The Story of Lyndon Johnson Part One


I’ve always admired Lyndon Johnson for pushing through the Civil Rights Bill 50 years ago, especially since he realized he was breaking up the Democratic coalition that Franklin Roosevelt had built when he was President. Vietnam, however, was not so admirable.

Robert A. Caro’s 3 volume biography of Johnson is pretty fascinating (and I haven’t even quite finished the first volume). There’s a lot of history I wasn’t very familiar with, and biographical sketches of people (some of whom I’d heard of, some not) that were illuminating. Caro shows how a lot of people and events fit together.

To understand Johnson, one of the things you have to understand is where he came from: the Hill Country of West Texas is a beautiful area, but not very fertile. Rock underlay the shallow topsoil, and since the area was hilly, incautious plowing encouraged erosion, which often happened. The climate was also undependable. One year (or even three or four) might have enough rain to produce a good crop, but eventually a year would be dry, and it might be dry several years in a row. So the area was both isolated and poor.

This was an area that supported the Populist party that began in the 1880’s. This group supported farmers, who weren’t getting paid enough for the crops they produced. The Populists set up cooperatives to sell the crops to give the farmers better prices, but failed because Eastern merchants refused to deal with the cooperatives. They started a political party, elected some representatives, and considered running their own nominee for President. But William Jennings Bryan took over their issues, so the Populists voted for him as the Democratic candidate–and lost. Bryan ran twice more, and lost both times. The Populist party was dead by the first decade of the 20th century.

But Lyndon Johnson’s father, Sam, believed in Populism, and became a representative to the state government. He was honest, refusing to allow anyone to buy him anything, was very popular, and was a natural politician with lots of talent. Unfortunately, he made the same mistake his father had made: counting on the land to produce a good crop, and betting everything (including all he could borrow) on that. That year was dry, and he lost everything.

Lyndon had loved his parents until his father’s failure; then he turned against them. He refused to obey them, refused to study in school, and was determined not to go to college, which both his parents wanted him to do. He tried working at a job for a lawyer in California, but found he was doing illegal things, so returned to Texas. Then he worked at road-building, an extremely hard physical job, and decided physical work wasn’t very enjoyable for him, especially since it didn’t pay well. So he decided to go to college.

One of the most significant stories about him came about during his college years. There was a society called the Black Stars, which was mostly the athletes and their girl-friends, and they were the ones who got most of the offices in the student government. Johnson took advantage of another organization started for all the outsiders to get power for himself.

He wasn’t well-liked by the students, but was by the professors and administrators, because he flattered them outrageously. Through the other club, the White Stars, and through his contacts with the teachers and officials, he managed to get his candidates elected to the student government and to get most of the good jobs available assigned to members of his group. Most students had to work to be able to afford school, so this was an important power to have.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this accomplishment was that hardly anyone even realized it was going on. Nobody knew about the White Stars, except its members. And no one knew why jobs were suddenly going to the less popular students, though they had a sense Lyndon Johnson had something to do with it. People still didn’t like him, but because he had power, they had to pay attention to him.

The end of that story came much later, though, after the end of Johnson’s Presidency. He visited the college, and remarked that he had established a dictat… (he didn’t quite say dictatorship), and that it had been Hitlerian. It was near the end of the day, he was tired, and in poor health, but as soon as he realized what he’d said, he ended the conversation and left. Caro comments that if a student hadn’t had an audio recorder, probably no one but the people he’d been speaking to would ever have known what he’d said.

Caro almost exclaims about the difference between him and his father (who had been incorruptible), that Lyndon Johnson had made those comments unprompted by anyone else, and that he’d been PROUD of that accomplishment. It shows not only his attachment to power, but his lack of idealism. He didn’t have beliefs he would be true to, no matter what. He wanted to win, and desperately. Later episodes would show just how desperately.


Different Views


A group of articles I recently came across raise some interesting points and questions.

