Friday, April 28, 2017

Somebody to Love?: A Rock-and-Roll MemoirSomebody to Love?: A Rock-and-Roll Memoir by Grace Slick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"When the truth is found
To be lies
And all the joy
Within you dies
Don't you want somebody to love
Don't you need somebody to love [...]

One of the few vividly remembered scenes from my teenage years: Warsaw, June 1967, I am taping Jefferson Airplane's Somebody To Love off the radio via mike onto my toy portable reel-to-reel tape recorder. I want to be able to listen to Grace Slick's mesmerizing, vibrating, powerful voice day and night. Airplane, a pioneering band from the San Francisco scene, was an important factor in my rock education, one of the first steps in the evolution from simple pop harmonies to progressive rock, and eventually to jazz and classical. And of course it was 1967, the Summer of Love. Music was the most important thing, music was love, music was the rebellion and the beacon of imminent revolutionary changes.

Somebody To Love? (1998) is a rock memoir of Grace Slick, the supremely gifted vocalist of Jefferson Airplane and the author of the groundbreaking song White Rabbit, with its "Feed your head" call to arms. A thorough chronicle, the bio goes over Ms. Slick's childhood and youth, and her association with Jefferson Airplane. It then recounts the pop "maturity" of Jefferson Starship, and finally, the complete sellout of Starship. Ms. Slick tells us a lot about her outsized love of drugs and sex, and about her never-ceasing search for actual love.

The parents' world of the 1960s is crumbling, hippies wear flowers in their hair, Haight Ashbury becomes the center of the Universe, and the memoir manages to convey a little bit - not enough - of the taste of those tumultuous times, despite the overflowing stream of trivia, juicy tidbits, and names of famous artists and performers.

The memoir is ghostwritten by Andrea Cagan: the authorship is obvious in that the prose is well structured, readable, yet kept in utterly sensationalist, name-dropping, gossipy and "cutesy" style. I would like to believe that Ms. Slick's real persona is well hidden beneath the tabloid writing. I would like to hope that one of the heroes of my youth is not as trivial as the book makes her to be. One can always hope.

Amidst the mind-numbing gossipy prattle are some worthwhile passages that elevate the book almost to the three-star ranking. The experimentation with peyote is reported in a dry and objective tone. I hope that the reported attempt to drug President Nixon in the White House is based on fact as the story is hilarious. Ms. Slick's exposition of her lyrics to White Rabbit sounds heartfelt and her recounting of love scene with Jim Morrison happens to be well-written and deeply personal: maybe Ms. Cagan let the singer write herself for a while?

To me the best thing about the book is the juxtaposition of three music festivals: Monterey Pop, when the music really took off, then Woodstock, the absolute peak of the era, followed by Altamont, where everything turned commercial: people wanted to cash on the phenomenon, and thus the phenomenon begin dying. The personal aspect of the stories makes the diagnosis more compelling. I wish the book were less "polished" with the syrupy, superficial varnish because the smooth read hides the potential depth. Still, I marginally recommend it for several worthwhile fragments.

Two and three quarter stars.

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