Grace Slick
 

GS: Even tough my parents were both Republican and I liked them a lot, I’ve nevebeen a Republican. I’ve always been just as little bit to the left of a Sandinista [Sischy laughs] And I’ve been that way since I was about 21. But sometimes people give you a key to the gate. For me that happened to be a guy who was really good-looking, with an IQ of about 195. When I was about 21 or 22, he was married to my best friend from junior high and high school. Jerry Slick – who was my husband at the time – and I used to go over there and hang out. At on e point this guy looked at me and said, “you know what? You’ve got a really good brain, but there’s nothing in there.” So he started handing me books ­ The Decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Kant, Hegel, you name it, just pilling me with books. I wasn't’ really interested, but because I wanted to impress him I read them. That’s one way of finding out about stuff: trying to impress a good-looking man. I also give my parents a lot of credit for allowing me to be whoever I was in there. They didn't’ say, “You have to know how to cook, because when you get married and nya, nya, nya.” They encouraged what I was already interested in and/or good at.

IS: Were you shocked when you found yourself writing songs?

GS: No. My mother was a singer. She did that for a couple of years in small clubs in L.A. and she was a stand-in for Marion Davies when she was making movies. But my father’s an investment banker, so I think she might have given up that kind of life because it isn’t appropriate for an investment banker’s wife. Now, I wanted it all – I wanted the boyfriend or husband and the kid and the job and the drugs; I didn’t want to give u one for the other. So that’s what I did, and I’m glad, because when you get old it’s what you didn’t do that you regret. I didn’t learn how to ride a horse. I didn’t go to the Middle East. I didn’t screw Jimi Hendrix or Peter O’Toole when I had the chance. I would have loved to have gotten drunk with all those British guys like Oliver Reed and Richard Harris and screwed them all, because that’s what the deal was then – sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

IS: With no apologies.

GS: I remember there was a girl with our group who was screwing [Jefferson Airplane bassist] Jack Casady – we were living in San Francisco at the time but recording in L.A. So I said to her, “I tell you what: You get him in San Francisco, and I’ll get him in L.A.” [Sischy laughs] that was our big plan, and it was perfectly okay at the time.

IS: It’ standard fare to look back as those days and say, “Oh, how terrible, look at all the bad things that came out of that experimenting.”

GS: The disasters are having kids killed in Vietnam and in Iraq. The disasters are Richard Nixon. The disasters are George W. Bush. The disasters are apartheid. Those are the disasters. Taking drugs is like when Evel Knievel jumps over 30 barrels on his motorcycle ­ it might kill you. But it’s hardball entertainment. Other people have been cripple by fooling around with motorcycles. Other people have been crippled and died by fooling around with Drugs. Why I’m alive, I have no idea.

IS: You had a famous friendship with another great force, voice, and original songwriter of the time ­ Janis Joplin ­ who did not make it. Did you feel there was a fundamental difference between the two of you?

GS: I think she was better at baring her soul than I am. Literally and figuratively. I’m more Scandinavian. I’m the ice, and Janis was the fire. We’re both in-your-face, but Janis was in-you-face in a different way than I am. Her sound was rhythm and blues, and mine was hard rock.

IS: Where was your drive coming from in those dearly days?

Grace Slick with Janis JoplinGS: I like the creative process, whether it’s being in the recording studio or painting or whatever it is I’m doing at the time. I don’t care what it is, but I do care that I’m involved in something. Otherwise I get crazy. Any of your attributes, be they negative or positive, are going to have both negative and positive aspects. For instance, I’m lazy. But that laziness keeps my focus right here in my chair, so I keep drawing. And that laziness kept me from doing heroin ­ It’s too much trouble.

IS: But you weren’t too lazy to join the revolution.

GS: Well maybe you need to step back and look at it. The problem was, we were the best-educated generation to come out of the public school system, before or since. Now our parents were glad about that, but what they didn’t realize was that it gave us the chance to make choices. It was leave it to Beaver time. But thanks to my education. I had the chance to read about Paris at the turn of the century. So the question became. Do I want to hang out with [our generations’ version of ] Gertrude Stein, Picasso, and Diaghilev, or do I want to play bridge with a bunch of women.

IS: But, in fact it became even more dynamic than turn-of-the-century Paris, Right? The amount of music and art that came out of the ‘60s was incredible.

GS: That’s why I identify with Alice in Wonderland ­ it came out of Victorian England, which was a very straight-laced time.

