too much typing—since 2003


point that thing somewhere else

I've always thought Grace Slick had one of the more compelling voices in rock. I've also thought it a bit odd that she's usually underplayed when the (generally tedious) discussion of strong women in rock comes up - perhaps the absolutely horrific music she was involved with during the '80s and '90s made the idea seem a bit rude, like belching loudly during a golf tournament.

Anyway. The thing about Slick that I've always liked is that she has no patience with the notion that she's supposed to be nice. She's sharp, witty, aggressive, off-kilter, more than a bit strange at times, particularly in her sense of humor. And even though when I mentioned Slick's voice above, I was referring to her literal voice, its actual sound, it's also true that those qualities show up in her songwriting voice as well (a bit less apparent in her musicianly voice: she does play piano, organ, and the occasional recorder, but the credits on the CDs I have are sketchy about who plays what where, and other piano players are listed). An example of that odd, slightly off-putting sense of humor is "Lather" (from 1968's Crown of Creation). Of course there's a bit of a political edge to the song's lyrics, but Slick's alternately bemused and queasy portrait of an overgrown baby is miles away from the usual we-are-children-in-the-garden hippie blah-blah.

Last week I put up two tracks that set one of Thomas Pynchon's ditties to music; here's more litrachur for yuz, in the form of the cut-n-paste Ulysses that is Jefferson Airplane's "Rejoyce" (from After Bathing at Baxter's, the band's 1967 shambolic* masterpiece). Like the novel (I suppose) the song is polymorphous, structurally and stylistically; if nothing else, the song avoids the slavish "aren't we sophisticated" vibe of too many literary adaptations.

Finally, moving along from relatively straightforward if odd storytelling, to fractured modernist narratives, to completely what-the-fuck-land: "Eskimo Blue Day," from Volunteers, 1969 - the first Airplane album I picked a grade-school benefit fair in a whitebread upper-middle-class suburb in the mid-seventies. Also found: The Fugs' Tenderness Junction, Fifty Foot Hose's Cauldron, and Timothy Leary's Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. I thought it was like finding The Ray Conniff Singers' Greatest Hits in a metalhead's collection. As far as I can tell, this song's about another hippie fixation, in this case nature. But the usual hippie nature song is all about we-are-children-in-the-garden (that phrase sounds familiar. Damned short-term memory loss), whereas this is about nature's monumental indifference, at least if the recurring line "doesn't mean shit to a tree" has anything to do with it.

Jefferson Airplane "Lather"
Jefferson Airplane "Rejoyce"

Jefferson Airplane "Eskimo Blue Day"

* I've used the word. Can I be a British rock critic now?

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