The Three Pauls and The Second American Revolution
The three Pauls represent the three centers of pop music in their age – San Francisco gave us Paul Kantner (3/17/1941), New York gave us Paul Simon (10/13/1941) and Liverpool/London gave us Paul McCartney (6/18/1942) – having come from Liverpool, he was gifted to the world via London. All three emerged at roughly the same instant, in cosmic time, both in the world and in music history. The Beatles, of course, were first, but to someone of my generation, that goes without saying.
On July 6, 1957, Paul McCartney met John Lennon at the garden fȇte at St Peter’s Church, Woolton, Liverpool. The Beatles first release in America was Introducing the Beatles, in VeeJay Records, on 1/6/1964, which signaled (if its release did not actually trigger) the beginning of Beatlemania. By February 9th, the world would be forever changed.
FYI: Meet the Beatles on Capitol Records was January 20, 1964. I have them both. *bragging*
Yet, all the same, by 1957, under the name Tom & Jerry, the teenaged Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel “had their first minor success with ‘Hey Schoolgirl’, a song imitating their idols the Everly Brothers.” The separated and when they rejoined, their first Columbia release, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., came out 10/19/1964.
Paul Kantner was the latecomer, or late bloomer in the trio; he joined Marty Balin to become the Jefferson Airplane (later the Jefferson Starship, hereafter referred to as the Jefferson Incarnation, except where the initials are significant).
After the Beatles-led British invasion of 1964, Balin was inspired by the success of the Byrds and Simon & Garfunkel in merging folk with rock to form a group in 1965 that would follow that lead. With a group of investors, Balin purchased a former pizza parlor on Fillmore Street, which he converted to a music club, the Matrix, and began searching for members for his group. Balin met folk musician Paul Kantner at another local club, The Drinking Gourd. Kantner, a native San Franciscan, had started out performing on the Bay Area folk circuit in the early 1960s, alongside fellow folkies Jerry Garcia, David Crosby and Janis Joplin.
Balin and Kantner then recruited other musicians to form the house band at the Matrix. After hearing female vocalist Signe Toly Anderson at the Drinking Gourd, Balin invited her to be the group’s co-lead singer. Anderson sang with the band for a year and performed on their first album before departing in October 1966 after the birth of her first child.
Kantner next recruited an old friend, blues guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. The group made its first public appearance as Jefferson Airplane at the opening night of The Matrix on August 13, 1965. The band expanded from its folk roots, drawing inspiration from the Beatles, the Byrds and the Lovin’ Spoonful, and gradually developed a more pop-oriented electric sound.
Paul Kantner and Signe Toly Anderson both died the same day. The only similar circumstance that comes to mind is the concurrent, yet separate deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the Jefferson/Adams connection. Both of the Founding Fathers died on July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the official signing date of their greatest joint work (if indirectly, as two of the Founding Fathers, not co-writers of the document, the Declaration of Independence).
What happened 50 years ago last week? What was the significant event January 28, 1966 signifies? That historical significance got me to thinking about the Second American Civil War, the Culture Wars. It was on November 4, 2008 that Obama gave his acceptance speech (for the nomination) in Grant Park, where 40 years prior, at the Democratic National Convention, in the same location, that August 28, 1968 came to be known as the day a “police riot” took place. The title of “police riot” came out of the Walker Report, which amassed a great deal of information and eyewitness accounts to determine what happened in Chicago. At approximately 3:30 p.m., a young man lowered the American flag at a legal rally taking place at Grant Park”, and so it began, or so I’d always thought.
I’d always thought that was the moment the Culture Wars truly ignited, with the War in VietNam raging, civil unrest and social unrest at large across the land, if there was a “Bunker Hill” moment for the Second American Civil War, this was it. Yet, 40 years later, the newly elected President thanked a grateful nation from the same spot, and I thought that would put a rest to it, that the Culture Wars were clearly won by the progressive faction that believes in society moving forward, not back – and not only did nothing positive resolve itself out of that act of atonement, conditions only continued to deteriorate. Congress excoriated the President, the press excoriated Congress and took potshots when it could at both the President and Congress. It started nasty and got worse, for eight years!
Why hadn’t it worked? Why hadn’t the atonement brought at-one-men-ship back to the country? Why had the unifying mojo not worked? Because what didn’t cause it wouldn’t cure it, so to speak. The violence at the Democratic National Convention that summer didn’t signal the beginning of hostilities, those had been going on for a while already.
The Civil War did not cause the division, it was a result of the split in the American mindset that caused the Culture Wars in the first place. It’s been going on almost as long as I can remember – “dirty hippies”, “Commie pinko fags”; these were just some of the more printable epithets thrown across the divide, but they brought the divide into high relief, so everyone could see it, and most would then choose sides, or surrender to being co-opted by the ruling Establishment. I was fourteen in 1966; impressionable but alert, I read the daily paper, such as it was, kept up on the news while learning the history conjointly at school.
