January 29, 2016

Wow! This WaPo front-page squib for Paul Kantner irks me.



The Jefferson Airplane was one of the greatest manifestations of the 1960s. Why would you reference a 1980s song — a song many people loathe — from a later iteration of the band that didn't even include Paul Kantner?

I don't like being one of those people who make obituaries about their seemingly personal relationship with the deceased, so I'll just say, "Surrealistic Pillow," framed, has hung over my fireplace for many years....

P1330386

The Jefferson Airplane... Love them. I'll read the NYT obit:
Paul Kantner, a founding member of Jefferson Airplane... died... of multiple organ failure and septic shock....

“Paul was the catalyst that brought the whole thing together,” [ lead guitarist Jorma] Kaukonen said in an interview on Thursday. “He had the transcendental vision and he hung onto it like a bulldog. The band would not have been what it was without him.”...

Mr. Kantner came to be seen as the intellectual spokesman for the group, with an ideology, reflected in his songs, that combined anarchic politics, an enthusiasm for mind-expansion through LSD and science-fiction utopianism. The song “Wooden Ships,” which he wrote with Stephen Stills and David Crosby, was emblematic, describing a group of people escaping a totalitarian society to create their own freedom in a place unknown....

“For us it was about new frontiers,” Mr. Kantner told the website Wales Online in 2009, speaking about the Airplane. “The whole world was going through these forward steps — beautiful, amazing stuff — much of it working, much of it not working. Revolution is not the right word for it, but it was progress.”
Horror grips us as we watch you die/All we can do is echo your anguished cry/And stare as all your human feelings die/We are leaving, you don't need us/Go and take a sister by her hand/Lead her far from this foreign land/Somewhere where we might laugh again/We are leaving, you don't need us...

83 comments:

Fabi said...

He deserved to die for writing that song.

Too soon?

Grant said...

I see Hejira and More Songs About Building and Food up there too. Excellent.

lgv said...

Don't let the obit writer handle Dylan's obit when he dies. We'd end up with a reference to a Traveling Wilburys tune.

RAH said...

I loved Surrealistic Pillow. Not surprised and the snarky obit Kantor was difficult Very good composer. I remember when he and Grace named their child China . Seemed too activist to me. But the were the quintessential San Fransisco rock scene

Ann Althouse said...

"He deserved to die for writing that song."

"We Built This City" was written by Bernie Taupin, Martin Page, Dennis Lambert, and Peter Wolf.

Don't blame Paul Kantner for it. He wasn't even in the band Starship, which recorded it. The band wasn't even called Jefferson Starship. And it sure wasn't Jefferson Airplane.

madAsHell said...

I had no idea that he helped write "Wooden Ships".

Ann Althouse said...

"I loved Surrealistic Pillow. Not surprised and the snarky obit Kantor was difficult Very good composer. I remember when he and Grace named their child China . Seemed too activist to me. But the were the quintessential San Fransisco rock scene."

Wasn't the child originally named God? China was a downsizing of the grandiosity.

Snopes checks it out: and quotes Grace Slick:
[A]s I held my newborn baby in my arms, a Spanish nurse came into my hospital room to attend to antiseptics and linens. She was holding a framed certificate that looked like a high school diploma, and she said, "We give these to all the new mothers. You see, it says where she was born, what time, and the name of the baby goes here." She pointed to an empty line in the document. "What is your baby's name?" she asked.

I noticed a crucifix around her neck and spontaneously said, "god. We spell it with a small g because we want her to be humble."

It was only a few hours after my baby had arrived, I was holding the miracle of birth in my arms, and I was already messing with somebody's head. The nurse asked me to repeat what I'd said. I obliged her. After hearing it a second time, deciding that the blasphemy was real, she haltingly entered "god" on the parchment, probably expecting to go through life repeating novenas for her participation in this profanity. When she was through filling in the irreverent name, she ran to the telephone to call Herb Caen, the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper columnist ... He published the information about the birth and the supposed appellation Paul and I had chosen ...

Her real name is China.


Kantner was the father.

