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Happy Anniversary, Jefferson Airplane

A Personal Ode in Poem

Today marks the day

The band first performed live.

I never saw them then. I was a toddler

Living landlocked seventeen hundred miles away,

But San Francisco with its Golden Gate and Haight-Ashbury

Served as runway for Jefferson Airplane,

A six-piece who created their own music and mythology:

Stories,

Characters,

And a never-ending quest for hazy paradise.

Grace Slick wasn’t with them then;

Their famous singer didn’t board for another year.

Paul Kantner and Marty Balin served as “pilots,”

Their first crew consisting of blues guitarist Jorma,

Upright bassist Bob, drummer Jerry, and contralto Signe.

They started small, but their following grew:

Four months after that first show, they recorded an album;

It was a simpler time.

Changes came . . . a new bassist and two drummers,

A manager who sued them for 20 years,

Signe’s marriage and baby, Grace’s baptism in flowers.

Summer ‘67, they burst onto the scene,

Transforming America and rock ’n’ roll

With psychedelic anthems and mature songs about love.

Music and drugs abounded; stories became legend.

I knew none of this until many years later:

A lonely 16-year-old who discovered Freedom at Point Zero,

An album by a later incarnation, Jefferson Starship,

Which featured neither Marty nor Grace.

Only Paul remained — the standard bearer, last man standing,

The science fiction nerd with glasses and helmet blonde hair.

It was stadium nerd music;

It gave me hope when he sang “rock and roll isn’t over!”

But my rock ’n’ roll never truly began.

I played guitar but never mastered it.

I wrote songs which baffled family and friends.

My best friend and I critiqued albums,

Planning to one day form our own band. We never did.

Meanwhile, Jefferson Starship became Starship,

And Kantner, Balin and Jack Casady reunited as KBC Band,

Then as Jefferson Airplane with Jorma and Grace,

But the new music wasn’t fresh and exciting,

It seemed they had forgotten to be a band,

A family

Again.

For about five years, a new Jefferson Starship album

Arrived like a letter from old friends,

Conjuring magic and warmth while challenging me

With new perceptions and changing realities.

After that, I stopped buying the albums

But watched as my distant friends settled into middle age,

And I pondered how I might one day do the same.

Then the ’90s came,

And Paul’s new Jefferson Starship was the same in name only.

Sure, Jack was there and Marty came back,

But they weren’t moving forward, at least not together.

I saw Jefferson Starship perform twice,

In eighty-one and two thousand;

Paul was the only member at both.

His song “America” criticized our country for homelessness.

It left my new friend cold; he left the show early. I stayed,

But angry hippie anthems seemed out of place

At the turn of the century.

I like to think I’ve learned something of value

From four decades of following their music and lives.

At times it feels like they took me on a ride up Tiger Mountain

And left me to fend for myself without wings of my own.

When their 50th anniversary arrived in 2015,

There was no celebration,

No reunion.

Paul died shortly after.

Marty died two years later.

Grace at eighty paints. Jorma and Jack play;

Jorma’s book contains scant mention of his time in Airplane.

It’s unfair to say I am disillusioned.

They offered me what they had to give: music and stories.

The warm friendship of The Beatles was not for them;

Neither was the enduring bad boy vibe of the Stones.

Who am I to attach my hopes and dreams to people I never met?

Who am I to hang my own story on theirs?

They provided a framework for me to enter adulthood

And to bounce back from insurmountable odds.

I also understand myself a little better, though I misunderstood much.

For this, I give thanks

And wish them Happy Anniversary!

Written by

Author of super-hero/sci books, False Alarm (2015), The Power Club (2017) and The Secret Club (2020). He lives on the fringes of the middle of the Midwest.

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