Fifty years ago last week, Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson during their year working together from 1965 to 1966, were a part of something meaningful, something important, something big. Something bigger than themselves and their own individual destinies. Something happened 50 years prior to their concurrent deaths, if I could only figure out what it was.
I graduated high school in 1970, just as the Beatles and, significantly, Simon and Garfunkel issued their final albums and broke up as performing entities. The revolution in consciousness had already been going on, and in fact as a senior at university in upstate New York, taking a course in Utopias, I’d focused my research on the social development of the Haight-Ashbury and the legend developing around the Summer of Love. I didn’t know the story, but I knew the story was there, so after my fourth year at university, off I scampered to San Francisco to continue my search. I settled down on Hayes Street, just blocks down from Stanyan Street where, around the corner on Fulton at Arguello, lay the Airplane House. I lived for a while at 1969 Hayes; my imagination, however, lived downstairs, in 1967 Hayes.
This is the research that I found, from my initial search:
On December 10, 1965, the Airplane played at the first Bill Graham-promoted show at the Fillmore Auditorium, supported by the Great Society and others. The Airplane also appeared at numerous Family Dog shows promoted by Chet Helms at the Avalon Ballroom.
The group’s first single was Balin’s “It’s No Secret” (a tune he wrote with Otis Redding in mind); the B-side was “Runnin’ Round The World”, the song that led to the band’s first clash with RCA, over the lyric “The nights I’ve spent with you have been fantastic trips”. After their debut LP was completed in March 1966, Skip Spence quit the band and he was eventually replaced by Spencer Dryden, who played his first show with the Airplane at the Berkeley Folk Festival on July 4, 1966. Dryden had previously played with a Los Angeles group called the Ashes, who later became the Peanut Butter Conspiracy.
Two significant early concerts featuring the Airplane were held in late 1965; the first the historic dance at the Longshoremen’s Hall in San Francisco on October 16, 1965, the first of many “happenings” in the Bay Area, where Gleason first saw them perform. At this concert they were supported by a local folk-rock group, the Great Society, which featured Grace Slick as lead singer and it was here that Kantner met Slick for the first time. A few weeks later, on November 6, they headlined a benefit concert for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the first of many promotions by rising Bay Area entrepreneur Bill Graham, who later became the band’s manager.
In November 1965, Jefferson Airplane signed a recording contract with RCA Victor, which included an unheard-of advance of US$25,000. Prior to this, they had recorded a demo for Columbia Records of “The Other Side Of This Life” with Bob Harvey on bass, which was immediately shelved by the label. On December 10, 1965, the Airplane played at the first Bill Graham-promoted show at the Fillmore Auditorium, supported by the Great Society and others. The Airplane also appeared at numerous Family Dog shows promoted by Chet Helms at the Avalon Ballroom.
The Social Consciousness of the New Age Is Born
Then I stumbled on a reference to the First Trips Festival with the Grateful Dead, “later that month”, and opening “the doors of perception” became part of a social consciousness, ultimately, the collective social consciousness, a community of shared vision(s). No longer an isolating experience, huddled in dark corners afraid of the light, the psychedelic experience found or generated a community, and the new awareness became part of the social fabric.
The first Trips Festival, sponsored by the Merry Pranksters and held at the Longshoremen’s Hall in January 1966, saw The Grateful Dead, Big Brother, and the Holding Company play to an audience of 10,000, giving many their first encounter with both acid rock, with its long instrumentals and unstructured jams, and LSD. Also from San Francisco, Blue Cheer played psychedelic-influenced rock in a blues-rock style.
Then I realized the psychic split America was experiencing which was so obviously reaching a climax was not the Culture Wars, after all. That was just a symptom, not the condition itself. The thread ran even deeper than I suspected. It was the entrance of the psychedelic mindset into modern society that was the change. THAT was “the moment”, everything else – the War on Drugs, the “Death of Hippie” (and all that entails), the resurgence of evangelical Christianity, the “born again” movement as a movement – these things spring from the early emergence of a new consciousness, a new Way of Being.
Many people will put a different date, perhaps, on the dawning of the new age, but my candidate has now become January 28, 1966. Its earthly parallel was the birth of the San Francisco sound; the course it followed, the course Haight Street followed in the decade after the Summer of Love, through and beyond the Death of Hippie (the funeral having been held as early as January 1968), those were the birth pangs of a new consciousness on Earth. It is now, it seems, reaching maturity and stepping up to act in a mature, adult capacity, instead of a commercial slave cowed into submission by “stuff”.
The revolution is real. The revolution is here. The revolution is now. The revolution is in your head.