GRACE SLICK: SHEíS FOREVER SOMEBODY TO LOVE
From Vocalizing to Painting, Sheís a Vibrant Artist Who Makes a Lasting Impression


By Paul Freeman [1999 Interview]

A rock pioneer, Grace Slick made history in the 60s, joining Jefferson Airplane to sear the scene with such unforgettable tracks as ďWhite Rabbit,Ē ďVolunteersĒ and ďSomebody to Love.Ē Her powerful, penetrating vocals paved the way for countless future women rockers.

Slick was among the eraís most influential faces of the counterculture. She flew through the 70s and 80s via Jefferson Starship. Starshipís hits included ďWe Built This CityĒ and ďNothingís Gonna Stop Us Now.Ē In recent years, Slick has focused on creating stunning visual art.

Pop Culture Classics had the opportunity to talk with this icon upon the publication of her 1999 book, ďSomebody to Love: A Rock and Roll Memoir.Ē Like Slick herself, the autobiography is outspoken, honest, brash, entertaining and one-of-a-kind.

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
The book is really entertaining.

GRACE SLICK:
Yeah, I was hoping it would be a fast, kind of fun read. Nothing too serious.

PCC:
In the process of putting it together, did you get any different sort of perspective on your life?

SLICK:
Not really. Iím just surprised Iím alive. Thatís a nice surprise Iíve got there.

PCC:
Yeah, a lot of the people you mention in the book are no longer with us. As far as surviving, do you see that as being just fate or your constitution or mental toughness?

SLICK:
No, I think thatís probably just luck. I donít attribute it to any particularÖ well, itís also I think that because it hurts too much to really be a raver on a consistent basis. So I had to pull backÖ or somebody else would make me pull back, which may have made me save my ass.

PCC:
But would say that sex and drugs are integral parts of rock íní roll? Are they really inseparable?

SLICK:
Well, I donít know about sex. I donít think you have to have drugs. I donít know if you even have to have sex. Probably you could have neither and do rock íní roll. Iím not sure what kind of an effort that would be, but you donít have to have sex and you donít have to have drugs.

PCC:
But it makes it more fun?

SLICK:
[Laughs] It does, if you donít die.

PCC:
Was the fun primarily what attracted you to rock music?

SLICK:
Well, primarily. Also, I went to see the Airplane play, at a club called The Matrix in San Francisco. And I was modeling at I Magin [a high-end department store]. And they were making more in one hour than I was making in a week. And they were having more fun doing it. And I thought that looked like a better job. So primarily, I wasnít like this big person, studied at Julliard and Iíve always wanted to be a musician and all that kind of stuff. I just thought it was like a much better job than the one I was doing.

PCC:
It seemed like, in reading the book, you had a happy childhood, well-adjusted. There was no great rebellion you had to satisfy.

SLICK:
NoÖ until I start reading newspapers and hearing about whatís going on in the world, that people thought it was a real good idea to go in and stomp people to death and so forth. I just thought it was kind of silly. I thought it was a stupid way to try and accomplish things and that, if making love made two people feel good, who elseís business is it? I mean, including the President of the United States. He has a problem with perjury. Thatís another thing.

But as far as making love, the problem that kids have nowadays is that itíll kill you, because all the diseases that we had at the time could be either waited out or you put some cream on it or youíd do something and it goes away. They donít have that now.

And if they donít stop testing on animals, theyíre never going to find one cure for one goddamn thing. Theyíre different than we are. You canít use animals for testing. They keep testing it on rats and stuff with AIDS. They arenít going to find anything. They havenít found anything yet.

PCC:
How old were you when your family moved to Palo Alto?

SLICK:
Oh, I was about eight, nine.

PCC:
And you enjoyed that environment?

SLICK:
Oh, yeah, I like pretty much wherever I am, unless itís really hot. Palo Alto is flat. I know that sounds like a funny thing to say, but itís flat. And you can ride a bicycle anywhere. And bicycles when I was young, and cars now, mean freedom to me. I can go anywhere I want, do anything I want and nobody can get at me, because Iím moving [Laughs]

PCC:
It was surprising to see that Betty Grable was actually an early inspiration.

