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Jefferson Airplane Takes off

PostPosted: Sun Oct 31, 2010 9:09 am
by judith
This post relates to, is a spin off from Grace Slick's birthday video in the YouTube section. I'm sticking it down here because it's a total thread drift and in the end, a lengthy, meandering bit of offshore folklore. I must forewarn, though I rarely enthuse in or even speak about the past I am indulging myself here this evening.

"Jefferson Airplane Takes Off", with Signe Toly Anderson as the female vocalist, will always remain my favorite of the band's output. And though I love the later stuff mentioned on Grace's birthday thread, tracked into time, Grace Slick Jefferson Airplane has become something too artificially symbolic to me. Not their fault at all. The music and the activities of the 60's have been so heavily overwritten, that everything about it, including my personal memory, has become saturated to the point of drowning and for some unknown reason the 'symbolism' (expressed in over serious droning fashion) often ascribed to the era particularly pisses me off tonight. Therefore, I almost didn't click on the Grace Slick thread... but I respectfully read it and looked at the videos and whilst doing so, I came across the video I am posting below. And what do you know, for the first time in ever so long, my own personal memory emerged, and I remembered the music and the dancing, instead of the extemporaneous shit..., take a look, have a listen.

I was skeptical about the authenticity of the video at first - they've lined the footage up with the track and the light show appears to have been added on top at times (though I wonder if that's Jerry Abrams of Headlights?) - but then, at 1:40 in, I was stunned to see my roommate and running partner at that time! Good Lord, I was at this concert. (She is the slim dark haired girl in the sleeveless top, all of 19 then. One of her nicknames in school was "Olive Oil".)

By today's images of the 60's, the audience looks 'straight' and thus would befuddle many, yet the mixed (only in appearance) crowd is a true representation. The picture most often painted of the era is more of the later 60's, perhaps the early 70's. For example, in the video most of the girls do not have ratted, bouffant hair - that's a giveaway. Mainstream girls looked more like the dark haired girl at 2:05 in with the beehive hairdo. Notice the girl in the beehive's bra and then see that many of the girls are not wearing bras. Quite shocking then. On the guys, facial hair is not of the norm at that time even in the emerging counterculture though it was quicker to grow than long hair and thus you're more apt to see a mustache or beard here and there on the video than long hair.

Some of the audience who attended this concert would have been San Francisco State students, Berkeley too and thereby from other parts of the globe. Others would have been college dropouts like myself and my friend Olive Oil from small towns or downright rural areas in Marin and Sonoma County on the coast to the north of San Francisco or from the inland Bay Area ranging suburbs and the farmlands to the east and south. Though we were living in San Francisco at the time of this concert, my friend and I were from Sonoma County which had a sort of bohemian type scene. 'Subterranean' might be a better word. I remember the first time I walked in the door of the Apex Bookstore in Santa Rosa, a smallish room filled with cigarette smoke (uncommon and frowned upon in the world of my youth) and the sound of an acoustic guitar from some unidentifiable dark corner. I don't think I was yet 18 for my older brother had smuggled me in through the back door alley entrance ("16 will get you 20"). I'd already been introduced to the notion that something vague and exciting was going on somewhere out there. I was an avid reader and had been babysitting for a couple whom I now know were hardcore beatniks (nothing was obvious in the early to mid 60's) and late an evening while the baby slept I discovered straight off, "Giovanni's Room". Most importantly, next to the bookshelf with its James Baldwin, Hubert Selby, Alan Watts, and Kenneth Rexroth poetry translations were stacks of folk albums wide ranging in genre and cultural origins. Unbeknownst to me, and thanks to these folk recording companies (Folkways among others?), I was soon to hear Howlin Wolf, Lightning Hopkins, Brownie Terry and Sonny McGee not to mention The Holy Modal Rounders when my older brother shared his music with me and then in time took me to the Apex that night and I sat very quietly with a disinterested look, as I'd been carefully coached, and observed without the help of a film screen a few old school New York hard liners and somewhere in the mix musicians like Tom Hobson, Dan Hicks, both with links to the Red Dog Salon in Virginia City, Nevada. The Golliwogs/Creedence (and bands like them) were soon performing at the local fairgrounds. Psychedelic bands whose names have been long forgotten or rarely known except by people like me - bands like Wildflower - were emerging. By the time 1966 hit, should I have even considered it, resistance to the ever increasing lure of the music would have been impossible and the lure was dangling above San Francisco.