One is about a Bonaboo, one species of the ape/monkey family. The individual written about was residing in a zoo, where he was sexually abused by his father, which drastically influenced his behavior, just as it would for a human. He was constantly fearful, subject to panic attacks, and not well-accepted by his group, at least in part because his behavior was unstable, and not  age-appropriate.

So he was moved to another, more harmonious group, where he was accepted readily by two older adults. The staff also tried to keep his days simple and consistent, introducing new elements gradually, so as not to alarm him. They also gave him Paxil, which reduced his anxiety, and allowed him more confidence to interact with others.

His anxiety did begin to diminish, his behavior became more stable and appropriate, so other Bonaboos in the group accepted him more and more, to the point that eventually mothers would allow him to hold their babies. After the older Bonaboos who had initially accepted him died, he became a leader of the group.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that human and ape behavior is so parallel. His story could easily be about a human, and the methods used to help him aren’t much different from the methods that might often help humans. Unfortunately, many either don’t feel they need help, are afraid to ask for it, or can’t access it, for various reasons.

Another article addressed the root causes of the mass shootings that have become so common. The article stressed that these are not the result of mental illness (though that may be involved), but of anger. The vast majority of the mentally ill are dangerous only to themselves.

Anger is a common problem, and many don’t learn skills to cope with it in an acceptable way. Anger is an important emotion which, when channeled properly, can help people survive, but can also be detrimental to people living in a complex society they can’t rightly understand (chronic anger doesn’t often produce clear thinking).

Many shooters come from unstable and/or violent homes, and the only way they know to handle anger is to explode. Without further skills, their anger becomes chronic, and can escalate, particularly from stress. Anger-management skills can be taught, but some families don’t know them, and prison systems probably teach them infrequently.

According to the author, many such perpetrators have records of domestic or other forms of violence, and our justice system tends to be punitive instead of working to rehabilitate offenders. If many of these men (they’re usually men) could get the kind of help the Bonaboo did, they could potentially become valued members of society.

An article with a somewhat different point addresses the role of guns in this country. The author says that he has owned and shot guns most of his life, and was classified as expert in the armed forces. But he’s been questioning the view of the NRA that the only defense against a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun.

He felt particularly struck by this question on viewing a video of the recent shootings in Las Vegas. He saw a man legally carrying a gun who saw what was happening and was moving behind the shooter to stop him (just as one would expect of one trained to use firearms) when something unexpected happened: the shooter’s female partner (whom the other man hadn’t noticed) shot and killed him.

A number of experienced gun users have said that in such an incident most people would be unable to be of much use even if they DID have guns. Many gun owners haven’t been particularly well-trained (if at all) and might either shoot the wrong person or draw the gunman’s attention to themselves and get killed for nothing. The author here is saying that even with extensive training, guns don’t make him feel safer in public places. Too many things can go wrong.

If even well-trained people with guns feel this way, what is the point of most of us, who haven’t been trained, and probably won’t go to the trouble of getting trained, having guns? Hunting is a relatively legitimate use, but should also require training. Efficient self-defense is unlikely, though, if you don’t know how to use your gun, let alone how to pick your target and avoid getting shot yourself. More guns in public simply makes public spaces more dangerous.

Misunderstanding the problem isn’t going to solve it, and buying into the rhetoric of either side of the issue is usually going to guarantee misunderstanding.

Another article or two focused on the way other cultures look at people who are mentally ill. These so-called “primitive” cultures see what we call mental illness as a sign that the person affected is supposed to be a healer. That he or she is particularly sensitive to the spirit world that is usually not acknowledged, let alone perceived, by our culture. One article talked about an African shaman who visited the USA, and met a young man in a mental institution. He took the young man home to Africa with him, and treated him in traditional ways. The young man became more stable, eventually attended and graduated from college, then attended graduate school.

In this country we’ve had an unfortunate split between science and religion. Religion became corrupt, prompting people interested in science to reject it. And Christianity had turned against many traditional practices and beliefs. What we are supposed to believe is that our remote ancestors were stupid, and didn’t understand the world they lived in. Of course few of them had many of the concepts we have today, but because they lived much closer to the natural world than we, had understandings that we have lost.

