Art, Creativity, Freedom, and the Jefferson Airplane
At some point, maybe it was the drugs, Jefferson Airplane seemed to just fall apart. Their later iteration as Jefferson Starship was blatantly and painfully commercial and had none of the creativity and magic of their earlier days. Grace Slick is the first to admit it. It's like a corpse that doesn't know it's dead and continues walking.
Compare the lyrics of Eskimo Blue Sky "You call it rain but the human name doesn't mean shit to a tree." to "We built this city on rock and roll."
Most of Jefferson Airplane's best songs never made it to radio play. They were not commercial enough. They were too creative and too good.
Jefferson Starship was only commercial with none of the good, none of the creativity or freedom that was so apparent in the early Jefferson Airplane. "Strictly commercial" as Frank Zappa might have said.
Now Grace Slick limits her talents to painting white rabbits and pictures from Alice in Wonderland. It's what you would expect from the author of one of the Airplane's biggest hits "White Rabbit". But what you would expect is neither freedom nor creativity. If we're not surprised and amazed, it's not creative. If we're not continuously recreating ourselves and what we do, we're no longer free, creative, or alive.
It's not necessary to focus solely on Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane. I'm just particularly disappointed and saddened by them at the moment.
F. Scott Fitzerald was an absolutely brilliant writer. I could read just one of his sentences over eight times it felt so good the way it rolled off the tongue and sounded in my mind. After a brilliant blaze of creative output, he drowned himself at the bottom of a bottle unable to write a complete sentence let alone a book.
Hemingway, just as brilliant in his own way, found drink wasn't enough and swallowed the end of a shotgun.
These things often happen even with the most creative people. Yet some of us, like wine, just get better and more creative with age.
Why is that? Why do some brilliant flames sputter out and die while a few continue to increase in their brightness?
We often blame drugs or alcohol as that seems to be a common symptom. But symptoms are not the cause. Let's see if we can look a little deeper.
Perhaps the ones who peak early become attached to their fame and can't grow and move on. They allow their early success to become a prison. Drugs and alcohol then seem like their only escape.
Freedom and creativity seem to go together. But drug and alcohol freedom is not real freedom. Some, like Picasso, find another way. Even the art itself can be freedom as long as you're not attached to the past. Perhaps that's what makes the difference.
Fame and early success can become a prison if we let it. We are expected to do what we are expected to do. Picasso didn't do that. He defied expectations at every turn. The Beatles also continued to reinvent themselves and their music. The freedom to create was more important to them than commercial success. This allowed them to break out of what for many becomes a prison.
Galleries expect us to continue producing the same kinds of paintings that sell the most. Commerce rarely supports creativity. More often, it kills it. In my early twenties, one gallery owner told me I would sell more if I were dead. I told him I was not willing to go that far to accommodate him. He laughed but I could tell he was disappointed.
Jefferson Starship was the commercial version of Jefferson Airplane. It created hits. It made money. It was what record company executives wanted. It was lifeless, a walking corpse, a shallow and sad parody of art. But that only affected the artists and some of their remaining fans.
Imagine if Fitzgerald or Hemingway had told their publisher they wanted to write something completely different, totally unlike anything they had ever written before, and the publisher had replied, "Damn the dictates of commerce. Follow your muse. Be free and create whatever inspires you. Your artistic integrity is more important than the monetary success of our business."
Yes, it's highly unlikely that would ever happen. But, if it did, I believe we'd see quite a few more books from both of them. And neither flame would have fizzled out as soon as it did. And who knows what Jefferson Airplane would be doing today. But I'm pretty sure I would love to hear it.