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Paul Kantner, RIP

Oh no. Another great classic rocker — folk-rocker, acid-rocker — is gone.

Paul Kantner was always a favorite, not only for his slightly geeky beauty, mellow voice, and style, but because he had a science-fiction sensibility that marked his greatest songs. For all his rockstar cool, I always felt like he was One of Us — the high school misfits, the people who “think too much” for their own good, the ones who’d probably rather be in their bedrooms reading Asimov, Heinlein, and Bradbury than getting public attention. People who’d rather not be messed with by authority, too.

Besides, I can still get a touch of contact high from listening to those old Jefferson Airplane songs. Kantner, Balin, Kaukonen, Slick … loved ’em all, each with their own remarkable talents, meshing so magically.

Oh, Paul Kantner, not you, too.


  1. Joel
    Joel January 29, 2016 8:00 am

    The original Jefferson Airplane was a trifle, um, advanced for me in the sixties, so I can’t claim to have been a big fan of Kantner or the band. But Blows Against the Empire blew me away when I was in high school, and many years later I often sang The Baby Tree to my daughter – which my wife of the time thought was extremely weird but eventually she sang along.

    If she’d known this was always my favorite cut on that album – – she probably would have refused to reproduce with me. 🙂

    Pop music isn’t something I ever followed in any detail, so when I saw in the eighties that Grace Slick and some band called Starship was releasing crappy and ever-so-commercial rock ballads, I couldn’t believe it. But I guess that had nothing to do with Kantner.

  2. Alchemist
    Alchemist January 29, 2016 8:56 am

    Just in the past year – B.B, Chris Squire, Ornette Coleman, Ben E. King, Percy Sledge, Andy Fraser, David Bowie, Paul Kantner . . .

    I’m starting to feel old.

  3. UnReconstructed
    UnReconstructed January 29, 2016 9:03 am

    yeah. I feel this one.

    I was a big follower of Airplane in high school. Starship, well, not so much……

    except for ‘Hyperdrive’ , which is on my short list of best rock songs EVER.

    R.I.P. Paul Kantner

    and thanks.

  4. Claire
    Claire January 29, 2016 10:05 am

    Yep, “Hyperdrive” is one of the best, ever, ever, ever.

    ‘Course that was Jefferson Starship, with Kantner still in the picture. Kind of surprised to see those lyrics credited to Slick; they are very, very Kantnerish.

    Even the much-reviled and commercial non-Jefferson, non-Kantner Starship had its moments, though. I don’t care what anybody says about “We Built This City” being the worst rock song of all time, it always makes me happy when I hear it. It does have just about the worst, most embarrassingly big-haired video of the 1980s, though.

  5. jed
    jed January 29, 2016 3:16 pm

    @Alchemist: Yep, and Lemmy, Dale Griffin, Jimmy Bain, Glen Frey …

    My mother told me, a while back, that the older you get, the more people you know pass away. I don’t know any of these musicians, but they were a part of my life. (Except Lemmy; I’m not a fan. But he did write Silver Machine for Hawkwind, and like that one.)

    I’m not a huge Airplane fan. I like them about the same as early Starship. And Claire, there are much much worse songs in the world of “rock” than that one. I shall be merciful, and refrain from naming a few which come immediately to mind. 🙂 Anyone who thinks that’s the worst of all time obviously doesn’t listen to enough music.

    I have Surrealistic Pillow on cassette. Offhand, I think I don’t have any physical media containing Starship stuff.

  6. A.G.
    A.G. January 29, 2016 4:19 pm

    Mickey Thompson is a neighbor and a customer. Nice bloke. I’ve never told him he’s one of my favorite vocalist and that “Knee Deep In The Hoopla” was the first (unused) cassette I ever owned. “Jane” is one of the best bar band songs of all time, and Thompson’s Sam Cooke stunning medley on Elvin Bishop’s live album is what landed him the J. Starship gig in the first place.
    On a completely separate note, here is a hilarious comedy duo from Australia. Their career seems to consist almost entirely of mocking gov officials and other blowhards:
    There are worse ways one could waste a day than watching all their vids. 😉

  7. E Garrett Perry
    E Garrett Perry January 30, 2016 5:33 am

    One begins to feel as if the great rockers and rollers are in a rush for the exits. Like maybe they know something we don’t.

    If Ozzy, the Glimmer Twins, or Rob Halford checks out next, I’m stickin’ my thumb out and getting off this rock, even if I have to hijack a Vogon. Screw waiting on the dolphins, I’m following the smoke and whiskey fumes.

    If Joanie goes next…

  8. Claire
    Claire January 30, 2016 7:46 am

    “If Joanie goes next…”

    It will, alas, not be too surprising. Still, I suspect many others would gladly join you, whether your route involves Vogons, dolphins, or fumes.

  9. E Garrett Perry
    E Garrett Perry January 30, 2016 9:39 am

    When Joanie goes, it will be a hard day for me. Hers was the music which soundtracked my childhood, my youth, and much of my young manhood. “Diamonds And Rust” was written, I will swear before the Throne on the Last Day, for the first decade of my friendship with a beautiful redhead from Montana. “Love Song For A Stranger” could have been about another lover and dear friend, whose time with me in Prague taught me so much about the many ways in which a person can be free or unfree. And “China,” that horrible haunting dirge for Tiennanmen Square…goddamn. That there was a paen such as Leonidas earned. I am a man, a bass to her alto, but learning to sing her songs taught me to sing at all. I still sing “Diamonds And Rust” and “The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress” as warmups, karaoke, and when I need to mourn.