Another article I read decades ago, which greatly impressed me, said that “primitive” societies all over the world have initiation ceremonies for young people. These ceremonies, according to the article, make for productive citizens by the mid-teens.

A recent video featured a talk by a man who celebrates tattooing, piercing, sexual experimentation, and drug use of all kinds by young people. He believes they’re trying to find other states of consciousness which might serve as initiation ceremonies for them, since our culture no longer provides these.

These behaviors aren’t danger-free, of course. Alcohol and drugs can lead to dead-ends. But trying to increase one’s consciousness isn’t a bad thing to do. One can do so intellectually, but the intellect is only one mode of perception. The body and emotions are also part of the laboratory we each have, and experimenting can lead to illumination.

It’s interesting that psychedelic drugs like LSD provoked so much fear some 50 years ago. Experimenting with this class of drugs isn’t danger-free either, but they can expand consciousness when used correctly, as recent research seems to tell us. Do we want to become more conscious, or less?

Some interests would prefer we become less, it seems. In the Fourth Century AD Christianity attained political power in the Roman Empire, and almost immediately began persecuting people who disagreed with official doctrine. These included not only the pagan religions, which were part of the foundation on which the empire had been built, but other Christians, particularly the Gnostics.

They were called Gnostics because the word Gnosis means knowledge, and personal knowledge was what they emphasized. Official Christianity discouraged such personal knowledge. Priests were supposed to intercede with God for the ordinary worshippers who were their responsibility. That was a system that quickly became corrupt. Power became the central concern of religion, and power doesn’t appreciate people who know too much. That’s why the Gnostics considered the God described in the Old Testament as being Satan. The human world was obviously concerned more with power than with knowledge or virtue. They believed there was a higher God than the God of the Old Testament, but that this God had limited powers to intervene.

What has changed since the days of the Roman Empire?  The basic dynamic in human government hasn’t: power remains the central concern, and human suffering is a secondary question at best. We have knowledge we didn’t have then, but knowledge from that time has also been lost, or has gone underground.

Maybe that knowledge is now badly needed.

Projection in Politics


The other day I came across an article in which it was claimed that an unnamed “expert” said that solar collectors could drain the sun of energy so that it would go out in 300-400 years. The point seemed to be that solar energy was worse than petroleum-based energy.

That’s the kind of assertion that leaves me scratching my head. Can someone actually believe that, or is it a satire on some of the other ridiculous things conservatives have said? The sun radiates energy in every direction, the earth is a very small fraction of the sun’s size, and the sun has been radiating this way for billions of years, and seems likely to do so for at least millions, if not billions of years more. That’s what science tells us, at least, and I’m inclined to trust science on this instead of people who seem to have a political agenda.

I recently came across a man who denies that human activities have anything to do with so-called global warming. That seems to be because we had a relatively cold winter this past year, because not all the arctic ice is melted, and the polar bears haven’t gone extinct. I pointed out to him that these things haven’t happened YET, but that I thought they were likely to. His reply was that they had been predicted to have happened by now, so he didn’t believe they were ever going to happen, that Obama lied when he said 97% of scientists agreed that human activity was largely responsible for climate change, but mostly his position seemed to be that it was false because liberals were saying it, and liberals wanted to take our money through phony claims. In his last post on that thread he said that conservatives didn’t just THINK liberals were lying; they KNEW it.

My snide first response, which I didn’t say, was that lying is an area in which conservatives have some expertise, so they might have some insight into other people lying. An interesting perspective on lying is found in William Patrick Patterson’s Eating the I. In one scene,  Lord John Pentland, Patterson’s teacher, says that all we can know is that we are alive, and eventually will die. Everything else is theoretical. Someone asks if good and evil aren’t part of everyone’s life, so that we can know more from that. Pentland replies, “There is no good and evil. Only lying.”

