Jefferson Airplane was one of the bands that truly spoke to me in my youth. I loved the band's sound, ranging from sweet folk ballads that evoked Elizabethan poetry to hard psychedelic anthems of revolution and protest. There were many other San Francisco groups, but Jefferson Airplane was the dominant one, defining the city's transformational sound.
Paul Kantner, in many ways the creative force of the band, as well as its later incarnation Jefferson Starship, died this week at age 74, another rocker who grew old. While his death brings some rueful recollections of youth's follies, I remember more the joy their music brought me. I don't know if any other band's music lifted my mood so much, such as those first driving chords of "We Can Be Together." Singers Grace Slick and Marty Balin, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Cassady were superior musicians, but Kantner's druggy, sci-fi lyrics and creative ideas set the band's course.
Virtuoso Airplane and Hot Tuna guitarist Kaukonen's tribute to his old friend Kantner reflected many of my feelings. The Airplane for me and others was one of the select few essential groups.