“Through literacy you can begin to see the universe. Through music, you can reach anybody. Between the two, there is you, unstoppable.” ~ Grace Slick
Groovy, man. Far out!
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, I’m shining the spotlight today on Grace Slick. She was one of the first female rock stars/lead singers in a decidedly male dominated industry, and has even lived to tell about it!
Grace was also a modern-day Alice, falling down a rabbit hole and emerging with creative powers aplenty in wild and wooly, hippie-centric, psychedelic San Francisco. Quite a change from her 1950’s predominantly white, conservative middle class roots in the Midwest.
Early Sunday morning, August 17, 1969, she performed a 13-song set at Woodstock with the Jefferson Airplane, which included her own composition,”White Rabbit.” Many people have covered this acid rock classic since, but no one has ever come close to Grace. Her strong charisma, powerful contralto, and uncompromising attitude have left all others in the dust, or, in the case of Woodstuck, mud.
“White Rabbit” was composed in 1965 and first performed with The Great Society, a band Grace formed with her then husband, Jerry Slick. Both were motivated and inspired by the Beatles and the Jefferson Airplane. Grace noted how these musicians were making more money and having way more fun than she was as a model for I. Magnin. When Signe Anderson left the Airplane to start a family, the band invited Grace to join them. She brought two songs with her: “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” later recorded on this breakthrough album in 1967:
“White Rabbit,” written in just an hour, was born of Grace’s love for the Lewis Carroll classics, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. She has stated that it was a response to parents who asked why their children took drugs. She felt that reading books containing surreal and colorful size-altering imagery made kids curious about experimenting with hallucinatory substances like LSD. She liked Alice’s curiosity and the fact that no one had to rescue her. In many ways, Carroll’s fantasy world of hookah-smoking caterpillars, magic mushrooms, White Knights and Red Queens presages the 60’s psychedelic movement. Slick blended these fanciful elements with another work of genius, Ravel’s “Boléro”; the hypnotic crescendo transports the listener, simulating the sensations of an acid trip.
Grace’s “White Rabbit Remembering the Good Old Days”
(glicee on paper).
As for Woodstock, it was not Grace’s favorite music festival (she preferred Monterey Pop). In addition to the bad weather and scheduling delays, the group had to be helicoptered to and from the venue from their hotel, and never got to see the other groups perform.
Grace then and now (wayupnorthtonowhere).
Though she retired from the music business 20 years ago, Grace is still chasing rabbits with a successful career as an artist. She draws and paints many of her fellow 60’s musicians and attends showings of her work across the country. She works in acrylic, pen-and-ink, pencil, and pastels on canvas and scratchboard. Of course, her most popular paintings are those featuring rabbits or Alice in Wonderland themes. Despite the fact that the White Knight did not talk backwards, it was the Queen of Hearts, not the Red Queen, who said, “Off with her head,” and the Hatter couldn’t really remember what the dormouse said, I think Lewis Carroll would have been quite pleased. The best way to feed our heads is with music, art, and words.
by Grace Slick
Grace’s “White Rabbit’s Tea” (glicee on canvas).
One pill makes you larger
and one pill makes you small.
And the one that Mother gives you
don’t do anything at all,
Go ask Alice
when she’s ten feet tall.
And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell them a hookah smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
when she was just small.
When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
and your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice
I think she’ll know
When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
and the Red Queen’s “off with her head!”
Remember what the Dormouse said
“Feed your head, feed your head, feed your head.”
Grace’s “Dormouse” (glicee on canvas).
The Poetry Friday Roundup is at a wrung sponge. Go ask Andi what manner of poems are on today’s menu!
Something to tide you over till you get there:
photo by specialcakes/tracey.
Check out these cool interviews (in the recent Bernstein one, she discusses how and why she turned to art, along with some thoughts on songwriting and Woodstock).
Click here to see Grace performing “White Rabbit” at Woodstock. Safe to say she was under the influence.
Copyright © 2009 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.