Graded on a Curve:
Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship, Blows Against the Empire

The sixties and early seventies were a time of intense space exploration. The governments of the United States of America and the Soviet Union were behind some of it; most of it was done by hippies. Pink Floyd helped usher in the era of pinwheel-eyed rocket science with “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and “Interstellar Overdrive.” David “Is There Life on Mars?” Bowie took the meteorite and ran with it on “Space Oddity” and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Not to be outdone, Yes gave us “Starship Trooper.”

Heck, even Elton John got in on the act, turning space into a quotidian place on “Rocket Man.” And let’s not forget Country Joe’s “Starship Ride,” the Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman,” Steve Miller’s “Space Cowboy,” the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s “Urban Spaceman,” and the great Golden Earring’s “Space Ship.” And don’t even get me started on Sun Ra and Funkadelic.

But the hairy hippie space race reached its apogee in 1970, when Paul Kantner converted the ramshackle Jefferson Airplane into a shaggy Starship with the aid of such terminally stoned psychonauts as Jerry “Captain Trips” Garcia and David “Major Drug Problem” Crosby, along with such Airplane regulars as Grace Slick, Jack Casady, blah blah blah.

Call it Stoned Trek.

Together, the astro-booted space-wasters created the sci-fi soap opera Blows Against the Empire. How to describe it? Well, let’s allow Kaptain Kantner to do the talking: “It’s about us–me and Jerry Garcia and David Crosby–stealing a starship; hijacking a spaceship, going where whoever comes along wants to go.” Heavy, Paul. And just which one of you seeing-double dopers was planning on doing the driving? “Yo, Jerry! Drop the bong! We’re about to collide head-on with Uranus!” And by the way, do you know what the penalty is for starship jacking? Get caught, and you can look forward to being raped by Zarkons in the penal colony on planet Amorgaphan.

Blows Against the Empire is a hairy lark, what with its songs about “fat little babies” growing on trees and the unforgettable “Mau Mau (Amerikon),” which boasts some groovy guitar by Peter Kaukonen (Jorma’s kid brother) along with some unintentionally hilarious lyrics in which Paul compares—and I can only think his scientific claims here are spurious—the counterculture to “a furry little ball that crawled across the jungle floor” stealing T-Rex eggs. “We are egg stealers,” sings Kantner, “flashin’ sunshine children,” before giving a big shout out to Richard Nixon. It’s a hoot.

The LP has its musical moments, most of them provided by Jerry Garcia. He plays some sweet banjo on “Let’s Go Together” (typical hyppy treacle), contributes some otherworldly pedal steel guitar to the pretty “Have You Seen the Stars Tonite?” (perhaps the LP’s only real keeper), and lovelies up album closer “Starship” with some of his typically interstellar guitar wank. “Starship” also features the nifty piano work and soaring backing vocals of Slick, and is chock full of such inspirational lyrics as, “At first I was iridescent/Then I became transparent/Finally I was absent.” And, “Amerika hates her crazies.” And who could forget, “The melting acid fever streakin’ thru my mind!” Feed your head!

On an incidental note, I would like to add that Crosby and Garcia jammed together during the recording of Crosby’s 1971 solo album If Only I Could Remember My Name (most aptly named LP in rock history). At that time, they developed an improvisatory technique they called “bong-hit telepathy.” No shit, you can look it up. Page 206 of Blair Jackson’s Garcia: An American Life!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B
(As a comedy album.)
C-
(As a rock album.)

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