Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane | Interview
The Jefferson Airplane singer left rock & roll, then started painting it.
Grace Slick is one of the first goddesses of rock & roll: As the frontwoman for Great Society and then Jefferson Airplane, Slick helped establish the psychedelic rock movement. Long before heading Jefferson Starship and Starship, the woman who once attempted to lace President Nixon’s tea with acid had a mouth—“drunk mouth,” she calls it—that brought her as much trouble as fame. No one (not even Slick) knows if she was born in Evanston or Highland Park, but she left the area at age three. This weekend, Slick, 67, returns for her art show—featuring paintings of the infamous white rabbit and musicians from the day, like Jerry Garcia—at the Wentworth Gallery in Schaumburg.
How are you?
Not too bad for an old fart.
Yeah, I’m a fat old broad, but my face is more or less the same.
On the ’71 Sunfighter album, you sing, “I’m 20 years short of a century, but the best years are in the balance.”
That’s true—on the inside. You learn that there’s no point in being an asshole. And you learn to follow the things that you like. Too many people try to please their parents. My parents were Republicans, which is too bad, but they allowed me to be who I wanted to be.
When did you start drawing your old rock buddies?
I started writing this autobiography [Grace Slick: Somebody to Love?] and my agent was like, “Why don’t you do a couple portraits,” and I was like, No; rock & roll draws rock & roll—aw, isn’t that cute? But I liked it. Rock & roll is not obscure, it’s really easy to understand. So is my painting.
Did you have a favorite band?
Yeah, the Rolling Stones. All the San Francisco bands—the Charlatans, the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service—they didn’t blow my brains out, but we all hung out together. You never wanted to leave an open drink around because one of the bands was liable to dose one of the other bands. [Laughs] But I looked to Mick Jagger for how to be on the rock & roll stage. There were really no lead women that I knew of; Janis was more blues…. I didn’t mimic [Jagger’s] actions, but I learned the attitude. If you don’t own the stage, you shouldn’t be in rock & roll.
You were tight with Janis, right?
I love women from Texas, they’re real strong, real funny, and we were both kind of in your face. You could start in on me, but it wouldn’t last very long because I’d rip your fucking head off. Janis was a little friendlier. You’d walk into the dressing room and she’d go, “Come in y’all and have some Jack!” The point back then was, literally, sex, drugs and rock & roll. Rehab was where you went if you broke your leg skiing.
Why do you think you made it and a lot of your friends didn’t?
I think it’s because I’m a weenie. I snorted heroin once and nothing happened, and I never shot anything because I didn’t have any veins. I don’t do any drugs now; they took quaaludes off the market. And I don’t like the taste of alcohol, I like what it does, I like to go nuts….I’m a little old for that now. I’ll probably never stop smoking cigarettes.
Why’d you leave Starship in ’88?
We were singing songs that other people wrote that I didn’t believe. “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”: Yeah, right; your husband’s probably banging the stenographer. I hated Starship.
Has the symbolism of the rabbit changed for you over the years?
My parents used to read [Alice in Wonderland] to me, when Alice is in Victorian England and I’m in the ’50s, like all Leave It to Beaver. And then I go bam! into the ’60s and Alice goes bam! into the rabbit hole, and it’s very similar; she literally does like five drugs. The white rabbit was her curiosity and she follows it, no matter what happens.
Do you ever regret following your curiosity?
When you get older, it’s not about what you did that you regret, it’s what you didn’t do. I’ve never been to the Middle East, and I didn’t screw Peter O’Toole or Jimi Hendrix.
Grace Slick presents her art on Saturday 8 and Sunday 9.