Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship
Blows against the Empire
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2005, Volume 12, #10
Written by John Metzger
Itís only fitting that as the Summer of Love came crashing down within the violence and mayhem of Altamont, so, too, did the Bay Areaís first success story, Jefferson Airplane, begin to fall apart at the seams. In the wake of its final masterpiece Volunteers, drummer Spencer Dryden quit, singer Marty Balin took a sabbatical, and the guitar-and-bass tandem of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady increasingly devoted themselves to the lysergic blues of Hot Tuna. Left without a group, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick began working on Blows against the Empire, their most adventurous outing to date. As is evident in the feverish anger of the opening track Mau Mau (Amerikon), they recognized that their initial battle to oust the establishment had been lost, though they also were not yet willing to concede the war.
Sure, Blows against the Empireís storyline revolved around the idea of a gang of freedom-seeking hippies who hijack a government-controlled spacecraft in order to colonize the universe ó "Wave goodbye to Amerika/Say hello the garden," Kantner and Slick sing in unison on Letís Go Together. As is the case with all good science-fiction tales, however, the underlying theme was based upon the notion of altering the realities of an Earth-bound existence. Drawing upon the works of author Robert Heinlein, the duo essentially charted a course not only for their lives and their band, but also for the entire countercultural movement. Their plan was simple: quietly drop out of society, procreate, and repopulate the planet with a communal society that echoed the heyday of the Haight-Ashbury scene. Enlisting several of their Bay area brethren ó including Jerry Garcia, whose pedal steel and electric guitar provided the power for the interplanetary rocket, and David Crosby, who co-wrote the theatrical A Child Is Coming as well as the shimmering, beautiful ballad Have You Seen the Stars Tonight? ó Kantner and Slick dared to envision a future that was better for the next generation than it was for them. Teach your children well, indeed.
Although the recent reissue of Blows against the Empire boasts an octet of bonus tracks, none are truly revolutionary. An alternate version of Letís Go Together features a less-focused sense of lyricism; the demo renditions of Hijack and Sunrise respectively highlight Slickís piano accompaniment and her powerful voice, but they primarily are of interest only to collectors; a collaboration between Garcia and Mickey Hart is a hodgepodge of space-y sound effects; a concert performance of Starship from the Fillmore in September 1970, which stands as the best of the bunch, borrows from Volunteersí militant march to become a raggedly funky call-to-arms; and the trio of radio advertisements that conclude the set are amusing, anecdotal oddities. That said, Blows against the Empire gains remarkable clarity in its newly-minted, re-mastered state, and given the current socio-political climate in America, its message is as appealing as ever.
Blows against the Empire is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box