Thursday, January 5, 2012

Grace Slick or Dorothy Day: You Make the Call

Dad’s generation had The War; mine had Vietnam, but mostly we had rock ’n roll. My father and his friends had their war stories; I have my personal concert bests.

I saw Big Brother and the Holding Company at the Fillmore East in the mid-1960s, when Janis Joplin was fronting them; and I really dug Pentangle at the Psychedelic Supermarket in Boston. But my all-time rock ’n roll war story takes me back to an evening in 1969 or 1970, when I sat on a makeshift stage in the UMass Amherst gym, directly in front of an eight-foot speaker that was thumping out the bass line to tunes by Jefferson Airplane. Grace Slick, Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Kantner, and company were just a few feet away.

They probably looked and sounded like this:

My hearing has never been quite the same.

This memory was triggered by an e-mail from my friend George, yeah that George. My old, possibly Buddhist friend wrote that it was another bit of “bohemian acid-headed advice” from Jefferson Airplane that led him to “run screaming” out of his big-paying white-collar job into an uncertain future sometime after the Airplane became a Starship.

Here’s the advice:

Both the beauty and the madness of the internet are that you can follow a line of thought faster and further than ever before. I looked up those YouTube clips of “White Rabbit” and “Lather,” and within a few minutes I was watching this 2008 interview with Grace Slick, once the hottest, coolest acid-rock chanteuse on the planet.

Forty years later . . .

Forty years too late, I sometimes feel ashamed that, unlike my father, I avoided going to war and stayed home to listen to rock ’n roll, which involved swallowing one line of “Lather” after another.

A select few in my generation—I wish I was one of them then—were inspired by Dorothy Day, another woman who began “long and lean and lanky” and did her share of speaking out. Like Grace Slick, like all of us, Dorothy Day ended old. As the still photos and a brief bit of video here demonstrate, she also ended her life differently.

I like to think the Catholic Church had something to do with this.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan agrees with me, at least about Dorothy and the Church.

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