IS: Is that what prompted you to write one of your best-known songs, “White Rabbit”?

GS: There are bunch of reasons, but one is that I was born in the year of the rabbit. And the guy who lived next door to me when I was little had 40 white rabbits. I thought he just liked white rabbits ­ nobody told me he was raising them for fur. But the story of Alice in Wonderland is very much how I experienced things­she grew up in rigid Victorian England, but she arrives in wonderland, and suddenly it’s nuts, it’s political, and she’s all by herself ­ no prince Charming comes and saves her. Same thing with going from the ‘50’s into the ‘60’s – so you had to have faith in yourself, because nobody’s going to save you: if you expect that, you’re in trouble. Little girls read Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and in all of them the heroine is saved by some guy ­ they don’t do anything for themselves! Snow White worked a little bit ­ she made breakfast for a bunch of guys. I’m sorry. I never cooked anything for the band. You play the guitar, I sing, you don’t make breakfast for me, I don[‘t make breakfast for you. We buy breakfast. [Sischy laughs]

IS: You were quoted somewhere as saying that all rock ‘n’ rollers over the age of 50 look stupid and should retire.

GS: Well, God bless them if they can keep doing it. As long as you’re not hurting anybody, who cares what you do, but I feel funny singing that stuff with white hair. I think it’s ridiculous. As far as I’m concerned rock ‘n’ roll is a young person’s arena. I do think older people ought to listen to 50 Cent or Eminem or whoever to find out what these artists think is going on. People always say Eminem is sexist and blah, blah. No he’s being funny ­ they miss the humor. I used to do that on records too.

IS: Have you heard the song by Amy Winehouse called “Rehab”? Maybe the most famous lyric in it is , “they tried to make me go to rehab I said, ‘No, no, no.’”

GS: Yeah, she’s in her twenties. My daughter got sober in her twenties. We went to rehab together a long time ago, but I told her, and I told interviewers, there’s absolutely no way you would’ve gotten me into one of those places when I was in my twenties. Not a chance. Later you look in the mirror, and go, “That’s not good.”

IS: Grace, you wrote so many great songs, what do you think it takes to write a great one?

GS: Why “White Rabbit” made it, I have no clue. A lot of the songs I wrote are not single material, like, I wrote a song called “Rejoice” paraphrasing James Joyce’ Ulysses.

IS: So you never wrote with the idea of making a hit?

GS: No. Anything I wrote came more out of a semi-classical sound like Rachmaninov or Erik Satie. When everybody was listening to Elvis Presley, I’d go home and listen to Edward Grieg.

IS: What would you say is the difference between the summer of 2007 and the summer of Love?

GS: Hope. The young people I come in contact with all pretty much feel the same way ­ why are we in Iraq? And they see that demonstrating doesn’t do any good. Cindy Sheehan has been doing it for a couple of years and nothing’s happened. You can’t have a civil war, because our government is so powerful.

IS: You pretty much stopped performing around ’89 and started focusing more on your painting – have you always painted?

GS: When I was a little child I did a lot of pencil, pen, paper and crayon drawings-whatever children do. But I only do one thing at a time. I’m not a multitasker. Jerry Garcia used to take his paints on the road when he was playing, but I didn’t do that. Even to this day, when I’m at the gallery, that’s what I’m, doing­I’m thinking about how to present myself – what do I want to say? Do I want to give a little political lecture?

IS: And when you’re doing your artwork?

GS: That’s it – I don’t even listen to music.

IS: Is it mostly portraits? Landscapes?

GS: No, it’s mostly sentient beings. It could be a rat. It’ could be a human being. It could be a horse. It doesn’t matter, but I don’t do many landscapes, because there are people who are better at it. My agent likes me to put some landscapes in, though, and occasionally I do.

IS: Is this an art dealer or agent?

GS: He’s an agent slash manager. You guys are more precious about the art field in New York Cit. This is California, where it’s rock ‘n’ roll and the movie industry. We’re not into being precious­we’re into connecting as fast as possible. It’s obvious what I’m doing, and I make no apologies for it. I’m not going to get cute with my art­there are plenty of people in New York who get real cute. People go in and buy something that’s wacko because they think their friends will think they’ve ahead of the times. That’s not art to me: that’s just being precious.

IS: you’ve done a number of portraits over the years of other recording artists associated with the San Francisco sound.

