"I went out with no clothes on to check the lightning, out on a ledge . . . There was beautiful lightning going on, fantistic, and I got all the way out and it was sort of a communing with nature thing. I took all my clothes off, and I was just out there, nude, you know, out there, like an animal with no clothes, no humanity, non of the human-trapping thing, out there, and singing and carrying on, talking to the lightning." Pause for a breath.
Did the lightning talk back?
I got arrested for drunk driving once, without being in a car." After an argument, the driver threw the keys out of the car and walked away. "I got out of the car and was crawling around on my hands and knees looking where the hell he had thrown the keys . . The car's in the middle of the street, nobody can get around it, right? The neighbors call the cops, the cops come, find me on my hands and knees, decide that I'm roaring drunk. That was the only time in my life I probably was not drunk. I only had two glasses of wine. But since I'm on my hands and knees and my breath smells like wine, I go right down to the jail. I did karate all night. They put me in a cell by myself. They said they were afraid I was going to hurt somebody."
Later, head cocked, almost in afterthought: "I think I'm rebelling against my name."
Grace Slick is 38 years old, sort of. Throat scars and pimples; the body slides both ways. The scars are from operations for singers' nodes, war medals the way she talks about them ("Harry Belafonte had nine operations and he's still going"). The pimples appear with no discretion, as pimples will. "I've got wrinkles in everything, but I still get acne."
She's recovering alcoholic. She is corporate executive of her recording company. She is a handsome, big-eyed, black-haired woman who breaks up photo sessions by suddenly launching into a series of terrible faces. She drives very fast and sings very hard and lives on a giant, vodka-stained crevases.
"I can't think of anything I do that's middle range," Grace Slick says, "except that I'm alive."
She is a lady rock star, an abdicted acid queen. And she is staring down middle age. San Francisco Fairy Tales
If you saw the Jefferson Airplane in San Francisco 11 years ago you were probably wedged in near the back wall at Winterland, or the Avalon Ballrom, one foot numb because you sat cross-legged in that sea of frayed denim so long that by the time you realized you had to go to the bathroom your leg had dissolved somewhere around the ankle. You were squinting through a mauve haze of sweat and marijuana smoke, and way off there, way off near the horizon, silhouetted before a three-walled backdrop of Day-Glo humping amoeba, Grace Slick was singing her songs.
The songs were all over the radio, reaching an audience already giddy with fairy tales about San Francisco (which was preserving muddled brains in Lucite that year).
Slick carried the biggest music, the raucous "Somebody to Love," the wailing and deliciously drug-soaked cry of 'feed your head' that climazed "White Rabbit." The album "Surrealistic Pillow" sold a million copies. Life magazine put the Airplane on its cover. Rock's New Sound.
They are the Starship now, not the Airplane, new drum and bass and guitar players, horns on the side. The new album is called "Earth." The music is softer, if you like it, sappy if you don't. The sales are astonishing: Platinum by early May. No. 9 in last week's Hot 100 for Billboard. The tour reachess Washington tomorrow night at Cap Centre. Marty Balin, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick, rich-voiced performers with veterans' eyes, are still center stage.
It is a 13-year history these three share, a convoluted romance that began when a nice couple named Grace and Darby Slick went out one night in 1965 to hear some San Francisco locals named the Jefferson Airplane. "They looked like they were less moderately talented" is how Grace Slick remembers it now, but they looked like they having fun, so the Slicks and Darby's brother became the Great Society, and they began singing too.
Slick had began performing most of her life anyway, if unofficially. Her mother, a former movie actress who had worked as a Marion Davies stand-in used to sing through housework, and Grace cought the joy of that sound so early that by the time she was 4 years old she was strutting around in her little sunsuits, chest out singing 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning' to anybody who would hold still for it.
