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Got a Revolution! the Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane


Got a Revolution! the Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane

I have in my treasure-trove of personal memorabilia a letter from a
friend, postmarked from San Francisco in September 1965, where he
describes hanging out with a newly formed band with the strange
name of "Jefferson Airplane" and auditioning to be their lead
singer. He didn't make the band; thus, when their debut album,
Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, was released in mid-1966, he
was not on it. My local record store didn't carry it, and no one
who worked there had ever heard of them. How things would change
within less than a year, when a song called "Somebody to Love" was
all over the radio and Jefferson Airplane was all over

Jefferson Airplane was a swirling mass of contradictions. Their fan
club slogan, "Jefferson Airplane Loves You," was perfect for the
Summer of Love, yet the band was split into two, sometimes three,
contentious camps. Their politics were extreme radical left; they
made no bones about embracing Red China, yet if they had ever
appeared in that country, they would have undoubtedly wound up
underneath some tanktread. They also embraced, and utilized, the
capitalist system in their business dealings to the hilt. And while
espousing an idealistic communal style that publicly eschewed
materiality, they were poster child limousine liberals. Their music
was by turns brilliant and crap, with some of it standing up after
hundreds of listenings over three and one-half decades, while
others were unlistenable from Day One. Yet their influence on the
culture for several mad, insane years was undeniable.

Jeff Tamarkin chronicles the entire process from the beginning to
the present in GOT A REVOLUTION!, which is a history of Jefferson
Airplane (and its offshoots) collectively and its members
individually. It is an amazing work on a number of levels. Tamarkin
was able to obtain the cooperation of almost all of the individuals
directly or indirectly involved, and he deals with conflicting
versions of events colored by time, perspective, and drug-induced
illusion. He is an unabashed fan of the band --- to even
contemplate a work of this scope and complexity, one would have to
really love, or really hate, them --- yet his account of the band,
if not the times in which they lived, is surprisingly objective.
Grace Slick and Paul Kantner come off the worst, in terms of their
wild and destructive behavior, and yet even they possessed some
redemptive qualities, outside of whatever musical talent they were
blessed with.

Tamarkin additionally does an excellent job of tracing the history
of each member of the group, the events surrounding them, and the
band members' individual and collective discography. I was
constantly and continuously impressed with Tamarkin's accuracy with
respect to events involving the band. Though not directly in any of
the events that he describes, I was a bystander at several of them
(the infamous Akron Rubber Bowl concert of 1972 being but one) and
his ability to put the reader into the setting while getting it
right is incredible.

While he occasionally lets his worldview color secondary events
(the Black Panthers were, alas, not the innocent victims he infers
them to be, and Ronald Reagan's presidency couldn't have ignored
AIDS for several years before declaring the condition a national
emergency in 1981 because he wasn't elected until 1981), he does
get everything about the Airplane right while including, well, damn
near everything, from Grace Slick's notorious appearance in
blackface on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, to the
infamous record jacket cupcake tracing, to Marty Balin, valiantly
but in vain, single-handedly taking on a contingent of Hell's
Angels while the band played on.

A history of Jefferson Airplane was overdue; that the first one
should also be the definitive one is a tribute to Tamarkin and his
work. It is impossible to read GOT A REVOLUTION! without going to
the record collection and pulling out records with titles like
Surrealistic Pillow, Crown of a Creation, Volunteers, and After
Bathing at Baxters, and listening to them over and over again. If
they are not a soundtrack to a life, they are at least the theme of
it. And GOT A REVOLUTION! is the story of it. Highly

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Got a Revolution! the Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane
by Jeff Tamarkin

  • Publication Date: June 3, 2003
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Atria
  • ISBN-10: 0671034030
  • ISBN-13: 9780671034030