Usually, I prefer to give the spotlight to lesser known people and art on this site when I can. Frankly, I find the articles which just reiterate the same ten reasons why Citizen Kane/The Simpsons/Sgt Pepper is the best movie/tv show/album ever made for the umpteenth time to be incredibly boring when there’s so much media out there nobody talks about. So, I know that for other fans of psychedelic rock out there, seeing yet another mention of “White Rabbit,” probably the most well-known song associated with ’60s counterculture, must be somewhat irksome. But, even if it’s iconic to the point of becoming a cliche, I would feel remiss if I did not mention “White Rabbit” at least once on my entire blog. Before I discovered Stelvio Cipriani, particularly Antla and Mary’s Theme, there was a time when this was my all-time favorite song for several reasons. I’m gonna list them now:
1) I love psychedelic rock, and while there are better songs/bands out there, Jefferson Airplane embodies that whole cultural movement better than any other. When you think of American Psychedelia, you think of these guys. Among other distinctions, they were the only band to appear at all 3 iconic music festivals in the ’60s: Monterey, Woodstock and Altamont (as well as the lesser known Newport Pop Festival of ’68.)
2) I love Grace Slick and despite my research she’s one of the figures of Flower Power whom I feel I still don’t truly know. Her autobiography, unfortunately, was too “conversationally written” for my taste, to put it politely. Specifically I was hoping for greater insight into what it was like to be at the aforementioned festivals from a firsthand account, and I wanted to know more about her first husband Darby. (The poor guy had to watch his beautiful wife leave him and his band, then enjoy runaway success with their two songs–that’s gotta be a spirit breaker.) Also, from what I’ve read in other musicians’ biographies who were her peers in the counterculture, Grace seems like she was kind of nuts and/or confrontational towards the audience at times. But hey, not every woman needs to be a dainty princess. I love the stories of her trying to dose Nixon with LSD–personally I think experiencing a trip ought to be a prerequisite for being a world leader. More importantly, she was a talented singer and songwriter, the first mainstream woman rock star, and since both of the hit singles from Surrealistic Pillow were ones she wrote, she basically put Jefferson Airplane on the map.
3) On a more personal note, I love Grace’s style with the long dark hair in bangs and her outfits and stuff. When I first saw this video embedded below and others from this period, I knew more than anything I wanted to look like her as I transitioned. To this day she’s been my physical model for the kind of woman I want to be.
4) I love Alice in Wonderland, but admittedly I never had much interest before I heard this song and saw the other ways it inspired Psych rock. So this song was instrumental (pun intended) in me discovering what became one of my fave stories, and specifically one of my fave animated movies.
5) I just love bunnies. I had a stuffed animal bunny growing up named Benny. They’re my fave animal. I made the symbol for my political ideology a bunny as a play on the idea of grassroots campaigning and the need to spread quickly while avoiding detection. Bunnies are just fucking cool.
6) Some people have knocked this song as “it’s just taking Alice in Wonderland characters and setting it to music.” But that’s part of the charm for me. I love how this song encourages taking something from one context and putting a new spin on it. That’s what a lot of art is, ideas and tropes building on each other with every new storyteller the old tales inspired. There’s no shame in putting a new perspective on established concepts. I love how this song takes a beloved childhood story and points out that “yeah…there was some trippy stuff in that book if you really look at it.” That’s a universal part of growing up I think–looking at your childhood media and realizing the adults who made it put some mature themes or implications in there which sailed over your head. I also feel this song does a good job in emphasizing that it’s not sinful or wrong to trip and explore your mind’s potential–we encourage children to do the same thing with their imaginations all the time. “White Rabbit” straddles the line between childhood innocence and adult introspection perfectly, just like Rocko’s Modern Life or Shrek.
7) I just love this performance of the track in particular. It’s one of the few I’ve seen from that time, or any time really, that isn’t dubbed. I personally feel it’s better than the album version, and there are very very few songs I can say that for. And I just admire the amazing use of the lights–basically taking a performance to a new level, painting with rainbows to accentuate the music. Finally, Grace Slick just has such an amazing stage presence. I adore the part when she says “Alice” for the first time and lights up. Like Dorothy Moskowitz, I really appreciate how she’s able to be both sensual and delicate yet commanding and almost scary at the same time. Especially the ending when she turns her gaze directly into the camera and just stares you down the entire rest of the song. That was such a powerful moment.
I had no idea the Airplane played at all three big festivals–thank you! I also like the comparison you draw between Grace and Dorothy M. Yes, that’s certainly a mesmerizing performance, although at the end of the day I’ll put my money on “Somebody To Love”. 😉