The Airplane's female singer got pregnant in 1966. 'I Will Outgrow It,' But Not Yet
Grace Slick - college art major, former fashion model, uptown Palo Alto banker's child - tried out for the job. She like them and they loved her and that, as they say, was that - the first real entrance into a world that closed in around Grace Slick and won't let her go. She took off with the drummer and broke up. She took up with Paul Kantner, lived with him and gave birth to their child, and that broke up. She took up with Skip Johnson, the bank's 25-years-old lighning director, and married him to the sound of Hawaiian music on the island of Maui.
They are still married. They have a house north of San Francisco and a cabin cruiser. The band is still Slick's world.
"It is a simple way of getting off," she says, meaning rock music. "It is very physical; let's screw and get loud. That is a simple way, and a young way of getting off. Your mind gets variables to work with and to be amused by and to create as you get older, 'cause your mind gets better. So I will outgrow it, and it, in turn, will outgrow me."
But not yet.
The role wears off slowly.
Slick loves performing, and she is very good at it. There is power in the body, in the voice "If I'm not performing I'm quite able to be nervous . . . or not nervous, I would say . . . the word nervous is stupid . . . concerned with a variety of other things. In other words, there's just too much junk in my head. Performing, I feel the most linear, as far as being the dopy word, happy."
And Slick stepped out all those years ago on a certain kind of stage, a testing ground for high-speed craziness, the place that nourishes rock stars. It suited her just fine.
"Life with a lot of pharmaceutical noise, that's what I call it." No Moderation
The Grace Slick stories abound, and most of them are true. She appeared on a Toronto radio program and began an earnest discussion about masturbation. She walked into a hotel restaurant barefoot, was asked to put her shoes on, and responded by kicking the restaurant man in the leg. (She was discovered in the hallway later that night, still barefoot, shouting and holding three white uniformed security guards at bay with karate poses.)
She wore at interviews, roared around San Francisco in her black Aston Martin, showed up at a White House tea for Tricia Nixon (both women attended the same private Manhattan college) in a see-through crochted blouse and purple middy skirt, with Abbie Hoffman as her escort. "My bodyguard," she exclaimed. The White House declined to admit them.
I don't know middle road or moderation is," Slick says. "I have a problem with that. I like all of it, or don't want any of it . . . I'd rather walk than go 15 miles in a car. I don't like to piddle around with anything."
She says she bought four dresses in London for $1,000 apiece, without trying them on, and never wore them. "They're not my style." They are beautiful dresses, they hang in my closet and now and then she opens the closet door just to look at them.
"I don't have a checking account, because - I tried it three times - I got to L.A. and spent like $10,000, but I won't go again for a year . . . I'd go to L.A. and go berserk all day long, buying stuff, and then the bank would call me up and say, "Somebody's have been signing your name to checks in L.A." I said, "No, that's me." They said, "Well, we canceled them all because we could't believe the amount of checks that happened all of a sudden in two hours." I said, "That's the way I live, that's the way I am, those are my signatures.'" 'I'm a Mean Drunk'
This is also the way she drinks.
"I am also what you call a periodic alcoholic," Slick says. "I don't have a physical craving - like today, I didn't get up thinking, 'Jesus, I sure wish I could have a drink.' It's all psychological." Impulse. Sass and self-destructiveness. "I'll just be driving along, drive right into a liquor store, and bam, without thinking, but three bottles of vodka, go out and get drunk."
Right out of the bottle. "I don't want to bother sitting there with the ice anf glass and everything.That takes time. I just like the high. I don't like the taste of alcohol. The best drink if you want to get drunk is vodka. It is the strongest, the clearest alcohol. It doesn't have all the garbage in it to make you throw up. It's not - you know - with all the apricots, and all that junk with the liquers."
Slick always has been a binge drinker, lacking what makes most people realize they've had enough, or at least remember the next time how bad the last drunk felt. She was 15 years old the first time. A friend brought some whiskey over, tasted it, and said, "God, that's awful." Slick drank the whole bottle. "And I liked it just fine."
A rock star could cherish a crutch like this, could lean on it one night and beat people over the head with it the next. There was a bluesy, bleary-eyed seductiveness to the half-empty Southern Comfort bottle Janis Joplin turned into a trademark, some public acceptance of strong-voiced women with liquor in their veins. And when Slick got drunk the fear went away, the small scared place that gnawed inside at a woman convinced that her voice range is limited, her face isnot great, and her knees are too fat.