SLICK:
Oh, yes, for sure. People think of Betty Grable as this pin-up in the second World War, in the barracks, which she was. But her movies, thereís one called ďThe Shocking Miss Pilgrim,Ē which was particularly feminist - thatís not my favorite . But there was ďLady in Ermine,Ē which was very fanciful.

There was another one called ďBeautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend,Ē in which she wore fabulous outfits, looked good, told jokes, could shoot, was an amazing shot with a pistol. She was a school teacher, so she was bright. She didnít like what a judge had to say, so she shot him in the ass. I mean, I thought that was a fabulous film. I mean, you can dress up and you sing in saloons, you have a good time, you look great, youíre bright and can pretty much get away with anything, because she shot the guy in the ass and left town. It was a lot more free and feminist kind of thing - although that wasnít what they were pushing - that movie in particular, than anything Iíve seen since.

PCC:
When you were sifting through all the possibilities for the book, how difficult was it to decide what to include and what to leave out?

SLICK:
Well, thatís when a co-write comes in. She would come over and talk to me and put it down on tape, ask me about this, ask me about that. She would write down what she thought would be good and then fax it back to me. But it didnít sound like my voice. It sounded like this nice, kind of regular person. I love her. Sheís my good friend. But it didnít sound like me, so we flipped it around, where she would suggest, ďOkay, tell me about so-and-so.Ē And I would write it. And then it sounded like me, because itís that sarcastic kind of voice. So she would refresh my memory. She would say, ďWhat about this time, when you were with so-and-so. Tell me about your childhood. No, I donít want to hear about your school, because nobodyÖ Tell me about the da-da-da.Ē She was the one who got that organized.

PCC:
At any point, was there a split second where you thought, ďDo I want to reveal this about myself?Ē

SLICK:
No. I like to go around in the universe assuming that everything I do can be seen by somebody or something, because then you donít have any secrets. Then you donít think of yourself as this big jerk and youíre hiding all of this stuff. I really donít care at all what people know, because whatever they think is their business and whatever Iím doing, unless it affects them, is my business. And if they want to know about my business, fine, I donít have anything to hide.

PCC:
What about family and friends, any concern about what they might like to see or not see in print?

SLICK:
Oh, of course. And thatís why some of the names were changed in there, because I donít want to trash people. But some of the stories involved people where the story wouldnít make any sense if I didnít put them in, but it would make them look foolish or it would make them look like whatever, that they might not like. Or that their family might not like. Or their children or something. So I would change their name.

PCC:
There are so many people nowadays who romanticize the 60s, particularly the San Francisco scene. Do you view it that way?

SLICK:
Well, it pretty much was that way for probably about a year-and-a-half or two years. The ideals that you can have either when youíre young or old or whenever, and if you have a number of people who feel that things can be changed either right here, with us, meaning that particular group of people we were all hanging out with, or maybe we can also help to change the rest of the world, so that nobody wants to go around and drop bombs on people and that sex is not a bad thing, itís a good thing, all that make love, not war stuff.

We thought maybe people would understand that, through education. And if the education were interesting, like rock íní roll music is kind of interesting, rather than a history book, we thought maybe we could do it that way. And, to a certain extent, those things happened, and are happening. It just takes a lot longer than weíd like.

PCC:
You donít see the current music scene as being totally barren, then?

SLICK:
No, not at all. Some people say, ďOh, well, there havenít been any good musicians since Beethoven.Ē That isnít true. I mean, genetics donít work that way. Youíre going to have certain people who are born to be fabulous musicians, in any era. And you just canít say the music scene is barren. Maybe the recognition of certain people is barren.

In other words, a great musical form, which is not very much recognized now, an almost semi-classical form, is soundtracks. But nobody pays much attention to soundtracks. Iím not talking about compiling a bunch of rock íní roll music. Iím talking about when composers write soundtracks like James Horner for ďZorro.Ē The guyís amazing. People donít pay much attention to that. But thatís another form that gets little recognition. You donít hear a whole hell of a lot of Chinese music either. I mean, thereís a lot of stuff we donít know about or donít recognize.

