Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, Jeff Tamarkin

I read “Got a Revolution!” in preparation for a future podcast on Jefferson Airplane and was reminded why I usually avoid this type of history-of-the-band book.  Although Tamarkind is airpplane booktoo young to have been a participant in the life that gave rise to Jefferson Airplane, he has known the band members for a very long time, is knowledgeable about the narrative details of the band and their later transformations into Jefferson Starship and, finally, just Starship, and he writes without the blatant band worship or hatred that too often characterizes books of this kind.  So, what’s not to like?  The music got left out.  Tamarkind gives very little attention to the kind of musical information that would be of interest to a reader who is more interested in the music than the band.  At heart, this is a book about the logistical details of tour itineraries and personnel changes, a catalog of important events in the life of the band, and gossip.

Tamarkind begins with brief and interesting background information on the families of each of the major players in the Jefferson Airplane story, progresses to the formation of the band, and then follows the group’s development through to the final dissolution of Starship in 1991.  Along the way, he pays a good deal of attention to Hot Tuna, the side project of guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bass player Jack Casady that turned into an important group in its own right.  The bulk of attention is given to the “classic” Airplane configuration of Kaukonen, Casady, guitarist Paul Kantner, drummer Spencer Dryden and vocalists Marty Balin and Grace Slick.  Readers who are primarily interested in Jefferson Starship and especially Starship (are there any of those?) will likely be disappointed.  The book contains a final what-are-they-doing-now chapter written in 2002, an index, bibliography, list of websites, and a “discography” that simply lists album titles and years of release without any other discographic information.

As mentioned earlier, readers interested in the music won’t find much of interest in “Got a Revolution!”  Who wrote music and who wrote lyrics for song after song is assiduously listed but details of how the music was actually hammered out is not discussed.  Did the music come first?  the lyrics? Were both worked out in collaboration?  How did other members of the band contribute as the song developed over time both in live performance and the studio?  Did various members of the group compose on the guitar?  the piano?  Did it make a difference?  What was the actual musical, as opposed to personal, working life of this band like?  Tamarkind doesn’t talk about any of this.  The blurb on the back of the book says that Tamarkind has written liner notes for dozens of Airplane-related CDs and his discussion of the albums reads like liner notes.  “Spencer’s (insert glowing adjective here) drum intro is followed by a (insert glowing adjective here) vocal duet between Marty and Grace that leads into a (insert glowing adjective here) break by Jorma, Jack and Paul.”  That’s as sophisticated as the musical analysis gets.  Tamarkind is careful to list the producers and engineers for each album but he tells us nothing about how the music was created in the studio.  How was the band recorded?  Any special technical innovations or techniques involved in recording them?  Were they interested participants in the technical aspects of the recording? the mixing? Were they capable in the studio or did segments have to be taped again and again because the band had trouble getting it right?  Tamarkind isn’t interested in any of this.

Instead we get way too many sentences like “In (pick a month and year) the band played shows in (cities A, B and C), followed by dates in (cities E and F) ending up with two shows at (name a famous venue) in (city G).”  We get times, dates, places and circumstances in which Grace Slick slept with one band member or another.  We are told about innumerable small-fine and inconsequential dope busts for various members of the group.  Careful attention is paid to when one wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend is dumped and another is picked up.  Instance after instance of Slick’s embarrassing and usually alchohol-fueled behavior is dutifully described.  One of the odd aspects of the book is that constant reference is made to the polarizing effects of  the warring factions of Kaukonen-Casady on the one hand and Kantner-Slick on the other with Dryden and Balin alone and caught in the middle and yet I don’t remember any real discussion of what these two factions disagreed about.  We’re told that band members ridiculed Balin’s preference for pop oriented love songs and got on Dryden’s case for not being able to play loud enough or long enough to satisfy Kaukonen and Casady’s desire to engage in extended jams but Balin and Dryden are supposed to be the guys caught between the two warring poles in the band.  Strange.

Readers interested in narrative time-lines and gossip may enjoy this book.  If you’re mainly interested in the music, don’t waste your time or money.

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08/12/2007 - Posted by | book reviews, music

2 Comments »

  1. […] reading about the final stages of Jefferson Starship and the subsequent career of Starship in  “Got a Revolution”, a book chronicling the history of Jefferson Airplane, while listening to Dinosaurs’ […]

    Pingback by Review: Dinosaurs, Friends of Extinction « Tuned In To Music | 08/14/2007 | Reply

  2. One of the things that makes the Airplance classic is that Rickenbacker guitar California sound. There’s a good post about Paul Kantner and his Rickenbacker at RickRedux.com.

    Comment by Ace Athena | 09/05/2007 | Reply


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