Friday, January 29, 2016

RIP Paul Kantner

Paul Kantner (March 17, 1941 - January 28, 2016)
Balin, Slick, Dryden, Kantner, Kaukonen, Casady 1967

The Reed City Michigan public library in 1970 was a tiny place on the second floor at the corner of Higbee and Upton right downtown, across the street from the laundrymat where the local kids would hang out because there was a pop machine and nowhere else to go.  Among the hundred or so LP records in the library were 2 albums that made a huge impression on me - E. Power Bigg's "The Golden Age of the Organ" and "After Bathing at Baxter's" by Jefferson Airplane.

formerly the
Reed City Public Library

Funny that "Baxter's", a core artifact of 60s psychedelia, made its way to such a place, a very white, tidy little town of 2500 remote enough that folks there thought it a real city because it was the county seat.  There wasn't a freeway within 40 miles at that time.  My mom was a church organist at the Congregational Church a block up Upton, right across from the veteran's memorial Jim Harrison describes in the opening of his first novel, "Wolf".  Dad was a state cop.

My friend Scott and I took "Baxter's" home and sat on the carpet in the living room listening to it guiltily, expecting our parents to bust us for even listening to it.  We had a pretty good idea what it was all about though I don't remember how we knew.  I think we skipped the acid trip sequence when the folks were home.

To me it is one of the best rock albums ever, certainly among the very best by an American band.  It has a wide range of styles and dynamics, from jazzy chamber music to freeform feedback guitar jams, the wonderful voice of Grace Slick, and though they weren't great musicians by any means they knew how to make effective sounds, and the arranging and vocal harmonies are quite subtle and effective. There's a sort of spacious loneliness to some of the sustained guitar sounds that used to make me think of the beaches and dunes of Lake Michigan 50 miles away.  "Saturday Afternoon" starts with a huge foghorn sound like a hazy afternoon at the beach.  The 11 tunes are grouped together into 5 suites, bookended by the anthemic "Ballad of You and Me and PooNeil" and "Saturday Afternoon",  and the cartoon cover art by R. Cobb is humorous and iconic.

I guess I'll read up and listen to more Jefferson Airplane this weekend - I didn't really follow the band except for this album and don't know much about Kantner.  But I have to pay tribute to him and the band for helping open up my world.

zipped album (my LP rip and improvised CD cover art) on Google Drive: Baxter's