It’s hard to describe San Francisco in the 1960s. I certainly wasn’t there. (Even if I had been, I would have been too young to understand what was going on.) But the Bay Area was THE place to be in the middle years of that decade. Jefferson Airplane,The Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and occasionally Young, and Janis Joplin all came out of the same area. 1967 gave us the Summer of Love in San Francisco. There are a limited number of cities that I would love to live in. San Francisco is on that list. In the mid-1980s, I lived about an hour inland from San Francisco and visited it as often as I could. There is something special about the Bay Area.
I will admit that the earthquakes would scare me off, though. I remember the earthquake of 1989. I was doing laundry while the kids had “quiet time.” (This had replaced naps.) The phone rang. It was my mother. She had been watching the World Series when the screen went blank and the announcers said that a huge earthquake had hit the city. She must have gotten her call through just before the lines became overfilled with worried relatives. She wanted to know if we were safe. I was a little surprised and told her that for us to feel the quake, San Francisco would have to have fallen off into the sea. At that moment, I saw the groundswell. It was like an ocean swell, but through the earth. I saw it coming toward me and felt the earth rise several inches and then it passed on by. I got off the phone and had the kids halfway out the door when the second groundswell hit. We spent quite a while outside before I decided that it was over and that the house was structurally sound. That was close enough for me.
Anyway, back to Jefferson Airplane. Paul Kantner was one of the founding members. His vocals were one of the best parts of the group. He kept things going after the group fell apart, reforming as Jefferson Starship, and eventually as just Starship. Often, he was the only member of the original band keeping things going. He died on 29 January 2016 of multiple organ failure and septic shock following a heart attack a few days earlier. He was 74.
When I think of female lead singers for the band, I think of Grace Slick. Her voice was what rocketed the band to the mega-success they enjoyed. But Gracie was not the first female lead that they had. Signe Toly Anderson was the first female lead they had. Her voice was similar to Grace’s but lacking the laser beam-power that Grace possessed. Signe also died on 28 January 2016. She was also 74 but died as a result of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
As one of the bands who started the psychedelic rock sound, Jefferson Airplane helped define music in the late 1960s. In 1996, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and 20 years later, in 2016, they received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
One of my personal favorites is “White Rabbit.” When I was a kid, I had no idea that this song was about drugs. According to Grace, the song is a slap at parents who read Alice in Wonderlandto their kids and then wonder why later in life they do drugs, given the drug use that is rampant in the books. Think about it: Alice is continually drinking or eating things that make her bigger or smaller. And just what is the caterpillar smoking in his hookah? (She also took Ravel’s Bolero as an inspiration in how the song starts simply and keeps building and building. She also borrowed some of his chord structure.) I know that she also loved the books and felt that the white rabbit stands for curiosity. Grace refuses to sing in public these days, feeling that Mick Jagger is making a fool of himself and she refuses to do the same. Now, she paints pictures of white rabbits and has a garden filled with ceramic bunnies.
What stories do you have about Jefferson Airplane or Starship? Have you ever been in an earthquake? Let me know in the comments below. I’ll be playing some of their songs this week on my Minnich Music Facebook page, so check them out.
Until next time!