Paul Kantner (1941-2016)

“Let me tell you ‘bout a man I knew…” – Sketches of China, Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, David Freiberg

I discovered Jefferson Airplane when I was about twelve years old through my dad’s record collection. At the time there wasn’t a lot going on musically. My early listening years consisted of vacuous 80’s hits and hair metal.

Obviously Hendrix, Zeppelin, and other mid-twentieth-century artists blew my mind. But it was Jefferson Airplane that really resonated. I liked the melodies, the three part harmony, the trippy lyrics that later (with Jefferson Starship) gave way to sci-fi ponderings.

White Rabbit and Somebody to Love clearly belong in the rock and roll canon, but I really thought things got interesting with Blows Against the Empire (the first rock album nominated for a Hugo Award). With this project, Paul Kantner got a chance to explore his interests lyrically and it was a departure from earlier iterations of the band.

To this day, Kantner remains an underrated songwriter and rhythm guitarist. His vision, often not necessarily musical in nature but conceptually compelling, led the group (Slick especially) into uncharted territory. He remains the unsung creative director of the Jefferson Airplane/Starship franchise.

I met Paul once, some years ago, at a divey little casino in Wisconsin. I had gone to the Jefferson Starship website and saw that he was playing not far from where I grew up with Marty Balin and Jack Casady (original members of Jefferson Airplane).

Nervous and weirdly star struck, I approached the band after the show.

“I’ve been waiting almost a decade to meet you,” I blurted.

Paul glanced at me, and then out the window at the blizzard that had begun to rage outside. No doubt wondering how their tour bus would fare on the icy roads.

He looked back at me with a smirk, “You must be cold.”

And then he was gone.


About the Author

Melany Joy Beck is a writer, musician, and award-winning independent filmmaker. Her Kickstarter project, Bring It 2 Peter (co-produced with Janelle Sorenson) was selected Special Jury Prize at the Nevada Film Festival 2011, Best Documentary at the Central Wisconsin Film Festival 2011, and Official Selection at the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival 2012.


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