She would get angry, insulting. She would curse at close friends. Sarcasm born of shyness grew into bile. "I'm a mean drunk, aggressive, obnoxious . . . I sort of like the business of being a roaring jerk, but it's difficult to do that when you're sober, because you know you're being a jerk."
She kept landing in jail. "All one-nighters," she says, maybe 10 of them. "Let's see . . . Ohio, San Francisco, Marin County . . . Hawaii? No, I never went to jail in Hawaii. Paul went to jail in Hawaii, for marijuana. I don't know. Maybe there are only about five."
One night in March she was invited to a small San Francisco club to be part of somebody's skit, a game-show satire. Slick sat down with a friend beforehand and started in on the broadcast. She was in an edgy mood anyway, and by the time she was hauled off stage, screaming, "You can't do this to me," she shouted at the performers, cursed at the audience, and broken three microphones by throwing them down on the stage.
She was contrite for a while afterward. The she got in her Aston Martin and drove, and drove until the engine blew out. She pulled over into a ditch and asked somebody to call the Highway Patrol, and when the Highway Patrol arrived Slick said along the lines of, "What the hell does it look like happened?" - something she remembers only clearly enough to know that it was a stupid thing, a very drunk thing, to say to a cop. How Does a Rock Star Age?
Slick went to jail again. When she got out of jail went to a Marin County hospital program for alcoholics, to find out, as she puts it, "psychologiclaly, what the deal is." She also began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She says she is, psychologically, but she had some ideas.
"Everybody wants to be numb in the area where you feel people don't like what you're doing," Slick says, slowly. "I'm not fighting other people. I'm trying to come up to my own idea of perfection, which is unfortunate, because nobody's perfect. I would like not to have a fat knees; I would like to have better voice; I would like to do more than I am doing; I would like to - you know - better, better, better - you're not doing it right, you're not doing it right . . ."
Her voice is rising now, and she is talking very quickly.
"You ought to do it more, you ought to do it better, you ought to do it with more people, you ought to do it with less people, you ought to do it faster, you ought to do it slower, that just constantly driving things . . ."
"I got eyes and I got ears, I know who's singing good, and who looks good, and I'm not one of 'em. I know who's got their b-bs in order and everything. And I'm not it."
What about 40, she asked, or 50? Eye tucks and facelifts might nudge along another kind of glamor; how does a lady rock star age?
"You go from a sex symbol into a character part," says Slick, cheerfulness in her voice, "and hopefully you do it well. The Hollywood actresses who die - it's hard to take. They don't know how to make a transition. And it's hard for most women, because their whole schticks is based on how their b-bs are and how pretty their face is."
She told Rolling Stone that "You Light Up My Life" was the one love song that really grabbed her in recent months. "The first time I heard it on the radio, like a year ago, I thought, AAHHGG!! I knew that thing was gonna go like that. And also, since I'm married to a light man, I thought, 'God, that would a been perfect!'"
(She says her mother read the Rolling Stone piece and said, with some resignation, "Grace, why do you go around grabbing people's butts all the time?")
Slick thinks she might move to Hawaii, open a small store. Or teach.Or study psychology - she likes that. "Almost anything interests me, except country-western music." She breaks into scrappy song, a country satire: "Oh, ma-a-an done left me, and Ah'm gone to Idaho for a Whaaal . . ."
And yes, she will probably climb off the stage, "I will not have what people want to look at. You don't want to look at a bunch of flab and wrinkles and, you know, stuff like that."
Later, though.Not yet.
"Bebe Rebozo, Bebe Rebozo, Beebee Rebozo," chants Slick, into the microphone, pacing. She is limbering for rehearsal, playing with her voice, singing an empty Winterland. Same old auditorium, grotty as ever. Slick, all in black, making faces again. "And now," she intones, gravely, addressing the shadow, "San Francisco's fly-by-night group . . ."