Patti Smith On Jefferson Airplane: “They were masters of their own ship”

By Patti Smith

It is said we become whom we love. We who loved Jefferson Airplane shook off our postwar skins, said farewell to the 50s and marched through the 60s toward the new Jerusalem. It was a Blakean city that was as much a state of mind as architecture, one of unbridled freedom built on the ashes of nationalism, conformity and materialism.

San Francisco was the emblematic meeting ground. Jefferson Airplane, the premiere standard-bearers of the Summer of Love, ushered us through its psychedelic gates.

They were masters of their own ship, and their words and music reflected all the possibilities, kaleidoscopic chaos and tribal energy of the sea they were navigating. Their modular personnel issued the clarion call of Surrealistic Pillow, and it remains a testament to their depth.

The core band of Jefferson Airplane entered the scene as a group of equals, exemplifying the electrifying rise in cultural consciousness. Paul Kantner’s science-fictional reaches for the cosmos. Jorma Kaukonen’s plugged-in virtuoso fingerstyle folk blues. Jack Casady’s fluid and stalwart bass lines entwining the propulsive creativity of Spencer Dryden’s drums. And there was vocal anarchy in the midst of mystical beauty, projected through the soaring combination of Grace Slick’s acerbic wit and fearless charisma and the romantic purity of Marty Balin.

Grace Slick: we all owe her a debt

How Surrealistic Pillow served in the transformation of an entire generation is well documented. For myself, a 20-year-old girl in rural New Jersey, hearing the voice of Grace Slick on the radio was a revelation. “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit” both contained the emotional trajectory of an aria. Make no mistake; we all owe her a debt. She was like no other and opened a door that will never close again.

On my worktable is a small orange button with the words “Jefferson Airplane loves you” in green. It is nearly half a century old. How fortunate we were to be loved by them. Their banner was also our own. They gave us anthems of love. They gave us instructions for action — feed your head! Got to revolution! And within Crown Of Creation, a requiem for a time all too brief. Yet their message enduringly calls, for all who listen, to unite once more through the collective consciousness of love.