Accurate chronological memory is also impossible. In retrospect, it is astounding how quickly it all happened then just as quickly exploded, poof, and all that remained was/is a heavily annotated blur. In the majority of the photos of the early part of the era, the photographers focused on the most outrageous subjects they could find. Well, I would have too. But even as far along as 1966, all that was to come was still abstruse. I mean, just check out the audience in the video I posted in comparison to the photographs of the first Human Be-in which I was to attend a mere couple of months later in the beginning of 1967.

The only thing that rings clearly today is the music, good or bad, and thereby I can occasionally search out the times of certain happenings by the recording dates. Doing so today, I realized that, coincidentally or not (and I doubt that it was) a large contingent of people like my friend and I - moved to San Francisco in 1966 somewhere around the time Chet Helms/The Family Dog and Bill Graham started holding concerts at The Avalon Ballroom and The Fillmore Auditorium.

"Jefferson Airplane Takes Off" became hard copy in the fall of that same year so pivotal for many of us, sleeved and slipped in amongst those which only slightly preceded it - Paul Butterfield's "East West", "Blonde on Blonde" to name a couple. Today, one song off that album accompanied by nearly solid images of the people I once danced alongside evoked for me experiences and associations as abstract and elusive as the scent of the unknown brand of Chinese incense purchased in San Francisco's Chinatown that accompanied my first whiff of marijuana smoke (rather than the Nag Champa now associated with the hippie culture). It was like remembering Fire before it was discovered, engaging in the gathering of sticks for no reason at all. Recognizing sorrow in Billie Holiday's voice, finding riches in the impossibly beautiful Sam Cooke, expressing joy dancing by yourself to "I Want To Hold Your Hand" full blast out of the speakers when there's nobody else in the house...and then one day what do you know, you aren't the only one dancing and there you are in a full house beside a stage with three people on it, leaning up against a speaker bigger than you are and the monolith is blasting out "Purple haze all in my brain...". Now that's FIRE and nobody's symbol but my own.

I know that within these randomly expressed and vague recollections lie the roots of the San Francisco sound and phenomenon (different even from its neighbor, Berkely) - some of them anyways, and I also know that I am suggesting that the music and the lifestyle were synonymous. Still are, I would think. It's just that when music is a voice, as it sometimes is, it carries that for which there is no other means of transport, not even within one's own memory.

For those who are unfamiliar:

Wikipedia has an article on the Red Dog Saloon, but it's slanted in that oddly sensationalized way I should, by now, be able to take for granted. More in keeping with this post, here's the band Wildflower's take on the Red Dog Saloon:

Re: Jefferson Airplane Takes off

PostPosted: Sun Oct 31, 2010 10:01 am
by will vine
judith wrote:It's just that when music is a voice, as it sometimes is, it carries that for which there is no other means of transport, not even within one's own memory.

"Meandering offshore folklore" - well it certainly is Judith, but having read it twice and still not thinking I've got it all down, I want to thank you for a great piece. Someone who was actually there....!

Brilliant line (above). I wish I'd said that.............(And I will).

Re: Jefferson Airplane Takes off

PostPosted: Sun Oct 31, 2010 11:26 am
by AndyM
Judith - meandering my foot. Please write more!! Rich & resonant & heartfelt & a gift to those lucky enough to read it.

Re: Jefferson Airplane Takes off

PostPosted: Sun Oct 31, 2010 12:21 pm
by john poole
Some great reading for a Sunday morning. Thank you Judith.

The 'It's No Secret' clip I believe was filmed in August, 1966 and was included in a Bell Telephone Hour TV special. "Jefferson Airplane Takes Off" didn't get a UK release until 1971, although RCA did include three or four tracks from it on the strange original British version of "Surrealistic Pilliow".

A CD has just been issued with Signe's final appearance with the group which I hope she will get some royalties from, as the last I heard (possibly ten years ago?) she was not doing that well financially. ... s-Farewell

Re: Jefferson Airplane Takes off

PostPosted: Sun Oct 31, 2010 1:13 pm
by NormanD
Thank you, Judy. Please keep 'em coming.

Re: Jefferson Airplane Takes off

PostPosted: Sun Oct 31, 2010 2:25 pm
by Hugh Weldon
Thank you for such a fascinating piece Judith. It's great to see people contributing a real piece of thought out writing, as Pete has done recently as well. Maybe more of us should try something like this from time to time.

Re: Jefferson Airplane Takes off

PostPosted: Sun Oct 31, 2010 2:55 pm
by Adam Blake
judith wrote: all that remained was/is a heavily annotated blur.

That line says more than any number of books and documentaries on the subject.

Just really good writing: truthful, economical and poetic. Wish I could write like that!

Re: Jefferson Airplane Takes off

PostPosted: Sun Oct 31, 2010 6:19 pm
by garth cartwright
Beautiful! On occasions like this Judith you write as well as Michael Ventura when he reflects on the 60s - he was at Woodstock and once wrote, similar to you, how straight a lot of the people there were. The media concept of hippies everywhere is undermined whenever we get to see footage of old music events - at some of the British festivals in the 60s some youth still wear ties!

The blur of memory navigated by music is always an interesting one and Judith is such a gifted chronicler. Are you experienced? asked Jimi. Judith very much is and in those experiences she allows us to see the Haight Ashbury hippie culture on a more human level. Thanks!

Re: Jefferson Airplane Takes off

PostPosted: Sun Oct 31, 2010 6:30 pm
by AndyM
Slight thread drift, but not entirely.... The retrospective depictions of 'youth culture unanimity' isn't confined to the late 60s. 1970s punk gigs were not by any means full only of Mohican-ed Westwood casualties - plenty of the audience were in flares, or in otherwise 'ordinary' clothes, etc. I guess it's easier and tidier to paint a picture where there was a presumed but inaccurate instant subcultural cohesion.

Re: Jefferson Airplane Takes off

PostPosted: Sun Oct 31, 2010 8:57 pm
by judith
Thank you very much, each and everyone. The comments you have written here make writing well worth the effort. I do not think there is a better and more interactive 'audience' in the world than the likes of erudite 'British' (in yankee speak) as is illustrated by this forum. You all READ things set before you! And comment on it, fluently, with other than monosyllabic words (that's how we talk in N. Calif. You take a word and reduce it to the fewest syllables you can use yet keep it somewhat understandable). Over the years that I have been on SOTW, I feel I have picked up an education on more than music.

Hugh - I have recently been inspired by the posts on the forum, like Pete Fowler's and Garth's Portugal account. I highly recommend trying to write something lengthy that requires thought, involves care. For starts, it gave me something to value over the useless fretting over politics I had recently fallen into.

John - thank you very much for the date of the video. I had tried to see when that concert was without luck. I really hope Signe gets some royalties. Occasionally over the years, I have wondered where she was, what she was doing. We really loved her, felt she was a strong and important member and hated to see her leave the band. Though Grace Slick did carry off the vocals, her presence was no where near Signe's. Grace was always self-aware whereas you can see in the "It's No Secret" clip how completely engaged Signe is with the song. Grace Slick had a way about her that did not inspire fondness.

Andy - thanks for "'youth culture unanimity'" and "presumed but inaccurate instant subcultural cohesion". I wouldn't call your post a thread drift at all because as I was writing the above, these things kept coming to mind, perhaps fueled it.

Garth - I always remember with fondness the look on my niece's face when she was watching old footage of some love-in and she said, "Everybody looks like they just washed their hair! No one is dirty! You weren't dirty!"

Re: Jefferson Airplane Takes off

PostPosted: Sun Oct 31, 2010 9:14 pm
by judith
Will, I've go to tell you - last night before I went to bed, I thought I'd go in and clean up some errors on what I'd written before anyone read it. After I posted it, I saw your comment and that which you'd quoted. I looked up at my post and realized I'd somehow deleted parts of that sentence. So, thanks for your comment and thanks to you or I would have lost that sentence. That'll teach me.

Re: Jefferson Airplane Takes off

PostPosted: Mon Nov 01, 2010 1:19 am
by john poole
Judith, I've been looking to see if there had been any recent news of Signe, and discovered a recent radio station telephone interview here -

Re: Jefferson Airplane Takes off

PostPosted: Mon Nov 01, 2010 5:13 am
by judith
Thanks, John. I've listened and I was surprised at first by her down home manner, way of speaking ("gal"), though I don't know why I should be. Probably because I associated her with cities (Portland, S.F.) though Portland can be not as urban as many cities. She lives in a lovely little town not far from Portland on the ocean with quite a famous rock nearby - Haystack rock. I was sorry to hear she is ill again but she is very upbeat about everything. You don't often hear stories of bands on the road from the perspective of a mother with a small child. I was also glad to hear that she and Grace Slick are friends. I hope this new cd does well for her.