The Albums That Shaped Me: DREAMS

albums-dreamsGRACE SLICK: Dreams
Year of Release: 1980
Year it Came Into My Life: 1980

“El Diablo”
“Face to the Wind”
“Angel of Night”
“Do it the Hard Way”
“Full Moon Man”
“Let it Go”
“Garden of Man”

As I mentioned before, when I became a fan of Jefferson Starship,Grace wasn’t in the band. She and Marty Balin had just left. Her alcoholism had gotten out of control. Her last tour with JS was disastrous, with the band having to cancel shows because she couldn’t go on, and when she did perform she was belligerent to audiences and unable to sing. Years ago I heard her talk about how her wake up came when she drove a car straight into a wall at 80 miles an hour. It made her realize that many of her friends from the Woodstock era — Janis, Jimi, Jim Morrison, Mama Cass, etc — were all dead, most of them because of drug and alcohol use. She quit the band, quit drugs, and never looked back.

Dreams is an incredible album, and certainly the most personal that Slick has ever written. She’s not one to write about personal experiences; she is more of an observational writer. But on Dreams, she turns her attention squarely on herself and her problems, and holds nothing back. She is scathing in her self-criticism.

Musically, its quite a departure for Slick. It is predominantly orchestra and acoustic guitar-led. The only venture into actual rock that she takes is on “Angel of Night”. The whole album is, in my opinion, her best vocal performance ever. Better than anything she did with Jefferson AirplaneJefferson Starship, other solo albums, Starship, guest appearances on other artists’ recordings, etc. This is the pinnacle.

The influence that this album had on me wasn’t necessarily musical like all the other ones were. This one came out at a time when I was in high school, and I hung around a lot of druggies. There was always pressure to get involved in their ‘activities’. I never wanted to, and I either felt uncomfortable or out of place with them. Dreams  helped me to be okay with my decision, because if Grace Slick, who had consumed more drugs than nearly any other human being, had walked away from it and looked back on her choices so harshly, then I didn’t need to be doing it in the first place. Thanks, Grace.

To this day, this is one of my favorite albums I’ve ever heard by any artist in any style of music. It’s pretty much perpetually in my Top 5.

Grace rejoined JS a year or so later, and found the band to be a much improved and more healthier place to be. They’d had some member changes, they were more focused, were playing harder rock now, and the shows were more fun now that Marty and his lengthy string of love ballads were gone. She came back in as a guest on the Modern Times album, rejoined fully once the album was done, and went out on tour that year. That year was my first time seeing them live and it was quite an experience. I saw them a few times after that as well. She stayed in the band even after Paul Kantner got fed up with and quit, taking the “Jefferson” moniker with him. She stayed during the first two Starship albums, until she couldn’t take it any longer, and quit. I saw her live twice with Starship; not bad shows, but the band didn’t really care about writing material or making meaningful music any longer. She later retired and now focuses on her paintings.

The Albums That Shaped Me: FREEDOM AT POINT ZERO

albums-freedomJEFFERSON STARSHIP: Freedom at Point Zero
Year of Release: 1979
Year it Came Into My Life: 1979

“Lightning Rose”
“Things to Come”
“Girl With the Hungry Eyes”
“Just the Same”
“Rock Music”
“Fading Lady Light”
“Freedom at Point Zero”

In my 10th grade year I met Janis. Janis was a year older than me in school and we hit it off. She was zany, irreverent, and funny as hell, and I still on an almost daily basis think of something that we did back then or jokes that we shared. She also introduced me to a lot of great music. This was the first. I don’t think she was a big fan of the band or anything, but she liked Grace Slick, and she loved “Jane”, the song that was on the radio at the time. Grace and Marty Balin had just left the band so neither was on this album.

The more I heard “Jane” on the radio the more I loved it. Our local album rock station gave “Rock Music” some play as well. I remembered being on vacation with my family over school Christmas break and hearing a live simulcast of a New Year’s Eve concert by the band. They played a nearly all the songs from this album but also a few classics. I recognized “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”, and it was weird to hear them sung by Mickey Thomas, Starship‘s newest singer.

I bought the album very soon after this and learned all the songs. It’s an amazingly strong and cohesive album. All the songs, written by different members of the band, all hold together remarkably well and there’s not a weak one in the batch. The early favorites were “Lightning Rose”“Just the Same” and the title track. It took me a little longer but I grew to love “Just the Same”, “Things to Come” and “Awakening”, and those are probably my favorites after all these years.

I was very intrigued by the band and wanted to explore more of the history. I found a 2-record Jefferson Airplane set called Flight Log, sort of a best-of, which gave me a good introduction. But a lot of it really didn’t grab me. I liked a few songs, but most of them I didn’t connect with. Some of that changed when, a year later, Grace rejoined the band. Originally she just did some guest vocals on the next album, Modern Times, but subsequently rejoined fully. I saw them on that tour, got to see Grace live for the first time, and heard some older songs that I’d never heard before, like “Fast Buck Freddie”.

I continued to love J Starship over the years, and slowly developed a strong appreciation for J Airplane as well. The influence that they had on me was to learn that music could be about more important things than partying, sex, romance, etc. Paul Kantner had a strong socio-political sensibility and his songs were about activism and criticism. They introduced me to all the other Woodstock-era bands, and pop music became a voice of change and revolution. It meant something. It was important.

Over the years, Jefferson Starship became more and more pop, and there was less room for Paul Kantner’s songs in their mix, and he left the band. But he took the “Jefferson” with him and wouldn’t allow the remaining band to use it. They carried on as Starship and had a string of major pop hits. Grace continued in the band for two albums until she too had had enough of it and left. She and Kantner reformed with the members of Jefferson Airplane and they released one pretty strong self-titled album.

To this day, I still consider this to be the best album recorded by the band, in any configuration and under any name (with the Airplane album Crown of Creation a very close second). Jefferson has had an enormous impact on me that I cherish to this day, and they introduced me to many other artists that I love as well.