Grace Slick, she’s a trip
 
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By Leah Pietrusiak

I think I became fully enamored with Grace Slick as a personality—not just a musician—when she was described as “the ultimate psychedelic hostess” (or something like that) on a VH1 Behind the Music segment—always making sure everyone had everything they needed to be good and fucked up. (Note to self: I need to ask her more about that.) And while you’ll know more than you did before about how she tried to dose President Nixon, the rest of this interview will also probably make you want to ask a bunch more questions, too. So pony up, and get out to Woodfield Mall, before Grace—who’s hilarious and smart as a whip—heads back to sunny Malibu where she hangs out with normal everyday folk (except for David Crosby, who lives an hour away).

  Grace Slick's Scout

Grace Slick is one of the first goddesses of rock & roll: As the frontwoman for Great Society and then Jefferson Airplane, Slick helped establish the psychedelic rock movement. Long before heading Jefferson Starship and Starship, the woman who once attempted to lace President Nixon’s tea with acid had a mouth—“drunk mouth,” she calls it—that brought her as much trouble as fame. No one (not even Slick) knows if she was born in Evanston or Highland Park, but she left the area at age three. This weekend, Slick, 67, returns for her art show—featuring paintings of the infamous white rabbit and musicians from the day, like Jerry Garcia—at the Wentworth Gallery in Schaumburg.

How are you?
Not too bad for an old fart.

Come again?
Yeah, I’m a fat old broad, but my face is more or less the same.

So, did you study art?
Well, I knew I’d end up in the arts, but when I went to college, I didn’t want to learn—I wanted to go to New York. So I went to the easiest school in the world—it doesn’t even exist anymore—it’s called Finch College, and it teaches girls from wealthy families to learn how to get a Princeton man. Once I saw New York, I wanted to go to Miami, ’cause I thought, “Oh sailing and Cuba’s there, and I love that Spanish music”—”White Rabbit” is kind of a rip-off of a Spanish march. And I just took the things that I knew I was interested in. Art—’cause I knew I could draw—English composition and ancient history. ‘Cause I was down there to play. And then this good-looking Quiz Kid I knew looked at me one day and was like, “You have a real good brain, but there’s nothing in it. Here.” And he handed me two books, The Decline of the Roman Empire, and the philosophy of Kant and Hegel and stuff like that. That’s where I got my real education. He was crazier than a bag of squirrels, though. I lived with him for about a year [in 1993]. What a waste of a brilliant mind. After that, I started drawing animals, because animals make me happy.

When did you start drawing your old rock buddies?
I started writing this autobiography [Grace Slick: Somebody to Love?] and my agent was like, “Why don’t you do a couple portraits,” and I was like, No; rock & roll draws rock & roll—aw, isn’t that cute? But I liked it. Rock & roll is not obscure, it’s really easy to understand. So is my painting.

Did you ever do any of your own album art?
After Jack [Cassady] and Jorma [Kaukonen] left [Jefferson Airplane], Paul [Kantner] and I recorded some solo albums, and I think I did the cover of one of those. And I did the cover of my first solo album, Manhole. But usually I’m either singing or I’m being an artist. Jerry Garcia would take his paints on the road. I would never do that.

So you had some interesting run-ins with the law, eh?
I’ve been arrested for drunk-driving, but I’ve never been in the car. It was more like drunk mouth. One time I was I was

 
 

going 125 mph in my Aston Martin in Marin County; it’s really fast, it’s the James Bond car. And the oil light was out and I’m going uphill and next thing I know the car’s in flames. So this guy in a VW calls the highway patrol, and this cop pulls up and he’s 6’4 with a huge beer belly, and he’s got his thumbs hooked in his belt loops, and he says, “What’s going on here?’ And I said, “What do you think is going on here? It’s three in the morning, I’m a woman alone on the street, and my car’s in flames—I’m having a fucking party, you idiot!” So he figures I’m probably drunk and he’s probably right, so I go to jail. Another time I was drinking wine under a tree and this cop rolls up and he asks what I’m doing, and I said “What. Does it look. Like I’m doing.” And he said, “I’m going to arrest you for public drunkenness,” and I said, “Well, booga booga booga.” And I went to jail.