John Bragg said...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justin_Moyer
Born 1977. Time passes, and to a new generation, Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Starship lives on more as an 80s pop song and perhaps as the band in the video from the Star Wars Christmas Special than for Go Ask Alice and other psychedelia.

Ann Althouse said...

From the Wikipedia page on China Kantner (who was an MTV VJ in the 80s and did some acting):

Like her mother, Kantner has, over the years, struggled with alcoholism. She has been sober since about 1998... In 1999, she married a Los Angeles dentist, Jamie Azdair, although the couple divorced in 2006. While they were married, she preferred to be known by her married name of China Azdair. On 13 April 2011, Kantner married actor and producer Seth Isler and, again taking her husband's name, now prefers to be known as China Isler.

After retiring from acting, she studied art history at UCLA.[5] In 2007, she obtained a degree in Christian theology (with a minor in English) at Loyola Marymount University. In a 2007 interview, her mother stated, "My daughter loves studying Jesus. Some friends of hers turn their nose up at that. They don't understand that she is not talking about churches and what churches say; she is studying the actual words and message of Jesus."

John Bragg said...

The squib is nowhere near the article. I suspect an even younger junior editor wrote the squib, knowing ONLY "We Built This City". O tempora, o mores!

Fabi said...

It was a (poor) joke. I assumed that he wasn't any part of that hackneyed pop song. But I'm even more distressed to learn that Bernie Taupin actually was. Ouch.

Ann Althouse said...

@John Bragg

I realize that's the case with respect to younger people, but it's not about Paul Kantner and is a disgusting way to present his obituary.

Younger people who value music go back into older things. My son John loved MTV in the 80s and I bought him singles to play on a Fisher-Price children's turntable, including "We Built This City." That might have been his first exposure to the musical lineage that began with Jefferson Airplane. But he certainly went back to earlier music and knows more about the music of the 60s than many people who lived through it (some of whom wrecked their memories in the process, as reflected in the old line "If you remember the 60s, you weren't there").

dustbunny said...

Yes, Surrealistic Pillow was fun, I was in high school and had never heard
the word surrealistic, I thought it was something they made up. Grace Slick, what a perfect name for a rock star!

mccullough said...

I like pleasure spiked with pain and music is my aeroplane

PDG9 said...

Our host is probably already be aware of this, but that backdrop on Joni Mitchell's Hejira album cover is Lake Mendota (upon which she skates on the back cover).

John Bragg said...

@Ann Althouse:
Despite the squib, the Moyer obituary is solid and worth reading.

David Begley said...

Paul Kanter went to Santa Clara. Daughter China earned a degree from Loyola Marymount. Jesuit schools.

LarsPorsena said...

He should only be remembered as Mr. Slick.
You have to really be a 'head' to know any names in Jefferson beyond the divine Grace.

Bob R said...

I loved the Jefferson Airplane in the day and loathed Starship. Bezos better kick some butt at the WaPo. (I'm streaming surrealistic pillow on Amazon Prime, so he's doing something right.)

I really find the lyrics of Airplane and CSNY difficult to listen to now. Its best for me to pretend they are singing in a foreign language that I don't understand.

Laslo Spatula said...

I always liked his bit about LBJ fucking JFK's head wound, but then realized that was Paul Krassner.

I am Laslo.

Bob R said...

"You have to really be a 'head' to know any names in Jefferson beyond the divine Grace." Or a Hot Tuna fan. And Jorma and Jack have a pretty strong following among guitar and bass students that has little to do with Airplane.

'TreHammer said...

"After Bathing at Baxter's" ===> best.every.Airplane.album

William said...

When my generation passes, there will be no one left on earth who cares a fig about the fine gradations between Jefferson Aitplane and Jefferson Starship. I think I read somewhere that rap has now been the dominant popular music form longer than rock was. Ragtime, big band, rock, rap. He wrote some ephemeral songs in an ephemeral genre, and now he's gone.......The term rock is misleading. It was never that solid and durable.

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

Nobody could sing "Up against the wall, motherfuckers" more melodically than Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane.

Probably been 20 years since I heard it but the lyrics to Go Ask Alice are rolling though my head right now. I don't seem to have forgotten them.

I may have Surrealistic Pillow on a cassette somewhere. All I would need then is a cassette player.

In early 1967 I was living across from the panhandle at 1045 Fell St. There used to be free concerts all over the place. I saw Jefferson Airplane with the girl who preceded Grace Slick but I can't remember her name now. Grace made the band what it was.

John Henry

John Henry

Laslo Spatula said...

Man, I saw the Airplane live at the Fillmore. Those were days, I tell you. I was stoned and my pal Malibu was on prime LSD, and we argued about what colors were what in the light show. "That's blue but not blue-blue" I said, and he just laughed and kept saying the word "Ma-gen-ta" over and over...

I met Grace Slick once, with that guy from the band that hung with her, Paul-Something, I think. Kept saying he played guitar -- I wasn't really paying attention, if you know what I mean. I tried to talk Grace into a threesome with the Old Lady but she seemed square that way and shut me down. That's OK though: I later heard she actually had a bad case of Pussy Disease, but what Chick in the Sixties didn't...?

Me and my old lady, we ended up having a kid and named her Revolution, because that was what was happening, you know? We kept our heads fed and our ears to the street. Now she just goes by 'Lou ' -- Rev-o-LOU-shun', get it? She's smart, even though she hates the Sixties. We tell her that if it weren't for the Sixties she'd never have been born, and she says if it wasn't for the Sixties her parents wouldn't be such drug-addled losers...

I am Laslo.

gerry said...

Which anarchic autonomous manufacturer produced their multichannel recorders, synthesizers, guitars, amplifiers, road busses, air-conditioned recording studios, hospitals, restaurants...? The 60s produced insufferable, hypocritical revolutionaries.

Ann Althouse said...

"Our host is probably already be aware of this, but that backdrop on Joni Mitchell's Hejira album cover is Lake Mendota (upon which she skates on the back cover)."

Whoa! I did not know that.

Supposed to be a river...

FullMoon said...

In early 1967 I was living across from the panhandle at 1045 Fell St. There used to be free concerts all over the place. I saw Jefferson Airplane with the girl who preceded Grace Slick but I can't remember her name now. Grace made the band what it was.

John Henry


And, you might see band members out in the neighborhood. Big Brother, Quicksilver, Dead,Airplane. Good times. And then, the whole wide world began taking too much methedrine. Grace Slick was high society girl, or was that just a rumor?

J. Farmer said...

It's always fun to shit on We Built This City but wasn't Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now the true rock bottom of schmaltz for Starship?

Ann Althouse said...

I saw the Jefferson Airplane in Central Park in 1969. And at the Atlantic City Pop Festival in 1969. Here's a list of the bands at that festival. I only attended days 1 and 2, so the third day's list makes me crazy. It's the people I didn't get to see because my ride had to leave:

Friday, August 1, 1969

Booker T. & The MG’s
Chicago
Iron Butterfly
Jefferson Airplane
Joni Mitchell
Little Richard
Mother Earth
Procol Harum
The Chambers Brothers
Add Setlist

Saturday, August 2, 1969

B.B. King
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Hugh Masekela
Jefferson Airplane
Lighthouse
The Byrds
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Tim Buckley
Add Setlist

Sunday, August 3, 1969

Canned Heat
Dr. John
Janis Joplin
Joe Cocker
Santana
Sha Na Na
Sir Douglas Quintet
The Buddy Rich Big Band
The Moody Blues
The Mothers of Invention

Ann Althouse said...

Actually, that set list has mistakes in it. I believe Little Richard was on the third day and I missed him.

Rumpletweezer said...

Professor,

Based on the covers above your mantle, we share the same taste in music. I'm not sure if that should make you feel good or bad.

Laslo Spatula said...

"...so the third day's list makes me crazy. It's the people I didn't get to see because my ride had to leave:"

You missed "Sha Na Na"?

What kind of friends were you hanging with?

If it wasn't for "Sha Na Na" Woodstock would just be remembered now as some place where hypocritical hippies played hypocritical music while people took acid and lived in the mud...

I am Laslo.

Popville said...

For me, it's After Bathing At Baxters.

Grant said...