GS: Yeah, people like Jerry Garcia, who means a lot to a lot of people. The perception of him has gotten skewed over the years, so to change that, I drew the man I knew­someone who was smart, who listened when you talked, and who was interested in a lot of different things. What I do is get a whole bunch of books with tons of pictures of my subjects, so I can get bone structure right, and then I impose that bone structure on the human being I know or that I think I know. With Garcia I made the eyes direct and piercing because he wasn’t the lest bit shifty. Just because you take drugs doesn’t mean you’re stupid. Same thing with Janis ­ people go, “Oh, she was miserable,” but that’s not the woman I knew; she was in-your-face, very bright, and very funny.

IS: How does the music business compare with the business side of the art world?

GS: It’s very different, though green is the bottom line for both of them. People will pay through the nose for art, but I’m not interested in people who are interested in investments. I’d rather just have people who are connected to whatever I’ve drawn.

IS what are you working on now?

GS: I’m working on a painting of a woman jumping up in the air. It’s sunset and she’s happy, and she’s probably had a few drinks.

IS: Would you say that the image describes where you are right now?

GS: Sometimes yeah, and sometimes no. I can be preoccupied with death, which a lot of people my age are You want to make whatever you’ve got left important. And then it pisses you off that you’re going to miss the soap opera. And I’m not talking about One Life to Live or All My Children ­ I’m talking about what’s going on with the planet.

On the 40th anniversary of the summer of love, Ingrid Sischy takes a trip down the rabbit hole with the woman who was at the red-hot center of those wild times–the one and only Grace Slick.

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By Ingrid Sischy

Ingrid Sischy: Hi Grace, how are you?

Grace Slick: Not too bad for an old fart!

IS: (laughs) Even if a person lived under a rock, they’d know that this summer marks the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love­there’s been so much geared around this fact.

GS: All kinds of stuff is happening out here in L.A. too because of the anniversary, and I thing there’s a pretty good reason for all of the attention ­ it was a moment that seemed to be a high point for the whole planet. Particularly now, when everything’s so fucked up, people want to look to a time when things appeared to be moving forward. Obviously there were some unpleasant things happening in the summer of 1967 too, but it was a time when groups of people were doing positive things.

Grace Slick with Puppet on her heeadIS Grace, your background was pretty stiff upper lip. You went to Finch College, a snooty New York finishing school. What do you think it was that allowed Grace the rebel to burst forth out of all that?

GS: Even tough my parents were both Republican and I liked them a lot, I’ve nevebeen a Republican. I’ve always been just as little bit to the left of a Sandinista [Sischy laughs] And I’ve been that way since I was about 21. But sometimes people give you a key to the gate. For me that happened to be a guy who was really good-looking, with an IQ of about 195. When I was about 21 or 22, he was married to my best friend from junior high and high school. Jerry Slick – who was my husband at the time – and I used to go over there and hang out. At on e point this guy looked at me and said, “you know what? You’ve got a really good brain, but there’s nothing in there.” So he started handing me books ­ The Decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Kant, Hegel, you name it, just pilling me with books. I wasn't’ really interested, but because I wanted to impress him I read them. That’s one way of finding out about stuff: trying to impress a good-looking man. I also give my parents a lot of credit for allowing me to be whoever I was in there. They didn't’ say, “You have to know how to cook, because when you get married and nya, nya, nya.” They encouraged what I was already interested in and/or good at.

GS: Even tough my parents were both Republican and I liked them a lot, I’ve nevebeen a Republican. I’ve always been just as little bit to the left of a Sandinista [Sischy laughs] And I’ve been that way since I was about 21. But sometimes people give you a key to the gate. For me that happened to be a guy who was really good-looking, with an IQ of about 195. When I was about 21 or 22, he was married to my best friend from junior high and high school. Jerry Slick – who was my husband at the time – and I used to go over there and hang out. At on e point this guy looked at me and said, “you know what? You’ve got a really good brain, but there’s nothing in there.” So he started handing me books ­ The Decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Kant, Hegel, you name it, just pilling me with books. I wasn't’ really interested, but because I wanted to impress him I read them. That’s one way of finding out about stuff: trying to impress a good-looking man. I also give my parents a lot of credit for allowing me to be whoever I was in there. They didn't’ say, “You have to know how to cook, because when you get married and nya, nya, nya.” They encouraged what I was already interested in and/or good at.

IS: Were you shocked when you found yourself writing songs?

