA in early 1986) that was Starship.

Published by Ernest Zanatta

Narrow minded Italian Catholic Conservative Peasant from Footscray.

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