Thursday, October 18, 2012
VOLUNTEERS by Jefferson Airplane, classic album review by Chuck Joy
My copy, vinyl, its cover pretty beat up, folds open, fun content on the back cover, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over the inside, crunchy peanut butter. Been a long time since I tore the plastic off, dropped this baby on the turntable in my room, second floor, Bishops’ Hall, Rose Hill Campus, FU, Bronx NY 10458. Yes kids, I was there, 1969, if underage however until January.
Since that autumn day it’s been my dream to write a paper about the song Wooden Ships (this version, Jefferson Airplane, on Volunteers) and now might be the closest I’ve been yet, the only credit you reading these words. Your applause my only reward. I’ve been to lots of rodeos since that autumn day but Wooden Ships is with me still, the song an attempt to imagine living beyond this shallow world, with its ignorance, its wars. I read the lyric from Wooden Ships at the Poetry Festival last summer. You can try some of my purple berries. We’ve got a refrigerator full of ‘em.
A dreamy song from its first sound effects, the creak of rigging, Wooden Ships seeks cooperation over conflict, an important sensibility almost buddhist in its distinction from the conventional wisdom. Wooden Ships declares life as supposed to be free and easy, therefore requiring distance from the misguided murderous activities of others. We must stare as all their human feelings die. As a metaphoric slogan to address a personal commitment to love and peace We are leaving You don’t need us will do. Go ride the music.
Volunteers is music, that particular art, designed for guitars and drums and voices and piano. Say the names of the musicians on this album. Spencer Dryden. Grace Slick, Marty Balin. Oh, they’ve faded. Paul Kantner, Blows Against The Empire still inside him. Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady. I just saw Jorma and Jack at the State Theatre in Ithaca. Were you there? Hot Tuna. And Volunteers has guests. Nicky Hopkins. Steven Stills. David Crosby. Jerry Garcia.
The aggressive communal We Can Be Together fires this album right up. We are all outlaws in the eyes of America. Their word “young” rang more confidently for me in 1969 than today. Jorma’s lead guitar reached a peak of piercing tone during this era of recording, hard to match through the rest of his work. Hey Fredrick closes side one with a dramatic interpersonal lyric from Grace in fine form before the band takes over. Remember sides?
Side two opens with a nice lead vocal from Marty, an essential element of the Airplane experience, the Jefferson Airplane, as influential and innovative a rock group as any active in 1969. This album rocks throughout with an urgent intensity at concert level, with short intervals of roots music, country, and comic relief, the comic relief well-represented in A Song For All Seasons, the rocking nowhere better than in the last track, Volunteers, a brilliant invocation of the energy of change. In 2012 I still shake my head, what happened?
Maybe if I’d staged my other dream, the dream where I load big speakers on the back of a flat-bed truck and drive around the streets of my city, playing Volunteers at high volume, on a regular basis, a sort of opposite to garbage collection. The music truck, like ice cream. Make everybody happy. Make them think. Who’s with me?