Rock star Paul Kantner died yesterday, news that made the front page of the New York Times,. Over the course of a career nearly fifty years long, Kantner came up with a ton of dazzling songs, many of which became 60’s classics (Wooden Ships, Today).
At the same time he wasn’t a star likely to be recognized on the street. He had an everyman look, with dorky glasses, and didn’t put on airs, from what I can tell. Nor did he posture as a lone genius, or even often take a solo. Many of his songs had puzzling lyrics, perhaps because he ingested large amounts of psychedelic drugs, but some of them rang true.
Kantner had a rare gift for collaboration, The NYTimes: ,
With the breakup of the Jefferson Airplane in the early 1970s, Mr. Kantner began exploring his pet themes on a solo album, “Blows Against the Empire,” which had a science-fiction mini-epic on one side, as well as in the albums he recorded with Jefferson Starship, notably “Freedom at Point Zero” and “Modern Times.”
“We said what needed to be said,” Mr. Kantner told People magazine in 1981. “There was an obvious call not to turn the other cheek when we were being slapped by the system.”
But, he added, “The rock bands of the ’60s supplanted the football and military heroes, and just as all those heroes had fallen when put to the test, rock musicians proved they had no more of an answer to saving the world than anybody else.”
Hmmm. Sci-fi epic about a massive war between civilizations set in deep space. Little or no mention of earth. “Blows Against the Empire.” Reminds one of a certain movie, but never mind.
Although it was a solo project, much of his old band and several major rock stars in their own right (Jerry Garcia, David Crosby, Graham Nash) joined Kantner in this project, which became known as Jefferson Starship.
Rolling Stone today released a list of 12 essential Jefferson Airplane songs. It’s good, but doesn’t mention what is arguably Paul Kantner’s and company’s single best song (because it’s an early Jefferson Starship song — back in the days when the “starship” meant something).
Have you seen the stars tonight?
(Here’s a surprisingly good YouTube version of the recording — worth seeing and hearing.)
Back in the day, when I had a record player, and this on vinyl, I would play just this single song — and ignore the rest of the record. But I did love this song…