Too Old To Rock 'N' Roll? Mature Grace Slick Would Rather Write Songs Than Sing

Posted: August 22, 1989

The idea of watching (or being) an anti-establishment rock 'n' roller ''with liver spots and flappy arms" ain't Grace Slick's idea of a good time.

"Frankly, I'd rather be writing songs than performing them. I'd rather give my songs to somebody younger like Annie Lennox, who could do them justice," says Slick, the once and again front singer of the Jefferson Airplane, landing here tonight at the Mann Music Center as part of their reunion tour.

"I don't want to have to climb up on the stage with a cane," adds the feisty 45-year-old. "And I don't want to sing gushy love songs for teen- agers. Ella Fitzgerald is my idea of an artist who's aged gracefully, but of course she's doing a different kind of music. Her thing was never based on crazed youth, 'fight the establishment,' and leaping around on stage with your crotch pushed out."

Two years ago, the burden of mouthing sappy inanities drove Slick away from the pop-rocking Starship - the illegitimate child of the Jefferson Starship/ Jefferson Airplane.

No one ever expected she'd wind up performing again with her original, acid-washed Airplane colleagues from the '60s and early '70s - her ex-mate Paul Kantner, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, singer Marty Balin, bassist Jack Casady - given their infamously incendiary relationships.

"What happened is that Jack called me. He and Jorma were doing their acoustic duo thing at the Fillmore, with Paul sitting in. Jack said, 'I know you and Paul are fighting, but I'd like you to pull this gag on him.' He wanted me to walk out on stage in the middle of the show and start singing 'White Rabbit.' "

She did, everyone laughed, and the ice was broken. Next thing Gracie knew, there were rumblings of a reunion. Then old-line fans got into the act, sending letters to a recalcitrant Marty Balin, demanding he get involved in the project, too. Eventually, Balin climbed on board. Then Epic Records bought the package for a one-album/one-tour deal with "options" for more, "if we can still stand each other at the end of the tour."

What's gotten them over the first hump was the revelation that in original form these space cadets had strength. "We're all off-the-wall, screwball songwriters, working outside the pop mainstream," says Slick with a sly laugh. "As the Jefferson Airplane, we could get away with murder, do and say what we want, instead of relying on 'professional' songwriters like Bernie Taupin or Dianne Warren" (author of the Starship hit "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now").

Slick is most proud of her new song "Panda," which deals with the senseless hunting of this endangered species in China. "The producer wanted me to scream it like I was really angry, like the old days, but it's not that kind of song."

The group's first single off the set, a Paul Kantner creation called ''Planes," is described by Slick as "real sweet, naive, a straight-to- the-point song about loving airplanes."

Slick readily admits she's been sobered by Alcoholics Anonymous, by medical maladies, and by 13 years of marriage to Bucks County (South Hampton) native Skip Johnson - a stage lighting director recently with Rod Stewart and now with the Airplane.

"I never used to worry about my future . . . As a consequence I never looked at the books, and never saved a dime from all those days with the Airplane or the Starship.

"It's like Axel Rose said in a Rolling Stone interview. If you want to be a musician, graduate from college with a degree in business. The truth is, you're born with a musical ability or not. Business is something else. If you don't pay attention, you get screwed. Fortunately for me, my husband is a real good businessman. If not for him, I'd be up the creek without a paddle, without a house, without anything."

Slick says she and Skip are looking forward to visiting Philadelphia. ''Besides seeing his family, I really like the city. I like the old historic part of town. And I like that in the middle of all those stately Center City buildings, there's a big clothespin. This is America. It's great that the staid old community would allow this to co-exist."

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