GS: No. My mother was a singer. She did that for a couple of years in small clubs in L.A. and she was a stand-in for Marion Davies when she was making movies. But my father’s an investment banker, so I think she might have given up that kind of life because it isn’t appropriate for an investment banker’s wife. Now, I wanted it all – I wanted the boyfriend or husband and the kid and the job and the drugs; I didn’t want to give u one for the other. So that’s what I did, and I’m glad, because when you get old it’s what you didn’t do that you regret. I didn’t learn how to ride a horse. I didn’t go to the Middle East. I didn’t screw Jimi Hendrix or Peter O’Toole when I had the chance. I would have loved to have gotten drunk with all those British guys like Oliver Reed and Richard Harris and screwed them all, because that’s what the deal was then – sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

IS: With no apologies.

GS: I remember there was a girl with our group who was screwing [Jefferson Airplane bassist] Jack Casady – we were living in San Francisco at the time but recording in L.A. So I said to her, “I tell you what: You get him in San Francisco, and I’ll get him in L.A.” [Sischy laughs] that was our big plan, and it was perfectly okay at the time.

IS: It’ standard fare to look back as those days and say, “Oh, how terrible, look at all the bad things that came out of that experimenting.”

GS: The disasters are having kids killed in Vietnam and in Iraq. The disasters are Richard Nixon. The disasters are George W. Bush. The disasters are apartheid. Those are the disasters. Taking drugs is like when Evel Knievel jumps over 30 barrels on his motorcycle ­ it might kill you. But it’s hardball entertainment. Other people have been cripple by fooling around with motorcycles. Other people have been crippled and died by fooling around with Drugs. Why I’m alive, I have no idea.

IS: You had a famous friendship with another great force, voice, and original songwriter of the time ­ Janis Joplin ­ who did not make it. Did you feel there was a fundamental difference between the two of you?

GS: I think she was better at baring her soul than I am. Literally and figuratively. I’m more Scandinavian. I’m the ice, and Janis was the fire. We’re both in-your-face, but Janis was in-you-face in a different way than I am. Her sound was rhythm and blues, and mine was hard rock.

IS: Where was your drive coming from in those dearly days?

Grace Slick with Janis JoplinGS: I like the creative process, whether it’s being in the recording studio or painting or whatever it is I’m doing at the time. I don’t care what it is, but I do care that I’m involved in something. Otherwise I get crazy. Any of your attributes, be they negative or positive, are going to have both negative and positive aspects. For instance, I’m lazy. But that laziness keeps my focus right here in my chair, so I keep drawing. And that laziness kept me from doing heroin ­ It’s too much trouble.

IS: But you weren’t too lazy to join the revolution.

GS: Well maybe you need to step back and look at it. The problem was, we were the best-educated generation to come out of the public school system, before or since. Now our parents were glad about that, but what they didn’t realize was that it gave us the chance to make choices. It was leave it to Beaver time. But thanks to my education. I had the chance to read about Paris at the turn of the century. So the question became. Do I want to hang out with [our generations’ version of ] Gertrude Stein, Picasso, and Diaghilev, or do I want to play bridge with a bunch of women.

IS: But, in fact it became even more dynamic than turn-of-the-century Paris, Right? The amount of music and art that came out of the ‘60s was incredible.

GS: That’s why I identify with Alice in Wonderland ­ it came out of Victorian England, which was a very straight-laced time.

IS: Is that what prompted you to write one of your best-known songs, “White Rabbit”?

GS: There are bunch of reasons, but one is that I was born in the year of the rabbit. And the guy who lived next door to me when I was little had 40 white rabbits. I thought he just liked white rabbits ­ nobody told me he was raising them for fur. But the story of Alice in Wonderland is very much how I experienced things­she grew up in rigid Victorian England, but she arrives in wonderland, and suddenly it’s nuts, it’s political, and she’s all by herself ­ no prince Charming comes and saves her. Same thing with going from the ‘50’s into the ‘60’s – so you had to have faith in yourself, because nobody’s going to save you: if you expect that, you’re in trouble. Little girls read Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and in all of them the heroine is saved by some guy ­ they don’t do anything for themselves! Snow White worked a little bit ­ she made breakfast for a bunch of guys. I’m sorry. I never cooked anything for the band. You play the guitar, I sing, you don’t make breakfast for me, I don[‘t make breakfast for you. We buy breakfast. [Sischy laughs]

IS: You were quoted somewhere as saying that all rock ‘n’ rollers over the age of 50 look stupid and should retire.

GS: Well, God bless them if they can keep doing it. As long as you’re not hurting anybody, who cares what you do, but I feel funny singing that stuff with white hair. I think it’s ridiculous. As far as I’m concerned rock ‘n’ roll is a young person’s arena. I do think older people ought to listen to 50 Cent or Eminem or whoever to find out what these artists think is going on. People always say Eminem is sexist and blah, blah. No he’s being funny ­ they miss the humor. I used to do that on records too.

IS: Have you heard the song by Amy Winehouse called “Rehab”? Maybe the most famous lyric in it is , “they tried to make me go to rehab I said, ‘No, no, no.’”

GS: Yeah, she’s in her twenties. My daughter got sober in her twenties. We went to rehab together a long time ago, but I told her, and I told interviewers, there’s absolutely no way you would’ve gotten me into one of those places when I was in my twenties. Not a chance. Later you look in the mirror, and go, “That’s not good.”

IS: Grace, you wrote so many great songs, what do you think it takes to write a great one?

GS: Why “White Rabbit” made it, I have no clue. A lot of the songs I wrote are not single material, like, I wrote a song called “Rejoice” paraphrasing James Joyce’ Ulysses.

IS: So you never wrote with the idea of making a hit?

GS: No. Anything I wrote came more out of a semi-classical sound like Rachmaninov or Erik Satie. When everybody was listening to Elvis Presley, I’d go home and listen to Edward Grieg.

IS: What would you say is the difference between the summer of 2007 and the summer of Love?

GS: Hope. The young people I come in contact with all pretty much feel the same way ­ why are we in Iraq? And they see that demonstrating doesn’t do any good. Cindy Sheehan has been doing it for a couple of years and nothing’s happened. You can’t have a civil war, because our government is so powerful.

IS: You pretty much stopped performing around ’89 and started focusing more on your painting – have you always painted?

GS: When I was a little child I did a lot of pencil, pen, paper and crayon drawings-whatever children do. But I only do one thing at a time. I’m not a multitasker. Jerry Garcia used to take his paints on the road when he was playing, but I didn’t do that. Even to this day, when I’m at the gallery, that’s what I’m, doing­I’m thinking about how to present myself – what do I want to say? Do I want to give a little political lecture?

IS: And when you’re doing your artwork?

GS: That’s it – I don’t even listen to music.

IS: Is it mostly portraits? Landscapes?

GS: No, it’s mostly sentient beings. It could be a rat. It’ could be a human being. It could be a horse. It doesn’t matter, but I don’t do many landscapes, because there are people who are better at it. My agent likes me to put some landscapes in, though, and occasionally I do.

IS: Is this an art dealer or agent?

GS: He’s an agent slash manager. You guys are more precious about the art field in New York Cit. This is California, where it’s rock ‘n’ roll and the movie industry. We’re not into being precious­we’re into connecting as fast as possible. It’s obvious what I’m doing, and I make no apologies for it. I’m not going to get cute with my art­there are plenty of people in New York who get real cute. People go in and buy something that’s wacko because they think their friends will think they’ve ahead of the times. That’s not art to me: that’s just being precious.

IS: you’ve done a number of portraits over the years of other recording artists associated with the San Francisco sound.

GS: Yeah, people like Jerry Garcia, who means a lot to a lot of people. The perception of him has gotten skewed over the years, so to change that, I drew the man I knew­someone who was smart, who listened when you talked, and who was interested in a lot of different things. What I do is get a whole bunch of books with tons of pictures of my subjects, so I can get bone structure right, and then I impose that bone structure on the human being I know or that I think I know. With Garcia I made the eyes direct and piercing because he wasn’t the lest bit shifty. Just because you take drugs doesn’t mean you’re stupid. Same thing with Janis ­ people go, “Oh, she was miserable,” but that’s not the woman I knew; she was in-your-face, very bright, and very funny.

IS: How does the music business compare with the business side of the art world?

GS: It’s very different, though green is the bottom line for both of them. People will pay through the nose for art, but I’m not interested in people who are interested in investments. I’d rather just have people who are connected to whatever I’ve drawn.

IS what are you working on now?

GS: I’m working on a painting of a woman jumping up in the air. It’s sunset and she’s happy, and she’s probably had a few drinks.

IS: Would you say that the image describes where you are right now?

GS: Sometimes yeah, and sometimes no. I can be preoccupied with death, which a lot of people my age are You want to make whatever you’ve got left important. And then it pisses you off that you’re going to miss the soap opera. And I’m not talking about One Life to Live or All My Children ­ I’m talking about what’s going on with the planet.

 
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