Saturday, July 13, 2019

We Built This City | Lefsetz Letter

Grace Slick hates it.

I didn’t like it when it was released, when they inserted the name of every local city for radio stations, but all these years later…it kind of cracks me up, anthemic rock, with exuberant vocals.

But the band didn’t write it.

So I’m just back from the Malibu hills, where I was talking with Grace Slick. You know, the untamable woman who was the sexual zenith of rock and roll, an icon of her era.

She doesn’t look like that anymore. But the personality…it remains intact. Opinionated and direct, if you close your eyes it’s forty years ago.

Not that Grace is trying to hide her age, she’ll be eighty in the fall. And although she had some plastic surgery way back when, in her forties, saying it was necessary if you were on stage, she has let her body age, and at first you’re shocked, but then you’re mesmerized, it’s her! What was it like being in that body all those years ago?

Actually, Grace doesn’t want to talk about it. She thinks none of the songs she wrote were perfect and at times she was so inebriated, she can’t remember. But she lived it, it’s all about being in the moment, having fun, and she did. Grace said if you’re talented and having fun, go for it. But you’ve got to be persistent, there can be no gaps in your resume, you’ve got to pursue your goal.

And after “Red Octopus,” which she considers Marty’s album, even though I LOVE “Play On Love,” Grace stayed with the outfit as Marty and Paul faded away and…

She didn’t like singing other people’s songs. It’s not like being in a band, living it together, having experiences…

And that’s another thing, the band did own that three story Victorian, but they did not all live in it together, maybe Paul Kantner slept upstairs for six months in between relationships, but really it was for business. And despite the reputation, the band was all business. Constantly on the road. And then…

It was the Jefferson Starship and they sang this song.


It’s like she’s sitting in the audience, she agreed with “Rolling Stone,” which called “We Built This City” the worst track of the eighties, or something like that.

And Grace is testifying, what do the words mean? Who can relate to them?

And then she reveals the nugget, the essence, the lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin, about the closure of bars in Los Angeles…you know, which was BUILT ON ROCK AND ROLL!

Whew, I never knew that!

And then Grace starts saying how that was stupid. Because bars are driven by people, and if nobody goes, they go out of business, but if the desire is strong enough, they’ll grow again, it’s kinda like Whac-A-Mole, the town elders/police are against them, but the people are for them.

But now?

I’m sitting in Grace’s house overlooking the ocean. She doesn’t hate L.A. She says her generation, OUR generation, was built on the movies, and they were all made in Southern California. She likes to talk on the phone, she doesn’t send e-mail, she uses her iPad as an encyclopedia, and her eyes bug out as she says what a great encyclopedia it is! We lament the passage of all those music clubs/bars, but is today’s generation demanding them?

You know what Chris Rock says, men surrender, they get married because they don’t want to be the oldest person in the bar. And I can relate to that as in I never go to a bar anymore, and it’s not just because I don’t drink, I can stay at home and interact, and old people are into lifestyle, being taken care of.

But I’d go to a music club to see name talent. That’s what brought me to the Whisky, the Roxy and the Troubadour way back when. But then the clubs all had seats, you contemplated the music, as opposed to it being an assault. Today you go to a club and it’s all about you, the audience. The music is not the draw, but the ability to interact with each other. People will pay to hear bands, but they’ve got to have a name, pub-crawling to see developing acts is dead, as dead as most of the places they used to play!

So Grace says Bernie’s a great lyricist, she respects him, but not on this one.

So she quit.

Nobody quits a good thing anymore, they’re too into the MONEY!

And “We Built This City” went to number one, it was a hit all over the world. But it was still dreck.

Ain’t that interesting in an era where if it makes money, it’s good.

But hearing the backstory, from someone who was there, who’s not into self-mythologizing…THAT’S PRICELESS!


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