The Hejira cover, even more complicated than it appears: http://jonimitchell.com/library/view.cfm?id=565

YoungHegelian said...

@JH,

with the girl who preceded Grace Slick but I can't remember her name now.

Signe Toly Anderson

"Wooden Ships" about leaving a totalitarian society? Did the writer listen to it? It's about fleeing to safer lands after a nuclear war.

Static Ping said...

I like "We Built This City." Then again I started with that song and worked my way backwards. The problem is usually with the fans that started at the beginning and do not like the changes to the sound as time goes on. Admittedly, the very pop 80s music of Starship is a lot different than the Jefferson Airplane catalog. If "We Built This City" was performed by, say, Mr. Mister or A Flock of Seagulls, the song would not get nearly as much grief. It is somewhat similar to how the Star Wars prequels are received by younger and older fans.

The Traveling Wilburys were awesome. It's not in the top 5 highlights of Bob Dylan's career and inappropriate for an obit headline, but Dylan has very high standards.

Tank said...

@Althouse

Wow, that was some festival. I wonder what Buddy Rich had to say to Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Maybe, in their world, they hit it off just fine.

Ann Althouse said...

"What kind of friends were you hanging with?"

I can't remember which friend came with me, but my ride was my parents, and for whatever reason, they couldn't leave at midnight on Sunday or the next morning. They had to get back home, and I was good enough to get back to their hotel on Saturday night to be able to leave the next day. For many years, I looked back on that and thought I should have figured out another way home, but I didn't. I was 18.

whswhs said...

Paul Kantner was remarkable for his frequent borrowings from science fiction. "Crown of Creation" contains four lines that differ in only one word from a speech in John Wyndham's "Re-Birth" (one of the classic stories set after a nuclear apocalypse). "Triad" references Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land," and the side of "Blows against the Empire" about highjacking a starship is taken from Heinlein's earlier "Methuselah's Children." According to Patterson's biography, Kantner actually got in touch with Heinlein and paid for the borrowing—of course this was before "information wants to be free." And there are other Kantner songs with more general science fictional themes.

I have to say every time I hear the lines about the starship, "They've been building it up in the air/Ever since 1980," the technooptimism makes me sad.

traditionalguy said...

Great memories of interesting times. Thanks, Professor. We love you.

Michael said...

Funny, I was listening to CSNY singing "Wooden Ships" on Spotify on the way to the office.

Bay Area Guy said...

The best part of the 60s' was, in fact, the music. I would definitely include Jefferson Airplane/Starship in the mix.

The problem was the moral messages and the movement. Taking LSD to "expand the mind" was total bullshit. Trying to tear down the country, too, was total bullshit.

But Yes, I do enjoy the music and a modest dose of the spirit of the times.

Carol said...

Ehh, another album I spent way too much time with.

Wooden Ships - at the time I thought it was some alternatie fantasy, that the White Man came to America on wooden ships, but decided to go home and not ruin it after all. And happily ever after.

jr565 said...

Was never s big fan of Jefferson airplane, though they do have some charm, I guess. My mom loves them.
Was Kantner part of starship? If he had anything to do with we built this city I'll certainly respect his passing now, but in a few months when every thing settles down I'm going to piss on his grave. Because that was a crime against the world.

Laslo Spatula said...

What is the order you would prefer these ten Sixties Icons in which to die. Soonest-to-Latest, of course.

Art Garfunkel.
Paul Simon.
David Crosby.
Stephen Stills.
Graham Nash.
Neil Young.
Paul McCartney.
Ringo Starr.
Joni Mitchell.
Bob Dylan.

My guess is that three of the ten will not be here to greet 2017.

I am Laslo.

jr565 said...

Didn't realize wooden ships was partially written by Kantner. I thought it was just Stills and Crosby.
It's actually one of CSN's better songs. But doesn't it remind you of the movie Waterworld?

who-knew said...

Wooden Ships is a great song, Crosby's vocal on the CS&N version is sublime. Too bad the obut got it's plot-line completely wrong. Like YoungHegelian says, it's a post-apocalyptic song. I can't say any of the Jefferson Airplane albums have really stuck with me, although the song "Turn My Live Down" on Volunteers is one of the all time great rock tunes. But that's Kaukonen not Kantner.

