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Beware the savage jaw, Grace Slick’s turned 84

Saffron: Look, mum, it’s not my fault I don’t want to loll around naked, painted DayGlo, with a flower stuck in every orifice… humping the air to Jefferson Airplane.
Edina: It was The Grateful Dead, darling. 

Not dead yet, Bubble reckons Grace Slick must be “really really old now”. Alas, that didn’t stop the sixties icon from once declaring “All rock n’ rollers over the age of 50 look stupid and should retire.” 

So not only is it comforting to know Grace didn’t take her own advice but as is evidenced by a 2022 social media clip currently doing the rounds, she’s turned into the very thing she sang about in White Rabbit. Oh, and prepare yourself for a shock, because the Jefferson Airplane classic isn’t really about albino bunnies.

Now 84, if Slick’s nicotine-tinged sex-change vibe is startling it’s just as puzzling that people still quaintly debate whether White Rabbit’s lyrics were about drugs.

Of course they were about drugs. There’s pills, mushrooms and a hookah and it’s unlikely Grace Slick et al picked this children’s book at random. You’d be hard-pressed to find drug references in A Bear Called Paddington, unless “marmalade sandwiches” is confusing slang for microdots.

An almost alumnus of New York’s prestigious Finch women’s college, in 1970 the Illinois born artist was invited to a tea party at the White House, not because President Richard Nixon, a man who made Boris Johnson look trustworthy, was a particular fan of Jefferson Airplane, but because the then Grace Wing (her maiden name) had been in the same school year as his daughter Tricia Nixon.

A counterculture coup in the making, with left-wing political activist Abbie Hoffman as her ‘plus one’ sly Slick planned on using the occasion to drop LSD into Nixon’s tea, but was thwarted when security guards recognised her as the hell-raising Jefferson Airplane singer and refused her entry – she’d been apparently put on a FBI blacklist. Slick told journalist Phyllis Pollack in 2009: 

“I’m not really an alumni, because I didn’t graduate. I got an invitation in the mail. ‘Grace Wing, we cordially invite you to a tea…Tricia Nixon at the White House.’ And I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I think Tricky Dicky needs a little acid.’”

Or perhaps, just somebody to lurve?

Although often identified with ’60s psych as lead vocalist of the West Coast rockers, Grace became better known internationally in the 1980s, by which time Jefferson Airplane had morphed into the  ‘pure pop’ mainstreamers Jefferson Starship, who scored a pair of earworm horrors with the utterly atrocious MTV hits We Built This City (1985) and Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now – the latter, inexplicably Oscar-nominated (!) thanks to its place on the soundtrack of the 1987 “comedy” film Mannequin.

Amazingly, the song’s chart-topping ubiquity also ensured Slick was the oldest female artist to secure a US #1 single until robodroid Cher with the auto-tune-tastic Believe a decade later. 

“Let ‘em say we‘re crazay!”

“I don’t like her voice,” my mother said of Slick as the nauseating video to Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now was on the telly for the sixty-four millionth time. Not that that bothered former Go-Go’s girl Belinda Carlisle, who swiftly tapped Grace for backing vocals on Heaven Is A Place On Earth later that year.

Mother’s derision was all the more bemusing as my parents owned — and still do — Ronco’s “as seen on TV” soundtrack album to the 1974 film Stardust, the sequel to That’ll Be The Day starring David Essex and Adam Faith. Nestled among choice cuts from The Supremes, the Bee Gees, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder was White Rabbit. So, the lapin blanc returns.

I don’t recall if the 2-LP set was designated as my mother’s or father’s but Mum certainly voiced her approval when I told her I’d been playing the exhaustive 44-tracker and decided I liked the brilliantly evocative White Rabbit, Cat Stevens’ Matthew & Son and the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer In The City best.

Indeed, my maternal mentor was a lot more clued up about music than my father so I’m sure she must have realised it was the same singer, though it’s certainly the case that the Starship iteration “boasted” a heavier, huskier vocalist to the rebel-rousing glamour puss of old, who famously cosied up in the nuddy* with Rudolf Nureyev’s Valentino in the ’77 movie of the same name. 

But there’s nothing so unattractive as a frisky old person. 

Believe me, I know. I’ve seen Cocoon.

Steve Pafford

*Slick peak of fitness: Performing in the summer of ’69 with the Airship, knee-deep in the hoopla of Woodstock, wearing her skimpy, cowboy-style white top and white trousers and looking like the icon-for-all-times she is for their awesome Sunday-morning-defying gig. 

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