PCC:
But the mainstream music scene has become so corporate.

SLICK:
Well, thereís no way out of that, is there? I mean, everything is corporate. Who owns you? Iím owned by, right now. Warners. Warner Brothers [Warner Books published the memoir] - big corporation. The last record I put out - Sony, big corporation. Everybody goes through a corporation, thatís the way it is. You can go live in the woods and not be part of a corporation. But youíd pretty much have to go live in the woods to not be.

PCC:
With things like the Lilith Fair, thereís a lot of attention to women in rock lately. Some people have tried to dismiss it as a fad. Does that bother you, when you hear that kind of thing?

SLICK:
No, it tends to turn me off, when people say ďwomen in rock.Ē Itís like ďpigs can count.Ē Itís demeaning. Iím not all that crazy about it. Iíd rather just have a festival where you have both women and men. The minute you announce that youíre a woman doing something, you announce that maybe you can make it and maybe you canít. Oh, gee, isnít she adventurous? It never occurred to me. People in the 60s were like, ďOh, well, weíre going to go burn our bras.Ē Well, I think itíd be better if you went to law school. You want to be a lawyer. Donít burn your bra, go to law school.

PCC:
But were you conscious of opening doors back then?

SLICK:
No, I was very naive. I just figured everybody did what it is they wanted to do. And if you want to stay around home and raise a bunch of kids, thatís an art form. And make it an art form. I didnít realize people were doing all this stuff and they didnít want to do it. I thought people had more balls than that, including women.

PCC:
The aborted visit to the Nixon White House, it certainly conjures up a lot of possibilities. What did you hope to accomplish with that mission?

SLICK:
We just wanted to get Nixon loaded.

PCC:
What did you think that would lead to?

SLICK:
We didnít know. Just make it different. We didnít like it the way it was and we thought, ďIf the guy took enough acid, maybe heíd get so nuts theyíd take him out of office. Or, the positive side was, maybe heíd see, as we did, when we took acid, things werenít exactly the way you thought they wereÖ and maybe heíd make some adjustments to his policies [chuckles].

Or maybe heíd just get real nuts for about eight hours and that would change somebody else around himís view of him and lead to some other things. It would definitely have changed things. He was nutty enough anyway. We found out later that he, on the natch, used to walk around, talking to the pictures. So maybe if weíd given him acid, no one would have noticed.

PCC:
Do you look at all these memorable incidents in your life and think of it as a great adventure?

SLICK:
Yeah, but all of life is like that, if weíve got our eyes open. Itís only when weíre frightened and pull back and in fear that life seems to be hideous. But thereís so much stuff to appreciate, so much stuff to do, so many people to love. Itís just so full. And the only time I donít see it is when Iím afraid of something.

PCC:
You seem to be fearless. What are you afraid of?

SLICK:
Death. I donít know what comes after it. I love the storyline going on here. This is one big, living soap opera. And I donít like the business of, ďOkay, you get to watch it up to this point. Okay, now you canít watch anymore.Ē [Laughs] That really annoys me.

PCC:
But youíre open the possibility of reincarnation?

SLICK:
Oh, yeah. But reincarnation does not guarantee that youíre going to see the continuity. Like there was a story about a woman named Bridey Murphy, in the 40s, who remembered everything about this Irish village that sheíd lived in 100 years before that. And she couldnít have possibly known about it. And that got a real interest going in reincarnation for a while in this country. But the problem is, most people donít remember. Thereís no continuity. In other words, if I could remember what my last reincarnation was and the one before that and see the continuity of what Iím trying to do, it seems like itíd be a lot easier to figure out the path youíre supposed to be taking - what kind of crap are you doing that youíre supposed to be cleaning up?

Now, I am Norwegian, but I have a tremendous affinity for everything Spanish. And Iíve known certain things - I mentioned in the book, I went to a movie one time and they cut from one scene to another and they started pulling the camera back and before they came back and said anything, I knew it was San Juan Capistrano. I knew it was a mission in San Juan Capistrano. And Iíve never been there.

