“I had a taste of the real world (just a drop of it) When I went down on you girl”
That’s what passed for salaciousness back in ’75, when the Jefferson Airplane, reconstituted as Jefferson Starship, sans Jorma and Jack, came out of nowhere to dominate the charts once again.
Actually, there was a prelude, back in ’74, on the previous album by this incarnation, when Marty Balin guest-starred on “Caroline,” the best track on “Dragon Fly.”
But Grace Slick gets all the credit. Not that she does not deserve a lot of it, she was one of a kind, Courtney Love with better music and a better temperament, even though Grace did go off the rails at the end of her fame with her drinking.
But Jefferson Airplane has been forgotten completely. Whittled down to two tracks, “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit.” An oldies act for oldies radio. Nothing meaningful, whereas that was anything but the case.
The curse of the Airplane was to be a progenitor, the first act from the San Francisco scene to break through, in ’67, before FM, before album rock. They were before their time, it’s just that they were so good, they ultimately succeeded on AM radio. But never having another hit when everybody was paying attention to LPs, their fame faded. Sure, they got footage in the “Woodstock” movie, but all the buzz was about the previously unheralded, those coming up, like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. And to be honest, by 1970, politics were starting to fade. Sure, there was Kent State, but the boomers were burned out, the era of hedonism, of retreating into the land, had begun. Jefferson Airplane was a band out of time. And now there’s no time left at all.
Paul Kantner passed with barely a whimper, although to be accurate, he went in a flurry of passings, Bowie and Frey eclipsed him. Furthermore, nobody in the Airplane was warm and fuzzy, they were a bunch of irascible hotheads, at least the three front people, Grace, Paul, and Marty. They were not sanitized for consumption. According to Bill Graham, once they had any money they just wanted to go home and smoke dope. But, if today’s acts really wanted to break through, they’d study the Airplane, because their middle-class ethos was the soul of the sixties. We’re as smart as anybody on the planet and we’ll mess you up while having fun all the while. It was all about testing limits.
But that did not mean the music was not ear-pleasing.
Sure, the band had no success without Grace, who debuted on their second album, with those aforementioned radio hits, but what sticks out besides them is “Today”…
“Today, I feel like pleasing you
More than before”
If you want to truly experience the sixties, get stoned in a dark room and listen to “Today,” that’s what it was really like, preserved on wax.
“To be living for you
Is all I need to do
To be loving you
It’ll all be there
When my dreams come true”
It wasn’t about assets, acquisitions, ho’s, it was about feelings, about love.
“Today everything you want
I swear it will all come true”
That was the optimism of the sixties. We believed we could have it. Not a bigger house and a bigger car, but personal fulfillment.
And it was Marty on “Young Girl Sunday Blues” from “After Bathing At Baxter’s,” Marty could not only be soft and sweet, after all he wrote and sang “Plastic Fantastic Lover” on “Surrealistic Pillow,” then again his voice was sweet and mellifluous, no matter what the material. This was back when you had to have talent to make it, pipes, and TV was for sell-outs.
And Marty co-wrote “Volunteers” with Paul Kantner and supplied the enthusiastic, emphatic vocal.
“One generation got old
One generation got soul“
But now that generation is old and soulless. Overpaying to see their heroes perform the hits of yore, too many who were unwilling to grow their hair and stand up for something when that mattered.
But not Marty.
Actually, if you’re an attorney, it’s his name that adorns the most famous case in California entertainment law, Buchwald v. Katz. That’s right, Marty’s real name was “Buchwald.” You see they were in the band, it was their act, but their manager Matthew Katz held all the money.
So, the band broke up. There was that reconstitution as Jefferson Starship. Then there was another breakup, seemed like Marty could never go straight, never accept success, never do it for the money. Then Starship cut the execrable “We Built This City” and the whole band’s image has been in the dumper ever since, even though Marty, Jorma and Jack had nothing to do with that. Marty cut a solo LP for EMI, I bought that, it was not successful, and then, Marty faded away.
Oh, let’s not forget, before leaving Jefferson Starship, before they became AOR darlings then jokes, it was Marty who co-wrote and sang the only hit on “Red Octopus”‘s follow-up, “With Your Love,” from “Spitfire,” and although he did not write “Count On Me” from “Earth,” it was his voice once again that put it over the top. But if you ask someone under thirty who he is, you’re gonna get blank stares. Hell, it won’t be long before Grace Slick will garner the same result. She retired, you’re not supposed to. But the point is these people are fading away, and they are not radiating.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, if you made it through you were supposed to last. If you made it to retirement age, you were at least supposed to make it to your eighties, hell, look at Paul McCartney, he’s chugging along, but his contemporary, Marty Balin, has bitten the dust.
And if you talk about performance, that’s another place the Airplane excelled. Because every show was different, because they were rough and experimental and then the band’s time passed. They tried to recapture the magic in ’89, but that failed, as it usually does, music is of a time and place. But it’s supposed to last forever, right? Seemingly not, can’t tell you the last time I’ve heard anything from “Volunteers” on the radio.
But for a moment there, for more than one moment…
“If only you believe like I believe, baby”
We all believed. Music was the baby boomers’ fuel. It was not entertainment, it was soul-fulfillment. If you wanted to connect with the universe, you turned out the light, lay down on your bed and let the music wash over you. And when you heard your favorites on the car radio that was all we had, no phone, no interruptions, your mind was set free, those were our peak experiences, and we’ve never forgotten them.
We lived in the age of miracles.
And Marty Balin helped perform them.