    I grew up loving her. When I later learned about the losses she endured from Right and Left- for resisting the Vietnam war on one hand, and for denouncing the Communists on the other- I was moved beyond love to sincerest admiration. The world, and all the free peoples in it, will be much diminished by her going.

    I pray for strength on that day.

  10. jed
    jed January 30, 2016 10:18 am

    Vogons? Heh. Coincidentally, having just finised Bab5, I’m now re-watching The Hitchhiker’s Guide. (Yes, the BBC one.)

  11. Claire
    Claire January 30, 2016 10:35 am

    Re Joanie — That was beautiful, EGP. I also have a small, odd connection with that Joan (who will never be Joanie in my mind). And yes, I agree she’s done many things that are sublime.

    I was thinking you meant Joanie Mitchell — that lifelong heavy smoker who has recently been paying a heavy health price.

  12. E Garrett Perry
    E Garrett Perry January 30, 2016 11:23 am

    Her too.


  13. Alchemist
    Alchemist January 30, 2016 11:30 am

    Such great memories being brought up here . . .

    Diamonds and Rust – how can it get any more personal than that?

    Been listening to Airplane. Some favorites:

    White Rabbit – Been there, done that, still enjoy a rare flashback.

    Wooden Ships – A fantasy of mine, after the Apocalypse – “Take a sister by her hand, lead her far from this barren land . . . We are leaving you don’t need us” I still want to be on the ship.

    Lather – Why do we have to grow up, dammit?

    Volunteers – A damn good riff.

    Am I the only one who gets teary when waxing nostalgic?

  14. Alchemist
    Alchemist January 30, 2016 3:33 pm

    Jorma wrote a nice tribute to Paul:

    “Here’s to us, and those like us… damn few left…
    . . . Friends are always good… you can’t have too many of them. That said, the old ones share that wondrous gift of knowing you when you were young. You can’t buy that.”

    Please forgive me if I’m posting too much about this here. Sometimes things touch you, hit you, whack you in the face, and make you do things you don’t normally do . . .

  15. Claire
    Claire January 30, 2016 4:05 pm

    Oh, Alchemist, you’re just fine. Post away. I’ll bet everybody here can understand being affected by something far out of proportion to others’ reaction. And that was definitely a touching tribute, so thank you.

    Paul Kantner’s death touches me far more than David Bowie’s did. Never mind that Bowie was a bigger star. The Airplane was one of those “one moment in a lifetime” experiences of youth for me, the ones that bond to a person’s soul. Believe me, I understand.

  16. Alchemist
    Alchemist January 30, 2016 5:36 pm

    Claire, thanks for understanding. This is affecting me in a very similar, yet very different way, from when Jerry Garcia died. That was twenty years ago, I was twenty years younger, and still very much a Deadhead. I saw many Dead shows, and lost count. Collected and traded tapes. When Jerry died I was no longer seeing concerts as often, for by 1995 I had two beautiful children and a wonderful wife who still tolerates my weirdness. But Jerry’s death still hit me like a shot to the gut, maybe because we were still relatively young. And, I knew that a very big chapter of my life, of many people’s lives, had just ended. I’m now older than Jerry was when he died.

    In a way, it could be that Paul’s passing is even more of a reminder of my – of our – mortality. A reminder, as Jorma said, that “those like us… damn few left…”

    I still have much of my collection of vinyl records – many hundreds – that I started acquiring in the ’60s. I wasn’t even a teenager yet. But those records had a hand in shaping my thought. From Surrealistic Pillow to After Bathing at Baxters to Crown of Creation to Volunteers – to all the other musicians that created and explored new avenues of music, often realized and appreciated with, let’s call them perception and performance enhancing chemicals – all had a lasting impression on an awkward, misfit, impressionable kid.

    I never got a chance to see Jefferson Airplane or any of the permutations, but did see a lot of their contemporaries. I don’t remember many of those shows, because I was very much into psychedelics during the ’70s. But I think I am the better for it.

    One thing that I feel some sadness about, is that my three kids may never experience that same sort of thing, that same sort of community that the Deadheads had. I have taken them to see, for example, Rat Dog (Bob Weir’s band) for a taste of what it was like, but it just wasn’t the same.

    They will experience and grow in their way, in their time, just as we did in ours. The good thing is, they have a bit of the free-thinking, exploring, counter-culture spirit. My oldest daughter used a snip of Kantner’s lyrics as her high school yearbook quote:

    “We are forces of chaos and anarchy
    Everything they say we are we are
    And we are very
    Proud of ourselves”

    This post has gone off in many directions. Thanks for letting me ramble.

  17. Alchemist
    Alchemist January 30, 2016 5:50 pm

    As Detective Columbo would say, “Ahh, just one more thing . . .”

    Maybe the reason Kantner’s death has touched you more than Bowie’s is because while Bowie was a bigger star, he was a pop phenomenon, while Jefferson Airplane were more of a counter-culture phenomenon, one you identified with and that shaped you. It’s hard to identify with Ziggy Stardust.

    Then again, I might just be rambling incoherently. Can’t tell from here.

  18. Claire
    Claire January 31, 2016 6:11 am

    OMG, that is too strange. They were the same age, too.

    I first started following the Airplane when she was its singer and still have my vinyl copy of “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off.” Anderson didn’t have Slick’s rock-goddess charisma (or craziness), but she had a striking voice.

  19. UnReconstructed
    UnReconstructed January 31, 2016 6:52 pm

    The more I think about it, the more I mourn Paul Kantner. The Jefferson Airplane were there at a time when I needed …….something.

    They filled a hole. Were a part of the shaping of my psyche. You are right, Claire, it seemed like he was one of us. Never quite became the image of the full up rock star. Seemed to be a dreamer like I was. Made it seem OK to be that dreamer.


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