SOURCE: Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane by Jeff Tamarkin, 2003 Atria Books
Jefferson Airplane cofounder Paul Kantner, a San Francisco native who'd been raised in Catholic and military schools, was introduced to marijuana around 1959 by future Airplane lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen when they were students at Santa Clara University (a Catholic college in Northern California). A year older than Kantner, Kaukonen was an accomplished guitarist, "well-traveled, intelligent and steeped in the blues." Kantner picked up the guitar at the same time and began performing in folk clubs while still in college. "Despite the warnings it would lead to harder stuff, the folk crowd on the Peninsula made pot a staple of its diet."
After the Folk Music Theatre in San Jose was transformed into the Offstage, Kantner and some of the other folkies set up the Folklore Center in a corner of the club, "selling guitar picks, strings and marijuana." Kantner also started booking acts for the club, including Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions (with future members of the Grateful Dead) and David Crosby. JFK's assassination in 1963 "proved the linchpin point of our generation," said Kantner, and "almost switched the universe -- What R. Crumb calls the Space-Time Motherfucking Continuum -- over 180 degrees. Everything that was before was not after that." Soon Kantner was introduced to LSD by someone who brought it to the Offstage along with a Fender guitar and amplifier, with reverb and vibrato. "Went off into the cosmos," Kantner recalls. In the Spring of 1965 Bob Dylan's new album added electricity to folk and Kantner met Marty Balin at his club the Drinking Gourd on Union Street in San Francisco, where Balin asked him if he wanted to start a band.
Grace Wing was raised in an upper middle class family in San Francisco and various Peninsula suburbs. Feeling like an oddball, she supressed her interests in classical music and art and took up comic books and R&B, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes (by the age of 16). She enrolled in Finch College in New York in 1957 and transferred to the University of Miami in her Sophomore year to study art. There she discovered Lenny Bruce and marijuana. In 1961 she married Jerry Slick, a film student at San Francisco State College. The two rented a house in Potrero Hill where "we'd grow dope in the backyard, for our own entertainment," said Grace. The couple met a British chemist named Baxter in 1964 who introduced them to peyote, and they soon tried LSD as well. According to Tamarkin, psychedelics "showed her that there were many levels of consciousness, and that there was no finality. Acid allowed her to see that there was much more than meets the eye, and it showed her how to apply those lessons to a personality that already operated under the assumption that life was ludicrous."
Grace found the Beatles early songs childish and prefered Bartok, Prokofiev, the musical "South Pacific," and jazz, in particular Miles Davis's "Sketches of Spain." She played guitar, provided soundtrack music for one of Jerry's films, and soon began spending time smoking pot and making music with Jerry's guitarist brother, Darby. The three Slicks formed a band in the Summer of 1965 called "The Great Society," after LBJ's disdained social program. Sly Stone was their producer for a short time (calling himself then Sylvester Stewart; he was a R&B disc jockey at the time) and they worked on material to record. One morning, while coming down from an acid trip, alone and depressed because his girlfriend had spend the night with another man, Darby wrote,
When the truth is found to be lies
And all the joy within you dies
Don't you want somebody to love?
Drawing on her love of Spanish songs, Grace fashioned a bolero rhythm for a new song of her own. Then, thinking back on her childhood fantasies, she suggested a correlation between the mystical worlds of those timeless tales and the quests that she and her fellow seekers were undertaking as young adults:
One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small
And the ones that Mother gives you don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall.
It was Lewis Carroll meets Ravel meets "Sketches of Spain." Slick said, "What I was trying to say was that between the ages of zero and five the information and the input you get is almost indelible. In other words, once a Catholic, always a Catholic. And the parents read us these books, like Alice in Wonderland, where she gets high, tall, and she takes mushrooms, a hookah, pills, alcohol. And then there's the Wizard of Oz, where they fall into field of poppies and when they wake up they see Oz. And then there's Peter Pan, where if you sprinkle white dust on you, you could fly. And then you wonder why we do it? Well, what did you read to me?"
The Great Society recorded "Somebody to Love" and "Go Ask Alice" with Grace on vocals in November 1965, a year before the Jefferson Airplane version hit the charts bigtime. After The Great Society broke up and Slick joined the Jefferson Airplane, the band recorded Surrealistic Pillow. Marty Balin contributed his composition "Comin' Back to Me" written in one sitting after smoking some potent marijuana.
The summer had inhaled and held its breath too long
The winter looked the same as if it had never gone
And through an open window where no curtain hung I saw you,
I saw you Comin' back to me.
Another song on the Album, DCBA-25 refers to the tune's chord progression and to LSD-25. A year later, in 1967, the band graced the cover of the first issue of Rolling Stone and recorded After Bathing at Baxter's, a reference to taking LSD, for which the band's nickname was Baxter.
And then there was this, a protest over Richard Nixon's "Operation Intercept," which targeted Mexican weed coming over the border in 1970: