Graded on a Curve:
Paul Kantner,
Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra

On which Paul Kantner takes off for outer space in a bong-shaped spaceship, only to crash back to earth because the sheer number of Jefferson Starship hangers-on he’s packed on board exceed the vessel’s weight capacity. This 1983 concept album–the sequel to his 1970 (Hugo Award-nominated!) LP Blows Against the Empire–is subtitled The Empire Blows Back. At least he got the blows part right.

The album–the purported soundtrack to a novel by Kantner that actually saw the light of day in 1991–tells the completely plausible story of a S.F. band that develops telepathic amplification technology, falls afoul of the U.S. government, seeks sanctuary in the Australian outback, and finally whisks off to the safety of outer space. For those of us who flee to higher ground whenever the mummified survivors of the Jefferson Airplane congregate in a recording studio, their permanent departure is what you might call a dream scenario.

But such is not the case with everyone. You probably don’t know about it because the U.S. government is afraid to start a panic, but almost 20 years ago NASA received a mysterious transmission from Voivod 4, the planet on which the Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra finally touched down.

The transmission was in the form of complaint, and specifically blamed our planet for “recklessly hurling its refuse into space, the way a fat guy might toss a half-full Slurpee cup from the driver’s side window of a rusting 1974 Ford Pinto.” It closed by threatening the human race with extinction, via a weapon it described as “a really, really big bug zapper you don’t want to stand in front of.” Needless to say this interplanetary communique caused consternation amongst the leaders of the world, all of whom agreed to blame Moldova.

Things have quieted down since then, but as a journalist I was curious; what’s the state of affairs on Voivod 4 today? Using my “deep throat” within Area 51, I was able to procure the private cell phone number of Voivod’s President for Eternity, Vlod the Grim. He didn’t have much time to talk because he was busy suppressing a revolt spearheaded by his long-time frenemy Bolko the Actually Kind of Pleasant, but suffice it to say his planet is still nursing a grudge.

Me: How are you, Vlod the Grim?

Vlod the Grim: I’ve been better, no thanks to your alien race. Usual diplomatic protocol is to send a spacecraft bearing a team of interplanetary ambassadors seeking concord, cooperation and peace. You sent us hippies. It is also customary to offer a token of good fellowship. Not a really shitty comedy album.

Me: It’s not a comedy album.

Vlod the Grim: You’re shitting me.

Me: ……….

Vlod the Grim: You shit me not. Oh, I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s only funny the first time you hear it. After that it’s been shown to cause brain tumors.

Me: Describe their arrival.

Vlod the Grim: Well, they stumbled out of the spaceship in a cloud of pot smoke. Then they nearly created an interplanetary incident by eating a yellow poodle they thought was a giant cheese puff. Worst case of the munchies I’ve ever seen.

Me: What did you think of their music?

Vlod the Grim: Cosmic horseshit. Blows Against the Empire was okay in its stupid way, but it was released in the Earth Year 1970. Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra is the work of a bunch of over-the-hill acid burnouts. Your planet has produced some tasty music, and what do you send us? Grace Slick and Craig Chaquico. And an album that stinks like the breath of a Xylogean dung gargler.

Me: What earth music do you like?

Vlod the Grim: Off the top of my pointy head? The Sweet. Slade. Black Oak Arkansas. Oh, and we really love Sammy Johns’ “Chevy Van.” What is a Chevy van, anyway?

Me: Just the finest flowering of the man’s imagination and the apex of human technology.

Vlod the Grim: I deduced as much. It is a sex machine, correct? Do you think you could send me one of these sex machines? I wanna love her in my Chevy van, then toss her out in the middle of nowhere.

Me: If you hate these earthlings so much, why do you put up with them?

Vlod the Grim: Well, we rather solved that little problem.

Me: Solved it how? That is if you don’t mind my asking.

Vlod the Grim: (Long pause) We ate them.

Me: You ate them?

Vlod the Grim: They made pests of themselves. When they weren’t playing free concerts nobody wanted to go to they were getting stoned on the leaves of our sacred Gorgobo trees. Plus they stank of patchouli. So the Great Ones sat down and said, “What are we supposed to do with these insufferable round-headed creatures?” And after some long mind-hiving one of the Great Ones said, “Well, they might be good in a Cobb salad.”

Me: What did they taste like?

Vlod the Grim: Cold mutton. And gristle. But at their advanced age, what did we expect? Perhaps you could send us some juicy plump suckling children.

Me: I’ll broach the subject with my human overlords. One question: Why didn’t you just send them back?

Vlod the Grim: Did you really want them back?

Me: Er… not really.

Vlod the Grim: Just as I thought–we did you a large. (Humming) “We made love in my Chevy van, and that’s all right with me… “ I’ll tell you what though. If you were to send us Sammy Johns, I guarantee we won’t eat him. We’ll worship him as a God. Our Xenoxian centurions will prostrate themselves before him. Our beautiful courtesans will grind their tripartite nether parts against his quivering man junk. He will sup on the nectar of the Gorblean Plant and eat nothing but honey-roasted Zak.”

Me: I’m afraid he’d deceased.

Vlod the Grim: How tragic. Tonight our women will keen and rend their sacred garments in anguish.

Me: So you really hated the album?

Vlod the Grim: We Voivodians have the finely tuned ears of New Guinea naked-backed fruit bats. Not only is the album unlistenable to us, it has potentially lethal physical and mental consequences.

Me: Such as?

Vlod the Grim: Disorientation. Nausea. Apathy. A new-found respect for the music of Engelbert Humperdinck.

Me: We humans suffer pretty much the same symptoms. Look, I should probably let you go. But I have to ask. Are you familiar with Klaatu?

Vlod the Grim: Next planet over.

Me: Von Lmo?

Vlod the Grim: Greatest rock and roll band in the whole damn galaxy!


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