I have this thing about going through a specific canyon down here, Malibu Canyon. And I feel like Iíve been there before. And I was Spanish. And I feel like I came from a Spanish family. Not Mexican. Spain. I was on the wrong side, meaning the conquering conquistadors. Itís very clear. But thatís the only continuity that I know of. And that sounds really bizarre - Shirley MacLaine time.

PCC:
There must be some comfort in those kind of feelings.

SLICK:
No, because maybe thereís an area in the brain that is capable of creating what it wants to create and makes it so strong that you just do stuff like that. I donít know. If it were comforting, I wouldnít be annoyed with dying.

PCC:
Do you feel healthy now?

SLICK:
No. Iíll be 60 in a little over a year. Iíll be 59 on October 30th. And you notice that you are decaying. And you can feel it. And it keeps reminding you that you are dying. I donít go around thinking about this kind of stuff all the time, otherwise Iíd be miserable. But it does occur to me. Dying and decaying and death occurs to me a lot more now than it did when I was 25, which is reasonable. Thatís the way it is. It is natural. But that doesnít mean I like it a lotÖ

Youíre the one thatís asking the questions. if you print this article, so that I am constantly talking about death, theyíll think, ďJesus Christ, whatís the matter with her?Ē I didnít bring this stuff up, you did.

PCC:
Right [chuckles] Does being clean and sober give you more energy?

SLICK:
Not really. You just donít have hangovers.

PCC:
Youíve said that alcohol is really the most insidious drug.

SLICK:
Itís the most powerful, yes. It can turn you into an asshole right this secondÖ or at least in 15 minutes, on an empty stomach. I mean, itís just really powerful. Very few other drugs turn you into that big of a jerk that fast. Looking at some of the prisoners in our prisons, these are alcohol or drug-related crimes. Theyíre committed while they were loaded. But itís mostly alcohol.

PCC:
How difficult was it to leave that behind?

SLICK:
Oh, itís never difficult to leave it behind. Itís difficult to stay stopped. Itís easy for me to stop, because I donít drink every day. Iím periodic. Be loaded for a couple of days and then not for a month. Loaded for one night and then not for six months. So I go for very long periods of time just on my own, because itís hard on me. Alcohol is real hard on you. But I donít think that. I like being sober and I like being drunk. I get bored with being any one way. I like experimenting with getting my head somewhere else. Itís not because Iím miserable. Itís just because I enjoy it.

I mean, you donít go to a movie because youíre miserable. You go to a movie because itís different. Youíre going to think about Charlton Heston perhaps for two hours or Antonio Banderas or some Trainspotter, whatever youíre going to see. You donít go to a movie because, ďOh, Iím really miserable, I want to get away from my life.Ē The same things with drugs. That can be entertainment. Unfortunately, theyíre kind of deadly, too.

PCC:
Have you found new ways to take your mind to a different place?

SLICK:
Oh, yeah. I can do that with any of the arts. I like any of the arts. Doesnít really matter which one - music or drawing or sculpture. I make jewelry out of hardware. There are different ways of doing it. Itís just that drugs are faster. In other words, thatís a real fast way of getting from point A to point B. But again, like I said before, itís like Russian Roulette.

PCC:
So youíre still very active creatively, though not so much musically?

SLICK:
I have pretty much done that since I was a kid. Iíve always had something going on with one of the arts or the other. Thereís something always going on.

PCC:
Any second thoughts about stepping away from the rock world, when there are so many 60s and 70s artists still out there performing?

SLICK:
No, thatís fine. In other words, people never ask me, ďDo you have second thoughts about stepping away from the fifth grade there and going into the sixth grade?Ē

PCC:
So how do you view those artists who are in their 50s and 60s, still rocking out on stage?

SLICK:
Well, thatís their problem. Or their choice. If they want to do it and people want to show up, fabulous.

PCC:
But itís not like the blues, where performers can just get better with age?

SLICK:
You can tend to get a little silly-looking, if youíre 55, trying to look like youíre 25, singing the same songs you sang when you were 25. Itís a little rough. Itís hard to doÖ for me. And harder to watch.

