Friday, June 10, 2011

When Grace Departed

Browsing around on YouTube this morning I found footage of Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock in ’69 singing ‘Somebody to Love’ (which isn't in the movie). What a mighty band they were with their powerful, complex, multi-layered songs and Grace, the most devastating frontman (person?) of the era - only the ingrained sexism and lack of imagination of critics and historians makes them say Jagger.   I flipped forward a little over a decade after that, drawn by a masochistic desire to wreck the high Grace's booming voice and startling blue eyes had put me on, and watched ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ by their Reaganite incarnation Starship. (Or were they Jefferson Starship? I dunno.) My memory of it turned out to be accurate: they were fucking hideous. Grace is still there out front but all of her charisma, all of the sexual power she had, is gone; and with her hair piled up on her head and a gaudy jacket on she looks like a groupie at an Elvis Presley concert. The rest of the band are dressed equally badly. And who are they?? Not at all the languorously cool, serious musicians of the Woodstock line-up (and if any of them are the same people time has played a cruel game with them). Has Grace just done a mid-period Dylan and hired a bunch of session players who’d do whatever she told them to? Did Grace even have any control over what she was doing then? I’d prefer to believe she didn’t. I’d rather think that the putrid recordings she made in the ‘80s were the result of some kind of terrible contractual impasse. But a lot of previously great artists were seized by madness in those days. It was as if the success of the new conservatism worldwide had convinced them that liberalism and non-corporate progressive rock and roll had disappeared forever, so everybody had to reposition themselves in the new world or starve. Even Bob Dylan had synthesizers on his albums; and he dressed himself up in his videos like an extra from ‘Miami Vice’.

2 comments:

armand said...

Good job, Bruce. You are right on the money, so to speak. I sometimes think of Grace as a Patty Hearst for some reason. Not necessarily a victim, but a willing victim of the times. So many rock bands got rid of their consciences. Airplane ditched Marty Balin as superflous,,, The Byrds ditched David Crosby and put a horse's ass (literally) on their album cover after they ditched him. And for what? To appease their corporate masters. Bob Dylan speaks of such actions & movements as "making a living." Yeh, right Bob. And he wonders why he's all but washed up in the 1980s. It took him till Love & Theft to get back on track, & he's playing bar parking lots in Louisville Kentucky in the early 2000s trying to re-prove himself. Where has Grace gone? Where is she now? I don't hear any music out of her.

Bruce Hodder said...

I guess your question is rhetorical Armand but I know the band took some award from the city of San Fran a year or two ago. And the last I heard she was painting, another of those artists you talked about whose egos convinced them they could achieve things in two different mediums when the interest in their second field was created by what they'd done in the first (and the pictures aren't that good). Bob Dylan's work was generally atrocious in the Eighties - I loved him but after he pissed all over his audience with the insultingly bad appearance at "Live Aid" I had a serious rethink. I even stopped buying his albums, although I started again when "Time Out Of Mind" came out. He seems to have his creative mojo back again now but his voice is so appalling live I struggle to listen to him; and his appearance at the Grammies with Mumford & Sons really concerned me. It was terrible, for one - Bob was posturing like a crazy old night club singer, and we can't ascribe all of his follies to conscious irony - and the performance itself was like a reactivation of that old star hierarchy bullshit that was so wounding to him back in the Eighties. The music he created wasn't supposed to be repackaged and presented for new audiences year after year like washing powder. And a real truth teller not only understands his own lie, but refuses to perpetuate it...