Saturday, January 30, 2016

Random Recollections: Paul Kantner, R.I.P.

Paul Kantner passed away this week, and with all such passings there are many memories associated. Earlier this month we lost David Bowie, Dallas Taylor (drummer for CSN&Y) and Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey, and it should now be apparent that until we ourselves make that final goodbye we of the Boomer generation will be tipping the hat to many others who made an impact on our lives through music, film, prose and other media.

As for me Kantner and the Jefferson Airplane were part of this fabric that formed the musical backdrop over which a portion of my life was played. Their "golden years" were the late Sixties and early Seventies, golden in part because we were young and naive. Birthed from the womb of the San Francisco music scene they were a symbol of counterculture rhetoric and lifestyle, and instrumental in the formation of our notions of acid rock.

I first saw the Jefferson Airplane at Wall Stadium in New Jersey, 1971. The weather was beautiful, the skies blue, the stadium packed. Earlier that spring it was rumored the Airplane would be in Washington D.C. for the anti-war rally on MayDay weekend. They were a no-show, proving that rumors are unreliable, though the Beach Boys performed and Phil Ochs turned out after midnight.

For several years I identified with the messages in my of their songs, including "Lather" (Crown of Creation) and "The Other Side Of This Life," which opens side B of Bless Its Pointy Little Head. Some of the music was escapist, and some clearly tapped into the nerve of youth's confusion and rage against the machine.

The Wall Stadium concert featured many of the songs from their Volunteers album, and introduced the crowd to Papa John Creach, who began playing bars in 1935 Chicago, entertained us with some sizzling electric violin licks. I have many good memories associated with that summer afternoon.

In the early Nineties, while walking around the Douglas County Fair with our kids I heard a band playing "Crown of Creation" in the Superior Speedway. It sounded like the Airplane and stopped me in my tracks, causing me to go check it out, see who was performing. It seemed strange for me for it was indeed them, or a pale reflection of what was left of them. A young dark-haired clone took the place of Grace Slick. Marty Balin had left in the early Seventies around the time Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy split to create Hot Tuna. It seemed like there were only fifty or so people in the speedway stands and a couple dozen more on the dirt track where stock cars usually run. Pathetic turnout. I couldn't help feel an emptiness as I recalled the concert twenty years previous, when our ideals were inflamed to believe that love would win and materialism would be overturned to be replaced with a new world.

Drugs and fame knocked off quite a few of the rock heroes whose names were familiar to all of us. Janis, Jimi, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones... Fame casts a harsh spotlight. Those who achieve it aren't always comfortable with what it brings.

As Jim Morrison himself observed, "no one here gets out alive."  It's what we do while we're here that matters. Paul Kantner made music. He tried to deliver a message that he believed was needed: hope. It's something everyone needs, especially when they are young.

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