Bill Peschel said...

Listening to Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now -- man, that was the '80s to me in a nutshell: big hair, bright colors, synths, pop music.

I really miss those times.

ganderson said...

I too, always thought that "Wooden Ships" was about the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust.

jr565 said...

Jefferson Airplanes name change evokes the modern worlds decay into corporatism.
When they were just airplanes they were pure and peaceful, one with nature. Airplanes are the old technology. Think of the wright brothers, creating the first airplane. At the time it was revolutionary. But now it's quaint and innocent and primitive. They had a Rousseaian innocence and purity, then as they went to space and graduated to starships they lost touch with the earth and their music turned to shit. Just like the environment which has been raped by the oil companies.
Finally, they became just starship, jettisoning any reference to their old identity, and their music was pure corporate Rock,and everyone hates it and them with a passion,
It also shows the decay of the hippie movement into decadence and corporatism as they all sold out and bought into the rich rock star lifestyles. Now they will vote for Bernie sanders, but they know they are frauds and the members of Jefferson airplane looks on their future selves and weep at what they become.


OR, they changed their name because Jefferson airplane wasn't selling and someone in the band thought it would be be smart to tie themselves to starships and not airplanes.

Quayle said...

My favorite song of that generation:

Look what's happ'nin on the street..
It's affordable care act;
Yes, affordable care act!

Man, good times! Good times!

St. George said...

Cool name. 2-3 hit songs. Pretty lead singer. Other than that...pfft, especially after those Hot Tuna guys left....zzzzz.

William said...

The daughter went on to marry a dentist. My guess is that the children of rock stars, if given the chance, would much sooner be the children of dentists than of rock stars. When your mother names you god or China or some such thing, you yearn for bourgeoise values and a predictable life. No child wants to be hugged by mommy when she's having a bad LSD trip.

Will Cate said...

"After Bathing At Baxter's" is my favorite acid-rock album. R.I.P. Paul

William said...

We Built This Town isn't such a bad song. It's the lyrics that are banal........I listen to Puccini during my nap time. The melodies are truly sublime, but the lyrics not so much. However, they're in Italian so it doesn't matter. Maybe if Jefferson had sung it In Italian, like Volare, it would have fared better.

EDH said...

Their sound has really held up well over the years.

coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lgv said...

Canned Heat
Dr. John
Janis Joplin
Joe Cocker
Santana
Sha Na Na
Sir Douglas Quintet
The Buddy Rich Big Band
The Moody Blues
The Mothers of Invention

Quite a list. Too bad. Canned Heat, Mothers of Invention, pretty much all dead now. Joplin, Cocker and Santana would have been pretty spectacular for a single day.

Roger Sweeny said...

You have to really be a 'head' to know any names in Jefferson beyond the divine Grace.

Harldy. Jorma Kaukonen (guitar) and Jack Casady(bass) are fairly well-known and still perform as the core of the band Hot Tuna.

From Wikipedia, "Hot Tuna began during a hiatus in Jefferson Airplane's touring schedule in early 1969 while Grace Slick was undergoing recovery from throat node surgery that had left her unable to perform."

love johnson said...

The Airplane were a great live band, a jam band in the vein of The Allman Brothers. If you listen to them live, from Gracie's first show in 1966 to Monterey in 1967 to Woodstock in 1969, they went from a folksy band to a rock-jam band. Much of it was LSD induced, so you never knew what you would get....but when they were on, they were on.

Many say "After Bathing at Baxter's" is their favorite JA live recording....mine is the re-issue of their whole Woodstock set, it's incredible.

Fritz said...

If it wasn't for "Sha Na Na" Woodstock would just be remembered now as some place where hypocritical hippies played hypocritical music while people took acid and lived in the mud...

I am Laslo.


I thought that's what it was known for. I almost went to Altamont with a friend. Kind of wish I had.

Matt said...

Paul Kantner did a few 'solo' albums with members of Jefferson Airplane that are worth a listen including: Blows Against the Empire [1970] and Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun [1973]. RIP.

Anthony said...

