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Saturday, January 17, 2015
Jefferson Airplane "Volunteers"
I’m going to lay down this review of Volunteers, which begins with ‘We Should be Together’ by Paul Kantner. I think this album could & should be the soundtrack for the current movement building to a revolution. Lines like “we are the sources of chaos & anarchy/what they say we are we are” & “We are all outlaws in the eyes of America" have the defiant stance that measures the ad hominem attacks with “and…?” Other lines like “Up against the Wall, mother fuckers” & “Tear down the Walls” are rallying cries against the injustice that hasn’t changed significantly. We are all here and fighting together. We should be together. Forget our differences, forget what they say about us. Stand together & fight. Jorma Kaukonen’s guitar work acts as a common thread throughout the record, offering a sharp, angry pierce to the gorgeous vocals that tend to soften the fierce lyrics. His guitar continues into ‘Good Shepherd’ where his guitar sears the peaceful lyrics of the pastoral tune. In fact even this song gives a traditional tune a rebellious note. A note that leaves the listener comforted. Next up, ‘The Farm’ which is a hippy dream that espouses the bucolic life of simplicity, something today’s world needs to really seek out ways to fulfill. It’s easier said than done to move out to a rural setting & start farming, but with the organic, boutique farming happening across the country & urban farming sprouting up, the message holds. Another great line opens the next song: Either go away or go all the way in’ Grace Slick dares the listener. “How old do you have to be before you stop your believing?” This song makes a great argument that the production of this album leaves room for remakes that could be stripped down without losing the punch. I still love to hear a great guitar solo, but the attention span of most listeners today might drift during this 8-plus minute song. Another Jorma tune sang gracefully by Marty Balin, “Turn My Life Down”, gives a nice end to side one (for those of you who remember LPs). Again Jorma’s guitar work sparkles, & Marty’s vocals capture the sad lyrics of loss (especially innocence). Side two started with “Wooden Ships” which is such a better version than CSN’s. The bleak landscape of the lyrics, with band member voices speaking as survivors of some horrific event, is matched by the bleak soundscape & throughout, Jorma’s guitar flows freely with the vocals like Lester Young’s tenor sax mingled with Lady Day’s voice. Probably the harshest line is “Stare as all human feelings die/We are leaving, you don’t need us” imagines the hard decisions that come with disasters on the nuclear scale. David Crosby’s one of my favorite musicians, but the Airplane version wins out. Grace roars back in punk-on-an-LSD-trip mode with “Eskimo Blue Day” and lines like “You call it loud/but the human crowd/doesn’t mean shit to a tree” radiate a powerful, in your face environmental attitude that the movement could use against the forces of big oil & fossil fuel disasters. Jorma brings it, giving the song an edge as potent as the tree crashing at the end. Spencer Dryden’s “A Song for all Seasons” has a barroom piano that slurs along with the lyrics & the group vocals harmonizing loosely & tongue-in-cheek. A brief respite before we move to “Meadowlands” which opens with a harsh organ chord progression of a Soviet Army Song then fades into “Volunteers” and Marty calling the volunteers to arms. What I always loved about this song was that it called for revolution but a revolution of volunteers, not of soldiers, not of patriots, but of volunteers. It’s two-minutes of punch that I wish could never stop. As someone who writes about a cooperative process & finding alternative ways to exist and work together voluntarily without coercion, I’ve always had Marty singing joyfully “Look what’s happenin’ on the streets/got to revolution/got a revolution” in my head when I go out marching for peace & justice. Whether it’s the music or the lyrics, Volunteers deserves to be heard.