Jefferson Airplane

The Airplane were born out of San Francisco in the mid-sixties. It was the epicentre of the social revolution and was to host the summer of love in1967. Along with the Grateful Dead they were the musical leaders of the movement. Kids started congregating in the Haight Asbury area of SF and were experimenting with drugs, sex, politics and a whole new lifestyle. It was a youth rebellion against conservative middle America. It became the starting point of opposition to the war in Vietnam.

These were the issues that Jefferson Airplane were singing about. In 1967 they released “Somebody to Love”, a great rock anthem about looking for sexual partners. Followed up by “White Rabbit”, a take on Alice in Wonderland that was referring to the drug culture of the day. It related to the notion that these drugs could expand your consciousness and move you onto a higher spiritual, moral, sexual and political plane. The use of these drugs would obviously fuel this delusion, but t6he call to “Feed your head”, in the songs climax  is a statement that goes beyond drugs.

Touring, festivals and albums would continue, but by 1969 they had released Volunteers. The issues were more to do with politics and going back to the farm. The final title track of the album “Volunteers” was a corrusticating call to arms for the youth of America. This was the social revolution at its height and the lead singer Grace Slick was the high Prophetess. This is the sort of message that would have got the FBI twitching.

A headline in the early morning of Woodstock, was no less than they deserved. What they represented has vanished from the consciousness now, and the message has lost its meaning over fifty years, but back then they were the cutting edge.

During the seventies, the band changed its name and members. The inevitable drug and alcohol problems forced them off track. Slick was sacked for her drinking after abusing a German crowd on tour. By the eighties they had had welcomed her back and had changed into Starship. There were some overproduced soft rock anthems that still packed a punch, condemning corporate America and bigging up the Bay area Revolution.

Although their music has in part lost its relevance, it is a window into a vital and energised time in world history that had never happened before or since. They thought they were changing the world. Their aims were massive and the establishment did not let it happen. But the world did change and the Airplane were on point.

Conway-Laird (2017)

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