Monday, 8 August 2011

One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small And the ones that mother gives you don’t do anything at all

Songs Everybody Should Know

“White Rabbit” by the Jefferson Airplane (1967)  

From the ‘Summer of Love”, with its classic psychedelic-era chords, a tinge of Spanish ‘bolero’ and the anti-establishment marching beat, “White Rabbit” is tie-dyed on my brain.  Banned as a ‘drug’ song, my older sister (quite young at the time) told me it was about drugs. She told me there were ‘pushers’ that made you ‘hooked’ on drugs.  I said “I thought Alice was in Wonderland”. She said, “Listen to the song! She takes drugs if you call that Wonderland!” (Much to my sister’s delight this song was used as the theme song in the 1973 movie “Go Ask Alice”).

Grace Slick sang in a band called the “Great Society” and when the original lead singer for Jefferson Airplane, Signe Anderson decided to move to Oregon to raise her kid, Grace was asked to join the band. As Grace herself says about herself: “I thought the flat-chested, kinky-brown-haired sarcastic bitch was breaking down another barrier in Barbie Land”. One of the original divas of rock, she does have attitude, and yes, you can hear it in the way she sings.

From the album ‘Surrealistic Pillow”, according to Grace Slick it cost $8,000 to make pulled in $8 million in sales.   Written by Grace, “White Rabbit’ was intended as a poke at the hypocrisy of the generation consuming alcohol, and ‘legal’ medical drugs while preaching about how bad the ‘new’ drugs like LSD, marijuana, and cocaine, etc.were. They read us books written by the opium-smoking Lewis Carroll’s  like“Alice in wonderland” talking about ‘fun with chemicals’ as she puts it – also Peter Pan sprinkles white dust and suddenly we can fly – cocaine. Dorothy and her entourage follow the yellow brick road and like poppies – opiates.  Really? Alice was the ultimate druggie taking uppers, downers, and consuming psilocybin (mushrooms) and smoking hashish with the caterpillar. Grace's  point (or her excuse as the case may be) was that how could she not have been curious about drugs after all those stories?

So was there reason to be concerned about the drug implications of this song? It was the probably the same people drinking Canadian Club and smoking du Maurier cigarettes that banned the song in Canada. In my case I had my sister to save me – but what about the countless other innocents out there? Banning it? Really? It was exactly the ‘big brother’ crap she was talking about.

Grace experimented with drugs from her teenage years and later had very serious addiction issues. She had been dubbed “The Acid Queen” at one point with her propensity to consume high volumes of LSD. There is video footage of her in some concerts so high she can barely perform. 

The song itself peaked at #8 on the charts and Haight-Ashbury counterculture was alive and well in San Francisco. The single “Somebody to Love” peaked at #3 and also gets strong radio rotation to this day.

Originally formed in 1965, and influenced by the British invasion and folk music, Jefferson Airplane performed at some of the most pivotal concerts in rock history including the “Human Be-in” (1967) Monterey (1967),Woodstock (1969), Altamont (1969) as well as headlining the first Isle of Wight Festival. Of course there were some other very important members of Jefferson Airplane including Marty Balin and Paul Kantner who founded the group.  

A number of evolutions came after Jefferson Airplane including Jefferson Starship and then just ‘Starship’ which in my opinion was already past the end of the road. The follow-up to “Surrealistic Pillow”, called “After Bathing at Baxter’s” was not as strong an album going to #17. A number of albums followed, never near the success of “Surrealistic:”

Grace Slick was one of the first true female rock stars, later influencing the likes of Stevie Nicks and Patti Smith.  Long retired, Grace is alive and well at 72 showing her paintings and drawings around the U.S.

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