The denier mentioned above would be unable to hear this, since he has chosen his scapegoat. In his world, apparently, only liberals lie. Pentland’s point was that EVERYBODY lies, often without even noticing it. How many of us ever tell the whole truth, assuming we know it (which we probably often do not)? Lying is something no one has a patent on; some are more skilled than others, and some more outrageous than others. In place of truth we have ideology and rhetoric. Conservatives like to point out liberal hypocrisy and political correctness, not realizing that they’re exposing their own. We are unable to see in others what we don’t have in ourselves.

So both sides accuse the other of having failed the country; both have. Both sides accuse the other of corruption; both are corrupt. Both sides try to punish each other for things they excuse in their own side. Conservatives attack liberals for political correctness, but have their own version.

In psychological terms, this is called projection: accusing someone of doing something that you do yourself. The accusation may not be entirely untrue; you may have an insight into the particular lies told because you also lie, maybe about the same sorts of things. Historians tell us that Adolph Hitler had pretty good interactions with Jewish people in his early life. They treated him generally well. But there were things about himself that he didn’t want to accept. They were things that MOST people wouldn’t accept, things he was unable to feel good about. So he projected them on people he considered to be enemies: Jews were the best-known of the groups, but he also killed Gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs, and developmentally disabled people. No doaubt he thought that when these groups were gone, the world would be a better place. But he has been quoted as having said, “I suffer from tormenting self-deception. I wonder how many people DON’T suffer from that.

Don’t most of us have secrets we don’t want others to know? Don’t most of us have groups as well as individuals we don’t approve of, especially if we see them as having wronged us somehow?

This is a familiar situation in world history. It seems to be very difficult to have an objective discussion about important issues because we identify with our side, and reject any arguments that don’t fit with what we already believe. And historically, we have tended to defeat anyone who disagrees with us, not through rational discussion, but through violence.

I noted in a reccent post the Catholic Church’s crusade against the Cathars in what is now southern France (but was then an independent country). Cathars claimed to be the true Christians, and pointed to Catholic corruption, which was already obvious. The Catholic response was to kill all the Cathars.

That response was rooted in a dualistic worldview in which my side is all good, and yours is all evil. We’ve seen that play out in more recent history: the American Civil War was fought by two sides who firmly believed they were right, and the losing side changed their tune about what the war was about, after realizing that no one would accept their justifications of slavery, except themselves. Each considered the other side evil–neither was entirely wrong. The greatest of the actors in that war, Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee were also compassionate, but few others were. The war and its aftermath remains an unhealed wound in this country.

Compare this with projects in Africa to reconcile persecutors and victims. After South Africa abandoned apartheid, a commission was set up to reconcile black and white citizens. In Burundi another project tries to reconcile the perpetrators and victims of the genocide of about 20 years ago. These are processes with some promise: forgiveness can open up our worlds. Suppression only closes them.

Nazis and Communists, as everyone knows, chose suppression to deal with their perceived enemies,. Their theory was that it was possible to kill all evil people, so that only good people (by their definitions) would be left. This never works. Evil, however you define it, keeps resurfacing. Telling the truth can be excruciatingly painful, but is the only way to actually resolve things. When, however, people are too invested in lies, telling the truth is at its most daunting, and few care to try it.

The gentleman who denied human activities are a major cause of global warming, climate change, or any other term you care to use, had little to say about anyone other than liberals who are fraudulently taking our money. Machinations on Wall Street were a major factor in the collapse of the economy six years ago, but it was Wall Street that got bailed out (the precedent for which was set by Ronald Reagan’s administration during the Savings and Loan crisis). In my opinion, the people who DESERVED to get bailed out were the people who were sold mortgages they had no hope of repaying. Shame on them for not understanding what they were getting into, but shame too on the companies who sold them the mortgages and didn’t inform them.

