This article is a departure for me and for Harvest America Cues. The topic seems distant from the typical content that focuses on life in the kitchen and the profile of professional cooks, but at least from my personal experience there is a grassroots connection. These past few months have been as devastating to the music world as the sequence of iconic deaths in 1970 when Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison all passed away. Those musicians changed the lives of many people even though their own lives of excess led to their demise. In recent weeks we have lost David Bowie, Glenn Frey, and now Paul Kantner. To me, Kantner is the most devastating because his connection to my life was significant. Bowie’s music was stylish and Glenn Frey’s was enjoyable and fun, but Kantner had the ability to make you think, question, and in some cases change.
As the founding member of the Jefferson Airplane – Kantner brought the strong message of American Folk Music through the transitions that only an electric guitar and distortion amp could provide. Together with Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Spencer Dryden, and Grace Slick they built the anthems of a generation, a generation that would collectively help the country see things differently. Yes, of course, much of the 60’s were altruistic and somewhat naïve, but they (we) did, with the help of music, come together and work to bring about some wonderful change. Set aside the drugs and drop out mentality that was the scab of this generation, those who survived were different. They viewed the world as it could be and probably should be. Over time we softened and allowed reality of “the way it is” dictate our lives, but in our hearts the desire to live a better, more inclusive, thoughtful and compassionate life remained. All it would take was a chance listen to some of those musicians who stayed the course to bring us back and make us reflect.
Musicians are people who find a channel for their artistic expression. Sometimes they connect with people and sometimes they do not. Occasionally, they move a generation and become one with people’s memories and sometimes their connection is fleeting. There have been musicians who make us smile, some who make us angry, and yet others who make us want to listen and learn. Musicians are poets, historians, zealots, activists, traditionalists, radicals, and entertainers, but in all cases their gift is not just the sound – it is the connections that they make with every individual.
I remember vividly each time that I saw Paul Kantner and his crew play live. They were the consummate live band, never giving in to structure – their songs were always a bit different each time they played them. The message was the same, but they fed off the audience and together made each concert unique. I saw them in large venues and in small clubs – always, they took me and everyone in their presence on a musical journey. The Airplane was nearly the house band at Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco and NYC. They played free concerts in Golden Gate Park and on rooftops in downtown Manhattan, they were front and center at the “never forget” music festivals of the day: Monterey, Woodstock, and the tragic Altamont Raceway. It was the Airplane that drove the train of 60’s music and built the foundations of the Haight-Ashbury culture.
Kantner used his music to present his political views, his concern over the directions that our leaders were taking the country, and the Utopian society that he envisioned. We all mellowed over the years, but Paul always stayed true to his message. As he expressed his views through lyrics, Kantner, Slick, Kaukonen, Cassidy, and Balin continued to create great music. Their mastery of unbelievably cool music always brought excitement to stereos across the country. I would get incredibly excited about the next Airplane album as its release date loomed. What would they do next – they never disappointed? Surrealistic Pillow brought us two of the iconic anthems of the sixties: White Rabbit and Somebody to Love. Crown of Creation was truly mind blowing with songs like Greasy Heart and The Ballad of You, Me and Pooneil. After Bathing at Baxter’s was a masterpiece of deep thought with Two Heads and Sunday Afternoon, and Volunteers became the epitome of protest albums mixed with beautifully thoughtful and mesmerizing songs from Volunteers of America to Wooden Ships. These were treasured works as important to my generation as some of the great works of literature that are benchmarks to the study of history.
As I grew up with the songs of Kantner, I was beginning my career as a cook. The thoughtfulness, creativity, philosophical musings, and even anger influenced how I cooked and how I approached my career. Sometimes I may have been antagonistic as a cook and other times reflective and focused on the importance of what cooks do. I can easily look back and say that the music I listened to, and in particular the words that came from Paul Kantner helped to model my thought process and behavior.
Whenever I listen to the songs of the generation that Paul Kantner helped to lead, I smile and know that mistakes were certainly made along the way but every moment was important to me. Music helps to soothe, to entertain, to excite and entice. It is an art form that is so emotional and incredibly influential. We should all give thanks to those who make music their life calling and use it to make us feel.
Paul Kantner will be missed by the music community, by millions of people who grew up during the tumultuous sixties and seventies, to lawyers, doctors, politicians, engineers, teachers, carpenters, construction workers, writers, and cooks. Thanks Paul for helping to shape the person I am. Rest in Peace.
“Life is change.
How it differs from the rocks.
I’ve seen their ways too often for my liking.
New worlds to gain.
My life is to survive and be alive
Paul Kantner and the Jefferson Airplane
From Crown of Creation