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The Jefferson Airplane Gets You There on Time

By Jeffrey C. Alexander

Jefferson is the name of a musical airplane from San Francisco. Marty Balin, Grace Slick, Paul Kather, Jack Cassady, and Jorma Ludwing Kaukonen. Once they played for nothing in the pure air of Haight-Ashbury, a hilly San Francisco neighborhood. Lately they have straightened up a bit, just enough to become the first super-star hippy musicians in America's history. Their rock is harder than the Lovin Spoonful's, their lyrics are heavier than the Rolling Stones', their message is sweeter than the Beatles'--the Jefferson Airplane is closer to where it's at than anyone else.

I don't like to say our sound is pop music--expect that its popular. And it is not the old hard rock, there isn't any of that anymore. Our music is the San Francisco expression of rock 'n' roll. I'm not saying that San Francisco has only one type of music--like the old "Liverpool Sound"--but with all the groups it's the same thought. Their head are where ours are. It's like love, but not that corny.

On stage with the yellow smoke and the red and blue spot lights, they look grown-up, five men and a woman. Grace has long brown hair which is not straight but curled at the bottom. Not sallow-faced, fire-eyed, Haight-Ashbury, hippy girl. But almost pinkcheeked Wellesley. Long eye-lashed and colgate-smiled.

You should live according to yourself. But you just feel rank when somebody comes up and classifies and says you are in Box Q or Bag 8. I would like to think I can put my head in more places than just Haight-Ashbury, but when I go shopping I'm still going to buy what I like--costumes, not dresses. Down to the floor and up over the head. Anything wild.

She stands softly before the performance and plays with the microphone. "Do you think it should be louder?" she asks a curly haired boy in the front row. "Uh-uh, it's fine," he replies. But Grace tells the Unicorn to turn it up because the airplane is here to play their music and everybody should hear it easily.

Most popular music has been an insult to people. But a group doesn't have to cater to the Top 40 market. I really believe if you're doing something honestly, people will come to it. We are part of the beginning of what's happening. We are heavier now and I hope we get freakier.

The little elf-man with a pointed chin and hair carefully waved over his forehead is the partner of Grace, Marty Balin. He started the Airplane. He is their Voice, the aching, trembling sound he cries into every song. He is less easy than Grace, worries about many things, carries a hurt air with him. His eyes are no more than black pinheads and you sense he doesn't speak to his enemies. He is more than serious about his work.

Marty slumps on the back of the platform. Grace sets a fresh stick of incense on the electric piano's music stand. The other three players tune and warm.

The voice over the loudspeaker introduces "the Jefferson Airplane, the finest sound ..." Grace interrupts. "We're not ready yet. Don't introduce us. When we're ready, we'll just start playing."

After a short while Grace walks to the front, takes a square stance toward the audience, and forces the beginning of Somebody to Love. She wrote the song.

When they sing, it is a machine in six-part fluid motion. They concentrate hard, intense craftsmen, conscientious. You are sure this is the best they have ever done. It is the best they have ever done.

We never come on stage with any approach, any list of songs. It all has to be spontaneous. We're attuned to anything that might happen. This is a freer and looser attitude. It keeps us totally involved with the audience.

The stage begins to color with the airplane sound and the Bostonians are first impressed, then taken in, then open-mouthed, turned-on. This is what they came from San Francisco to show us. Grace has closed her eyes. The sound is inside her, pushing the brown hair around her shoulders. Now she is looking at Marty who is staring at something out in back of the audience. The guitars are jamming against each other.

The sound is up now, and purple. Marty is straining. Grace turns her head to one side and pushes hard at her voice. It is a high wall.

You see, we used to have this other girl instead of Grace and it was easy for me because she could never get off of her one note. But Grace has a much stronger voice and there is something to work with. We compete and keep each other on our toes. Sometimes I'll sing one of her notes and fight her for it. I've gotten a lot better because of her.

Everybody in the group works against someone. Jack and Jorma, Spencer and Paul. When the Beatles were at the height of their popularity, it was more of a group sound. Something was expected from each man. They didn't have the ego hassles that we have. Maybe that's because today's group members' are better musicians. Each of us has had a lot of background in traditional blues and folk. The old rock 'n' roll musicians learned to play from listening to the Top 40.

Somebody To Love is over. Marty walks forward and picks a book off of one of the front tables, "The Autobiography of Lenny Bruce." "I just bought a copy this afternoon," he tells the book's owner. He turns to the rhythm guitar player, "Hey, Paul, look at this." Paul says "Yeah, it's a great book."

No, I'm not a hippy as most people think of it. That's just a newspaper term, a label. I'm not a typical Haight-Ashbury resident, hanging around the city and drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk. We used to be that way, though, two years ago when we weren't working. In one sense, though, we are hippies. This involves reshaping your head, being more outside the establishment than anti-establishment. It is a more positive thing than the militants at Berkeley, who bore me intensely.

They begin to reassemble in the center of the stage for the second number. Marty says goodbye to the blond in the fifth row. Paul and Spencer leave their drinks on the bass amplifier. Then somebody in the audience shouts out "Why don't you ever play My Best Friend?" Nobody seems to have heard the request and Jorma and Jack continue tuning their guitars.

Although we did it well, it is not us. Too ticky-tacky and rah-tata-ta. We are more clang, zip, boom. I think we're heavier--at least we're louder.

They are just about ready. Paul, in blue suede shoes and Wild Bill Hick-ok jacket, stations himself on the left, behind Grace. Jack, platinum blond page boy and rimless sun-glasses, is on the right. "Why aren't you all at the Be-In?" he asks. "We invite all of you there after the show." Finally Marty steps forward and says "We'd like to do a thing for a Sunday afternoon. It's an old Fillmore song."

We wanted to reach more people so we needed a hit song. We took "My Best Friend," which was a groovy tune to start off with, and commercialized it. It made number one in San Fran-

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