And the problem caused by the bailouts kept the banks from learning their lesson. I recently reread an article about how major banks in the US had been buying heavy industries. One of these banks (at least) stored their stockpiles of aluminum in warehouses which they also owned, and shuttled the stocks between them to artificially raise the price of aluminum. Since aluminum is a widely used metal, especially in soda cans, consumer prices went up. This is why regulations are needed for big corporations in particular: when free to do as they please, big corporations opt for anything that will raise their profit margin, without concern for who gets hurt. That’s why Ronald Reagan’s statement that “…government is the problem…” is misleading at best.

Government CAN be the problem. Governments can be and are too big, too corrupt, or too authoritarian. But the same can be said of corporations. Corporations can be unaccountable to anyone, except government.  One of government’s jobs is to regulate corporations to prevent their taking advantage of the consumer, but since politicians usually depend on contributions from wealthy people and corporations, and have to pay them back with laws the corporations like, government regulatory agencies can rarely do their jobs as they ought to be done.

One of the myths of conservatives is that the free market automatically corrects itself, but that doesn’t happen if corporations can rig the law to favor what they want to do. And what a lot of corporations want to do is make money fraudulently.

So a lot of conservatives say that liberals are pushing for green energy because they want to make a lot of money that way. Conservatives are pushing back against green energy because the companies producing coal, oil, and natural gas want to keep those sources of energy dominant in this country, at least until they’ve extracted every last dime from the people who use the power those materials generate. Which includes the vast majority of us.

So their message is, (whether they believe it or not), that green energy is too expensive and won’t work. Profit is their only ethic, and they have no concern with any damage they cause to anyone or anything as long as they’re making their money. If it’s okay for conservatives to do that, why isn’t it okay for liberals?

Because liberals have been defined as evil, far too many people accept that idea, confuse liberty for individuals with liberty for corporations, and blame the wrong people for their problems. Do liberals lie? Of course. Who doesn’t? Do conservatives lie? Of course, who doesn’t?  And a look at the people making policy can explain just what people of various political persuasions lie about, and why.

It has been pointed out that a lot of President Obama’s appointments to Cabinet positions have worked in the past for Goldman Sachs, a Wall Street company that was as deeply implicated in the economic collapse of 2008 as any. Why have executives of Goldman Sachs and other firms not been prosecuted for fraud? The answer seems obvious.

During the previous administration Halliburton (the company Dick Cheney had worked for before he became Vice President) was awarded contracts in Iraq. They prospered from the war. I think few others did.

George H. W. Bush was the one who called the “trickle down” theory of economics  before the 1980 election “voodoo economics”, in other words a sort of magical thinking that giving rich people what they wanted would benefit everybody.  We have since discovered that allowing wealthy people and corporations to keep more of their money does NOT benefit everyone else too. Instead, it concentrates wealth and power at the top, which means that the powerful can arrange things to suit themselves without concern for anyone else. A post on today’s Facebook says, “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.”

Why do conservatives complain about entitlement? Because it’s something they see in themselves, but are only willing to recognize in others. Why don’t Democrats fight harder for poor and middle class people? Because they too take contributions from wealthy individuals and corporations, and owe them something in return. Consider for-profit prisons. Do they seem like a good idea to you? They seem like an opportunity for even more corruption, by making laws to keep their cells filled and using their prisoners for cheap labor.  And now they make donations to both political parties.

So BOTH parties could potentially lead us in a totalitarian direction. Conservatives describe liberals as favoring big government as the solution to everything. Government could potentially restrain the “free market” (which isn’t free for most workers or consumers), so government and taxes are evil.

But it’s not just a matter of the size of government, but of whom the government actually SERVES. If the government actually serves EVERYBODY, regardless of wealth, skin color, religion, or political beliefs, it can be a good thing. Occasionally, it has even worked that way. But not usually. Wealth and power usually go together, so the times when the American Dream has really worked on a large scale have been rare. One such period was the 1950s in the USA, when rich people weren’t nearly as rich in comparison to others as they are now. There were still poor people, but not nearly as many of them. Most people had jobs that paid well enough that they could live in reasonable comfort, bring up their children, and save something for retirement.