I once read that you also left rock & roll because older rockers look kind of silly.
The only person who can still do anything in their 60s in rock & roll and not look goofy is Keith Richards—cause he’s always looked goofy, he’s always been that way. He’s Mr. Rock & Roll.

How did you end up singing with Jefferson Airplane?
When I was about 22, I was living with my first husband Jerry Slick—which is where I got the name—who I’ve known since I was about eight, our mothers were friends. But that didn’t work out because he was too nice; I like bad boys. But we went to go see Jefferson Airplane play in a small club in San Francisco called the Matrix, and I looked at that and I thought, “Wow, that would be much better than what I’m doing now [modeling].” They make more money in one night than I do all week, and they can smoke and drink and hang out and only go to work two nights a week. So Jerry Slick and his brother and a couple other people formed a band called the Great Society, and we used to open for Jefferson Airplane. So when their singer, Signe Anderson, left to have a baby and be a hippie in Oregon, they asked me to join the band. Oddly enough, we both were Norwegian with dark hair and a low voice.

Did you have a favorite band?
Yeah, the Rolling Stones. All the San Francisco bands—the Charlatans, the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service—they didn’t blow my brains out, but we all hung out together. You never wanted to leave an open drink around because one of the bands was liable to dose one of the other bands. [Laughs] But I looked to Mick Jagger for how to be on the rock & roll stage. There were really no lead women that I knew of; Janis was more blues…. I didn’t mimic [Jagger’s] actions, but I learned the attitude. If you don’t own the stage, you shouldn’t be in rock & roll.

I also read once that you try to make your voice sound like an electric guitar?
If there’s one thing you’re born with and you can’t do much about it, it’s the vocal box. You have a certain kind of voice, and mine is for rock & roll. But I can’t sing a lullaby—for some reason the vocal box gets really weird on me—I can’t sing high softly for some reason. I’ll show you [Starts singing, voice cracking]: “Lullaby and good night…go to sleep…,” it just doesn’t work. But I can sing that so it would break your eardrums. My mother was a singer—but hers was more [Starts singing richly and slowly]: “I’ll be with you, in apple blossom time…,” you know, that kind of shit. I have to place ballads real low or else I’m screwed. I have a low voice—so does my daughter.

Is that your daughter China on the album cover of Sunfighter that you recorded wth Jefferson Airplane guitarist Paul Kantner?
Yeah, that’s Paul’s [her father’s] hand and my hand holding her up. She looks like a fat guy, but she’s actually very slender. She used to be a veejay for MTV and she took me to a party once for Jakob Dylan, where Bob Dylan was sitting in the corner. I never met Bob Dylan—everyone thinks ’cause you’re famous you know all famous people. But [Bob Dylan] had a very I-don’t-want-to-be-bothered look about him, so I left him alone. We played with the Doors, so yeah I met Jim Morrison, and the Who, so yeah, I knew them.
 

On the ’71 Sunfighter album, you sing, “I’m 20 years short of a century, but the best years are in the balance.”
That’s true—on the inside. You learn that there’s no point in being an asshole. And you learn to follow the things that you like. Too many people try to please their parents. My parents were Republicans, which is too bad, but they allowed me to be who I wanted to be.

You were tight with Janis, right?
I love women from Texas, they’re real strong, real funny, and we were both kind of in your face. You could start in on me, but it wouldn’t last very long because I’d rip your fucking head off. Janis was a little friendlier. You’d walk into the dressing room and she’d go, “Come in y’all and have some Jack!” The point back then was, literally, sex, drugs and rock & roll. Rehab was where you went if you broke your leg skiing.

Is it true that Jerry Garcia named your first album with Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow?
Ha, I don’t remember. We listed him as a “spiritual advisor” because they didn’t want to give him a producer credit, though. He played on some of our albums, we’d just be hanging out in the studio and it would be like, “Why don’t you put something on there” kind of thing.

Why do you think you made it and a lot of your friends didn’t?
I think it’s because I’m a weenie. I snorted heroin once and nothing happened, and I never shot anything because I didn’t have any veins. I don’t do any drugs now; they took quaaludes off the market. And I don’t like the taste of alcohol, I like what it does, I like to go nuts….I’m a little old for that now. I’ll probably never stop smoking cigarettes.

 
In 1971, a heyday Slick, cradles her daughter, China.