PCC:
Was it difficult making the transition to Los Angeles from the Bay Area?

SLICK:
No. I was born in Chicago. I donít remember it, but my parents moved to Los Angeles. I was there for about a year-and-a-half, then San Francisco for about seven years, Palo Alto for nine, New York for one, Miami for one then came back and started going on the road. Iím used to moving around.

PCC:
Youíre near your daughter now?

SLICK:
Yeah, she lives down here, too.

PCC:
And that bolsters your relationship?

SLICK:
Oh, Iím sure itís a lot tighter. If Iíd stayed in San Francisco, Iíd talk to her on the phone and then see her once every four months, when one of us went to the other city. China and I both have the same pattern, are sober together. I love her. And I also like her. Usually you love your kids, but you may not like them. But sheís also very interesting, a funny little person.

PCC:
Youíre still involved in animal rights?

SLICK:
What I did for four years, when I was in Northern California, from 1990 to 1994, I was studying medical books and medical papers, AMA white papers, an amazing array of research about biomedical research. And then Iíd go on radio or television and argue with the guys from the University of California about whether or not you can extrapolate information from animal to man, whether itís scientifically feasible, whether itís a good idea scientifically, not morally - thatís a whole other thing. Thatís - donít kill animals, because they have feelings. Thatís one area. The other are is - does it work scientifically?

Apparently not, because we havenít found a cure for one goddamn thing, really, like treat symptoms. And some diseases just go away, anyway. But if they donít stop working on animals and start working on prevention, weíre just going to have the same diseases and more. But itís a very lucrative business - animal research. Itís not science. The reason they use mice is not because theyíre so much like us. Itís because theyíre easy to handle. Any moron who steps back from that one a minute can see that easy to handle, cheap and reproduce fast is not our good scientific theory.

PCC:
With all the adventures youíve gone through, what are you looking forward to, down the road?

SLICK:
Whatever comes up. Whateverís going on right now, thatís what interests me - with me, with my friends, with the world, with art, with anything. So whatever comes up is what Iím going to doÖ or not do, whatever the choice is.

PCC:
So other than writing the book, you donít like spending time reflecting on the past?

SLICK:
Not really. It was suggested to me by a friend of mine whoís a lawyer, lives in San Francisco, his name is Brian Rohan [of Fillmore Management; his clients included Ken Kesey, Neil Cassady and The Grateful Dead]. He came over to visit me in Malibu. He said, ďWhat are you doing there?Ē I said, ďIím drawing.Ē And he went, ďOh, well, you really ought to write a book,Ē as if drawing doesnít exist or something [laughs].

And I said, ďBrian, I donít want to write a book.Ē ďYou ought to write an autobiography.Ē I said, ďI donít like going backwards. I like what Iím doing now.Ē And he said, ďWell, just talk to this friend of mine.Ē ďOkay, Iíll talk to her.Ē I talked to her for seven hours. Finally at the end of being badgered by her, I thought, ďWell, it is an experience Iíve never had. Iíve never written a book. Go ahead, write a book.Ē So I did. The experience of writing was great. It was a lot of fun, putting it together. Going around the country now is not as interesting as it once was, because airports are hideous and air travel is kind of repulsive. But apart from that itís nice.

PCC:
Any plans on making your artwork available to the public?

SLICK:
If people want to buy it, as it is, thatís fine. There was an art dealer in San Francisco who apparently talked to my book agent and she showed him copies of a bunch of stuff Iíd done. He said, ďWell, I really like this and this. And I wish sheíd draw this kind of style and then weíll show it.Ē Because art dealers donít know what to do with you, if you donít have a style. And it just cracked me up. Yeah, Iíll be drawing like an art gallery owner tells me how to draw? I donít think so. So I donít really care. If somebody wants to buy one, fine. If they donít want to buy it, thatís okay, too. Iíll keep doing it anyway. I just do it, because I like it.

At age 77, sheís still creating. You can find news about Grace Slick and her artwork by visiting: www.limelightagency.com/Grace-Slick/news/news.html