One probable reason why conservatives don’t like to admit that climate change is happening is because liberals have talked down to them about it. If, as I believe, so-called climate change is largely the result of human activities, it would be nice if we could start doing something positive about it. But the country is too divided partly due to liberal preachiness, and that conservatives tend to be angry at the way liberals have represented them; partly because each party wants its own way; and partly because each is willing to characterize the other as evil.  A more objective view is that there are always negative forces. Not necessarily negative or “evil” in themselves, but in relation to other forces. They can never be totally eliminated, so revolutions and concentration camps won’t solve any problems–more than temporarily.

Nor will excluding people from the democratic process. That’s a totalitarian move, which goes nicely with racism, which is as much institutionalized as it is individual.

Each party supports things that can lead to totalitarianism. An already large government can can lead to over-regulation, wrong regulation, and dictatorial behavior. So, perhaps less directly, can a government that’s either too small or too unwilling to strictly enforce the regulations it has. Inequality and corruption lead to more inequality and corruption. Being moralistic about inequality, in the sense that being poor is always one’s own fault has increasingly been leading some politicians to try to exclude groups they don’t like, and who probably will vote against them, from the political process. That suggests they don’t believe their message can be sold to a large percentage of the public, but are unwilling to change it. They claim to be for liberty, but their actions tell a different story.

There are always divisions in the country, and what Benjamin Franklin said is still true: “We must hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.” Hanging separately seems the more likely of the alternatives, at the moment.



Nostalgia About the Jefferson Airplane


I don’t know how many people remember the Jefferson Airplane anymore, but I happened to play a couple of albums of theirs in the car last week because I didn’t want to listen to the broadcast of a minor league baseball team.

The first one I listened to was Surrealistic Pillow, which brought them national attention with two hits: Somebody to Love and White Rabbit. It was a nice album, but my favorite of theirs is the one I listened to next, After Bathing at Baxter’s. I think I read in recent years one of them saying that that one was particularly influenced by LSD, and in my opinion it’s a leap beyond Surrealistic Pillow, as good as that album was.

There was, in the years shortly following these two albums, a book of interviews with each member of the band, and one of the things that emerged was that they were working extremely hard at the time of the recording, playing concerts, going back to record, then playing more concerts. Not a very relaxed way to work, and one of the noticeable things about the album was that there were very few slow songs. Most were pretty up-tempo and pretty intense. Not the way they or most people would prefer to work, but it came out very well, to my ears. Not everyone agrees, of course.

The album came out almost 50 years ago, which makes me feel a bit old. I had fallen in love with rock & roll about 4 years earlier, with the appearance of the Beatles, and the explosion of good to great songs that came with them and around them. They were one of the influences of the time, but there were a lot of others too, and a lot of musicians who listened to all kinds of music, and allowed all sorts of things to influence what they did. The Airplane started a year or two after the Beatles hit, and took another year or two to get known. Like the Beatles, they came from a city with a vibrant music scene, and a lot of other people were  doing things at the same time, there and other places. I was probably more excited about music then than I’ve been since, though there were a lot more good to great albums to come.

The band was impressively talented. They had four songwriters, all at least competent, and produced songs at a very high level for several years. They were also impressive instrumentally. The guitar-playing on this album is almost uniformly thrilling. Jorma Kaukonen, their lead guitarist, was one of my favorites; I don’t think he did anything much better than his playing here, though he did a lot of other nice stuff.

His main partner was bassist Jack Cassidy, whose fingers were just as nimble, and seemed to share a telepathic bond with Kaukonen. Perhaps because of their daunting schedule, the band couldn’t come up with enough songs to fill out the album, so they included a jam with just Cassidy, Kaukonen, and Spencer Dryden, the drummer. I had only begun to listen to what each instrument was doing in a recording, having listened to songs as sort of gestalt, without much analysis before. I still lack the musical knowledge to analyze in depth; I just know what I like, and I find a lot of it in this album.

