LETTERS & OPINIONS
The music had a message and a sound that rocked
By Moryt Milo -
Willow Glen Resident
October 29, 2006
I pulled out the doors of a cabinet that is rarely opened these days. I knew it was in there, somewhere, as I scanned the spines of the LP covers. Then I saw it, Volunteers, by the Jefferson Airplane. The LP released in 1969 had all the trademarks of that psychedelic era right on the cover. The front has a large American flag as the backdrop for a band that portrayed itself as the quintessential anti-establishment rock group. The back of the cover had a mix of wacky graphics that included a crossword puzzle grid, a pen and ink comic strip, the question of the day, which happened to be "What is your favorite stripe on the flag? The answers are given by each member of the group next to their picture. All quite nonsensical, but right on at the time.
The members back then were lead singer Grace Slick, singer and guitarist Paul Kantner, singer Marty Balin, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady and drummer Spencer Dryden. The LP also has a host of other names that I probably never noticed. Well, maybe I did, but I know at the time they didn't carry the same wow-factor it does today. The guest list included Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and Steven Stills and David Crosby of Crosby, Stills and Nash.
When I took out the LP, I discovered the words to all the songs were still inside the jacket. Somehow, through endless moves, it hadn't been lost. RCA, the recording company, had marketed the words on an 11-by-17 glossy sheet that looked like a newspaper. Now that's poetic justice considering my profession. But back then it just looked plain cool.
I probably would have never been digging around that cabinet if it hadn't been for an event I attended last Friday, San Jose Rocks, which inducted five rock 'n' roll legends into the recently founded San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame.
The inaugural five were the Count Five, Syndicate of Sound, John Tristao, Doug Curtis and Paul Kantner from the Jefferson Airplane.
Kantner was the main reason I wanted to go, but the other inductees were equally impressive.
Growing up in New York, I thought the West Coast sound had a certain mystique. There was Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, the Doobie Brothers and of course the Airplane.
Until this event, I had no idea how much music originated from San Jose. The only thing I ever knew about San Jose was Dionne Warwick asking if you know the way. Now the truth comes out that San Jose just wasn't sexy enough for the rock 'n' roll market, so bands came from either San Francisco or L.A.
It didn't really matter much back then, because it was all about the music pouring out of both sides of the continent and of course those revolutionary bands coming out of England. It was about amazing lyrics and talented artists. It was about the message, a political battle cry often written on pure inspiration and heard through guitar riffs that were jaw-dropping. It was about a time that will never be replicated, because, quite simply, it was absolutely brilliant.
That's what I heard when Kantner played on Friday night. It was easy to close my eyes and take my mind back, and for just a brief moment I got to replay an incredible time.
But I'm not one to live in the past, and looking at all those old rockers convinced me that living in the moment is where I should be.
Yet that didn't stop me from taking out that LP and putting it on the turntable after all these years. The sound isn't crisp anymore. Maybe it never was, but that's all I knew back then. Those scratchy voices were like the ones I heard Friday night. Yet there is something magical about taking an LP out of a cardboard cover that was designed just for a particular band. And placing the vinyl with its grooves and colored label on the turntable. Oh, I know there is no comparison to the quality of an iPod or DVD. But nothing compares to placing that needle in just the right spot, a second before the first note of a new song. That's still special after all these years. You might even say it's surreal.
Moryt Milo is the editor of the Willow Glen Resident. She can be reached at 408.200.1051 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.