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Jeff Tamarkin: Got A Revolution!: The Turbulent Flight Of Jefferson Airplane


Got A Revolution!: The Turbulent Flight Of Jefferson Airplane

Author: Jeff Tamarkin
Publisher: Atria

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Unlike early hippie crossover acts The Mamas & The Papas and The Lovin' Spoonful, Jefferson Airplane cracked AM radio playlists with actual rock music. Even today, the screeching guitars and brutal percussion of the group's first hit, "Somebody To Love," sound surprisingly threatening. The Beatles pioneered many of the pop-music revolutions of the '60s, but when "Somebody To Love" hit the charts in early 1967, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was months away from release, and Paul McCartney was making a pilgrimage to San Francisco to meet the hottest band in America and its smart-mouthed singer, Grace Slick. Jeff Tamarkin's critical history Got A Revolution! is at its best when revealing just how big its subject was during its heyday, when fans were poring over the profane, fantastical lyrics for prophetic messages. RCA Records, not fully understanding what the group was doing but happy to keep racking up gold records, indulged almost every whim of Jefferson Airplane's core members for two decades, letting them release solo albums and side projects of ever-increasing weirdness, and standing by it as it shifted clientele and eventually splintered into the bluesy jam-rock band Hot Tuna and the arena-filling pop act Jefferson Starship. Tamarkin has been a fan of all the Jefferson iterations since he first heard the original group as a teenager in the late '60s, and he may be too close, having penned the liner notes to several Jefferson Airplane reissues. At times, Got A Revolution! reads like an expanded version of those liner notes, running briskly through major accomplishments (giving major events like Monterey, Woodstock, and Altamont only a few pages each) while shorthanding the reality of the '60s counterculture with the standard clichés about youth revolution and consciousness-raising. Not that Tamarkin is uncritical of the self-indulgence that brought the love generation into the "me" decade, but while he acknowledges his heroes' struggles with addiction and egomania, he shies away from admitting that the Airplane/Starship/Tuna members' pretension and self-absorption is what kept them from producing more than a handful of listenable tracks per album. Still, in spite of his subjects' occasionally foggy memories, Tamarkin gets the rough shape of their story down in lively, readable fashion, complete with mini-cliffhangers at the end of almost every chapter. And he tells a story worth telling, about how and why a group of people who once meant so much to so many has been reduced to a couple of out-of-context songs on classic-rock radio.