It kicks off with The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil, lyrically partly based on a Winnie the Pooh verse. As the band begins the intro, Kaukonen plays very simple fills that accent what’s going on. Then the voices come in. The band also had four singers, three of whom sang most of the time, and harmonized very well.

Grace Slick, the one woman in the band, also used her voice like an instrument, wordlessly accompanying the other instruments at times. She could also be an excellent songwriter, having written the two hits from the previous album. She and Marty Balin (founder of the group) were mostly just singers, though both could play instruments to some extent too. Balin played guitar, but not as well as the other two guitarists. Slick played some guitar and piano, but mostly just in the studio. She was musically educated enough, though, to contribute two songs to this album with pretty odd structures: Rejoyce and Two Heads. The first was based on James Joyce’s Ulysses, and she said later that it was very hard to record. It’s a song that I enjoy singing for my own enjoyment sometimes even now.

Two Heads was based on a difficult rhythm that the other rhythm guitarist, Paul Kantner, couldn’t get, so Slick played guitar on that cut. Both songs illustrate what someone wrote about her a year or two later: songs of the other songwriters build, but her songs are lyrically all over the place, evocative more than logical. To my ears, which are biased and fallible, these two were as good as she ever did; I got tired of that style of writing in later albums.

Paul Kantner was the writer with the most songs on the album, partly because he wrote good songs, and maybe partly because he was able to continue writing when others were too exhausted. Kaukonen has one song, not counting the jam with Cassidy and Dryden, Balin and Slick have two each. Another track was by Spencer Dryden, the drummer, who made a sort of collage (not a real song) when no one else felt like working.  I like all the tracks on this album, which is unusual for me, maybe because of later increasing disenchantment with music, maybe because all of them are of high quality, which isn’t terribly usual. Very few artists can sustain high quality all the way through an album. There are almost always at least two or three cuts that don’t get it, and with many albums having THREE good cuts is pretty good. As difficult as it was to make, the Airplane were on fire when they made this one.

I think a good many of the songs had something to do with the LSD experience, which most, if not all the band had been having in the previous couple of years. It’s not like they come out and say, This is a song about DRUGS. The imagery does sometimes give it away: “On green sand, on blue earth…”,  “I see people all around me changing faces/I’m doing things that haven’t got a name yet…” It’s probably unfortunate that, like a lot of other bands of that period, they went on to cocaine and alcohol, which have their uses, I suppose, but aren’t reported to be enlightening drugs as LSD apparently can and could be then. But it seems also to have been a drug that can be dangerous, not in the addictive sense, like many others, but in that one can see things under its influence that one isn’t ready to deal with. There were musicians in that era who had bad experiences with it. Some of them never came back.

The other thing that seems to happen with bands, besides the problems of drugs, which are often used as ways to keep working or to get rest, is egos. Musicians seem particularly prone to getting egotistical and fighting with each other. Maybe it’s not less than in other walks of life, but it does tend to be more public. Like many other bands, the Airplane had factions, and after four good to great albums, started breaking up. Kaukonen and Cassidy formed Hot Tuna, which I liked somewhat, but less than the Airplane. Kantner and Slick formed Jefferson Starship, which Balin later also joined (and wrote the two songs they did that I really liked). A lot of bands broke up in similar ways, and I rarely liked what came next as much as what had gone before.

There seems also (from my limited viewpoint) to be only a certain amount of time in which a band can be really innovative and passionate. Eventually they hit a plateau or a downhill slide. The Rolling Stone’s best period was about 10 years. Out of 50. Their core has stayed together much longer than most bands are able, and their best period was also longer than most. Some artists are capable of producing one great song or one great album, but no more. Those who can do more are unusual. What is even more unusual (in any field) is the artist whose last work is their best. For most people, that comes relatively early in their careers. Beethoven and Eugene O’Neill are two exceptions. There are probably more, but that kind of excellence is very unusual.

There will be people from my generation who remember the Jefferson Airplane, fondly or otherwise. I don’t know how many even of those who remember care much about them anymore. Their time was long ago, but I think they’re worth remembering every now and then.