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You'll know everything about the Airplane

Published July 27, 2003


The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane

By Jeff Tamarkin

Atria, $27, 373 pp

Reviewed by TOM ZUCCO

Exhaustive research. First-hand accounts. Details only insiders would know.

The story of the first lunar landing wasn't this well told.

To diehard Jefferson Airplane fans, Got A Revolution! is the book they've been sitting around in their bell-bottoms waiting for. This and the latest Physician's Desk Reference.

It's everything you ever wanted to know about Marty Balin, Grace Slick, Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Kantner, Jack Casady, Spencer Dryden and the cast of thousands who drifted in and out of the band's sphere of influence.

In fact, it's more than everything you ever wanted to know. And that's the problem. Books that chronicle second-tier rock bands - and that's essentially what the Airplane was - begin to look a lot like E! True Hollywood Story, the later episodes. When the producers end up profiling people like Lawanda Page, whose claim to fame was playing Redd Foxx's sister-in-law on Sanford & Son.

Like The Mamas & the Papas and Big Brother & The Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane was a pioneering California band that made good in large part because of a powerful female vocalist. Founded by Balin and Kanter in the summer of 1965, the Airplane made their gift to psychedelia with songs such as Volunteers, White Rabbit and Somebody to Love.

And then Altamont happened, the cause was over and like dozens of other bands, Jefferson Airplane struggled to retain its identity and sense of purpose.

Author Jeff Tamarkin, the editor of Global Rhythm magazine, got the cooperation of Slick, Balin, Kantner and others to write their story. And although much of it reads like a dissertation, Revolution has its moments. Slick tells the story of being invited by accident to a tea party at the White House. Tricia Nixon, the president's oldest daughter, graduated from Finch College and invited many of her classmates to a reunion. Including a woman named Grace Wing. Who had gotten married, joined a rock band and changed her name to Grace Slick.

"Grace had brought along a little gift," Tamarkin writes. "A little something to help him (Nixon) see things in a different light."

Slick and her escort, hippie icon Abbie Hoffman, were going to spike the president's drink. With LSD. Imagine Richard Nixon on acid.

Anyway, White House guards deemed the pair a security risk and they weren't allowed inside.

Tamarkin also resolves the mystery about the band's name. "It was an in-joke that got carried away. A tribute to the bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson and an inexplicable nod to the miracle of flight united to give rise to one of the greatest band names of the '60s."

And then they morphed into Jefferson Starship, and then simply, and sadly, Starship.

All of the original band members are alive, which is a feat in itself. And their story was indeed a turbulent flight.

But unless the subject is truly special, there's no need to relive every bounce and bump.

- Tom Zucco is a Times staff writer.

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