What did you do after you left Starship?
I studied biomedical research fraud and argued with researchers on TV, because I read that more people die of pharmaceuticals that you get from a doctor than all street drugs combined. One time, I took this anti-inflammatory for my back called Zomax…that was the closest I’ve come to death. Then I found they had taken it off the market, and it’s like, we have computers. Why didn’t they let people who had a prescription know? I love the shit on TV: “This will clear your hangnails—and the side effects are heart attack, your ears fall off and you can’t walk for the rest of your life.” I’m not against using drugs, but people ought to know going in that you might die. And I’m talking any drugs—you’ve got alcohol…it’s hardball entertainment.

Okay, tell me about trying to slip Richard Nixon acid at the White House.
See, Trish Nixon’s daughter went to Finch College, and it was so small that she invited all of the alumni to a tea at the White House. But my name when I went there was Grace Wing, that doesn’t mean anything right? Now, Grace Slick meant something. So I get an invitation to the White House and I call up Abbie Hoffman and say [Sing-songy] “Guess what I have….I’ve got an invitation to the White House.” So I put 600 mics of acid under a long fingernail I had for cocaine, and we go and we’re standing in line, and the security guard comes up to me and says, “I’m sorry you can’t go in. You’re a security risk.” And I go, “What?!” And he says, “You’re on the FBI list.” And I go, “What?!?!” And I found out that the members of Jefferson Airplane were on a list because of “suspect lyrics.” They didn’t know why I was a security threat, but they were right.

See, I learned all about formal teas at Finch College. You have two urns at either end of a long table and you stand—you don’t sit—and since I’m an entertainer, I gesture a lot, and I was gonna gesture across Nixon’s tea and in about a half an hour, he would’ve been out of his mind and nobody would’ve known why. But it didn’t matter because he was so goofy and made mistakes and got his own ass out of the White House. It amazed me that they didn’t say anything to Abbie.

Has the symbolism of the rabbit changed for you over the years?
My parents used to read [Alice in Wonderland] to me, when Alice is in Victorian England and I’m in the ’50s, like all Leave It to Beaver. And then I go bam! into the ’60s and Alice goes bam! into the rabbit hole, and it’s very similar; she literally does like five drugs. The white rabbit was her curiosity and she follows it, no matter what happens.

Do you ever regret following your curiosity?
When you get older, it’s not about what you did that you regret, it’s what you didn’t do. I’ve never been to the Middle East, and I didn’t screw Peter O’Toole or Jimi Hendrix.

How do you feed your head nowadays?
I don’t have the Internet—I hate e-mail, people have too much of a chance to misrepresent themselves. So if I can’t find something in my encyclopedias, I just call someone. Like, I called my agent because I had drawn a spirit bear and wanted to know the scientific name. I listen to MTV and CNN on the TV when I’m painting.

Are we gonna “get a revolution”?
I don’t think so—what are you gonna do? The only thing you could do—which would hurt you and your family—is not show up for work, which would just fuck you up. This is not a democracy, it’s a corporate monopoly. We’re one of the newest species on the planet, and we have these huge brains and a huge fear system. But the fear system hasn’t calmed down. I don’t know if we’ll destroy ourselves before we get a chance to evolve more. Everyone’s telling us how to behave—but really all you have to do is look at how animals behave. They’ve been around longer than us.

When we were living in Marin County, we had about 40 pet raccoons. Every night, I’d put out four dozen eggs, four bags of Oreos and any leftovers we had, and they would come by and eat it, and share with the deer. People were always complaining about the angry racoons, but none of them ever fought. They’d be swimming in the pool, and there would be a couple doing it on a lawn chair. I learned from raccoons—if people have enough food and a place to live… I think we should be taking care of our own people.

Do you remember much about Chicago, are you psyched to come back?
I don’t remember much, I left when I was about three. I do remember when we first got to L.A., but mother was like, “I’m so glad we got you out of Chicago, I felt so sorry for you, how the mosquitoes would eat you,” because she used to take me down to Lake Michigan to cool off. When [one of the bands were] playing in town…it was always in and out. We’d always stay at the Water Tower [Hotel], we’d usually get a whole floor. I remember one time we were having a party and this one girl was naked and got locked out of her room. So she just went down to the lobby with no clothes on, like it was just another thing. Just beautiful.

 
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