Paul Kantner was a founding member of Jefferson Airplane — and an unrepentant freak

47RR026236-0It’s strange to keep writing tribute posts to my favorite fallen rock legends, but here we are: The old guard of ’60s and ’70s “classic rock” are now solidly senior citizens, and they have been dropping like flies. It’s to the point where as a fan, you fear who might be next.

So I have come to express some appreciation for Paul Kantner, one of the founding and longest-running members of both Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, who died Thursday. He was 74.

Despite my membership in Generation X, I make no apologies for being a fan of Flower Power-era hippiedom and all its starry-eyed idealism and pioneering psychedelia. The Haight-Ashbury scene of San Fransisco was its ground zero, and Jefferson Airplane were one of its shining lights.

Paul Kantner was perhaps the band’s driving musical and conceptual force, an endlessly weird, idealistic ideas man who rooted the band in hippie ideals, far-out LSD-driven tangents and a fascination with science-fiction plotlines.

He kept the ball rolling through numerous iterations of the band between its transition from the more acid-rock Jefferson Airplane to the ’70s prog and soft rock of Jefferson Starship (rock nerds could find much worse ways to whittle away time than reading the bios of the Jefferson Airplane/Starship juggernaut in order — including the often lamentable late-era Starship, with which Kanter was not affiliated — linked in this paragraph.)

Kantner is best known for writing the classic songs “Crown of Creation” and “Wooden Ships” (with David Crosby and Stephen Stills). To me, the best way to experience Kantner in all his freak-flag glory can be found on two transition-period albums that he recorded with his wife, Grace Slick, assorted Airplane/Starship members and others, Blows Against the Empire from 1970 and 1971’s Sunfighter.

The former is a full-fledged acid freakout caught on wax, a concept about building a starship to leave Earth (and Richard “Dick” Nixon and the like) in search of a new home. Lyrically and conceptually, it borders at times on hilarity, but it has many incredible musical moments. Take a listen:

Sunfighter, meanwhile, is less an overt concept album, though it still concerns itself with counterculture ideals and deals in the birth of their child, China, who appears on the cover. Of this album, AllMusic writes that “anyone who enjoys the sweet-and-sour unison singing of X‘s John Doe and Exene Cervenka should listen to Sunfighter to see where they got it from.”

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