I bought the one Starship album with the kid chasing the flying saucer or whatever and liked it. Can't think of a single 60s band I like much at all though. Well, a few that maybe started in the 60s. Maybe you had to have been there.


Okay, I adored Herb Aloert. Just saw him this past week, too.

Sebastian said...

"The Jefferson Airplane was one of the greatest manifestations of the 1960s." This says a lot about that decade.

Paul Snively said...

"Much of it worked, much of it didn't."

"Not a revolution, but progress."

A voice of sanity from the '60s.

A great Michael Douglas film, "The Game," uses "White Rabbit," both in the film and in closing, appropriately, I think. The first time to reference fear of the unknown, and in closing, the promise of the unknown. It works.

RIP, Mr. Kantner.

Sigivald said...

Why would you reference a 1980s song — a song many people loathe — from a later iteration of the band that didn't even include Paul Kantner?

Because the target audience for the news isn't old people?

(I kid.

A little.)

Will Cate said...

love johnson --

"Baxter's" was not a live album.

hoyden said...

Blows Against The Empire, Chrome Nun, and Surrealistic Pillow are still on my mix of favorite music. I don't have anything newer than about 1992.

Douglas said...

I loved the Jefferson Airplane but then I'm the same age as our hostess. For a brief moment in time, they were the best rock band in the United States. Surrealistic Pillow was great but I liked After Bathing at Baxter's even more. "Watch Her Ride" "Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil" "3/5 of a Mile in Ten Seconds" "Won't You Try" "Young Girl Sunday Blues" "Other Side of This Life" - those are the songs I remember and loved the most. RIP Paul.

Douglas said...

To respond to some of the comments above about the Sixties: it had a great soundtrack, but the plot sucked.

coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laslo Spatula said...

Ah Honest Question to the Boomers:

What Boomer has to Die before you say it is all, finally, over?

The Dream finally died?

We can bury dirt on the Coffin of the Sixties?

I am Laslo.

Fabi said...

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band is the sleeper on your line up, Ann. Not that it included a lot of slackers.

jr565 said...

"Don't blame Paul Kantner for it. He wasn't even in the band Starship, which recorded it. The band wasn't even called Jefferson Starship. And it sure wasn't Jefferson Airplane."

my respect for him just went up tenfold.

'TreHammer said...

"After Bathing at Baxter's" was supposedly based on a time when the band dropped acid together. I don't know who Baxter is/was.

Douglas said...

Hi Laslo - I am one of your greatest fans, keep it up. FYI, the Dream died at Altamont.

FullMoon said...

Laslo Spatula said... [hush]​[hide comment]

Ah Honest Question to the Boomers:

What Boomer has to Die before you say it is all, finally, over?

The Dream finally died?

We can bury dirt on the Coffin of the Sixties?

I am Laslo.

I am not to proud to admit I will be very un-happy if Dylan turns out to be mortal.
BTW. The Hells Angel with the knife at Altamont was murdered in San Jose some years back. Chased through a field, if memory serves.

FullMoon said...

'TreHammer said... [hush]​[hide comment]

"After Bathing at Baxter's" was supposedly based on a time when the band dropped acid together. I don't know who Baxter is/was.

Never met Baxter, but Owsley was a favorite.

William said...

I shall not live to see the death of the last big rock star. A melancholy thought. I'll probably live long enough to mourn the passing of David Crosby, but you can't be certain of these things. Wendell Wilkie looked young and vital when he ran against FDR, but, in fact, he had a massive coronary and croaked first......On the bright side , I won't live long enough to see Justin Bieber become the grand old man of the music industry and receive a lifetime achievement award at the Kennedy Center. There's some consolation in that.

Blair said...

We Built This City is a great song. Though I have no idea who Marconi is, or why he is playing the "Mamba" (do they mean "mambo"?)

If you hate it, you're just a dirty hippie looking in the mirror and hating yourself and what you've become. Even though what you wanted to be was a pretty stupid idea in the first place.

chickelit said...

Laslo asked: What Boomer has to Die before you say it is all, finally, over?

His/her own each, duh!

Char Char Binks said...

Do you live at The Rigby?