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- Posted on Feb 19th 2010 5:00PM by James Sullivan
The powerful voice on that hit single belonged to Grace Slick, one of the first true female rock stars, and one of the most unrepentant characters to emerge from the hedonistic '60s. Her appetite was legendary, even among her famously indulgent peers. And she had a nose for trouble: As recently as the 1990s, she was having run-ins with the law.
As the San Francisco rock scene began to form in the mid-1960s, the young department store model born Grace Wing started a rock band called the Great Society with her then-husband, Jerry Slick, and his brother Darby. When another local band, Jefferson Airplane, lost a singer to maternity leave, they offered to buy Grace out of her contract. She brought two songs with her from the Great Society: the Darby Slick composition 'Somebody to Love' and her own 'White Rabbit' -- a dirgelike drug-culture anthem teeming with trippy 'Alice in Wonderland' imagery that would follow the former song into the Top 10 during the Summer of Love.
The Airplane's commercial success transformed Slick into a psychedelic icon, and she made the most of it. During the Black Power season of 1968, she performed on 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour' in blackface. Invited to the Nixon White House in 1970 as a fellow Finch College alumna of First Daughter Tricia, she schemed with her date, radical activist Abbie Hoffman, to spike the president's tea with LSD.
According to Slick, her plan was to drop the 600 micrograms of acid she had secreted under her fingernail -- which she kept long for cocaine use -- into an urn of tea. The plot to dose Tricky Dick went awry when security barred her from entry, informing her that the Jefferson Airplane were on an FBI banned list because of suspect lyrical content. Clearly, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover was feeding his head with the Airplane -- for the nation's security, of course.
Slick even courted controversy in her domestic life. When her daughter with bandmate Paul Kantner was born in 1971, she joked that she would name the baby "god," with a small G, to teach her humility. The joke was reported in the press as fact; the baby was actually christened as the comparatively staid China.
Slick also had considerable personal problems, including a serious car crash that required several months of recuperation and a series of incidents with law enforcement that she called TUIs – "talking under the influence." But Slick's drinking finally got the best of her in Germany in 1978. Performing with the Airplane's successor group, Jefferson Starship, her extreme intoxication forced the band to cancel on its first night in Hamburg, inciting a riot.
The next night, having reportedly polished off the contents of her hotel minibar, she blamed the audience for the rise of Nazi Germany 30 years before. Goosestepping across the stage, she taunted the crowd by asking, "Who won the war?" After groping guitarist Craig Chaquico, she fell into the audience, where she fondled several women and shoved a finger up someone's nose. Within days, at the urging of her former lover, an irate Kantner, Slick left the band.
Although she returned to tour with other incarnations of Starship, by the late 1980s Slick was retired from music for good. However, this didn't entail retiring her wild side. In 1994, she was arrested for aiming an unloaded weapon at police officers who came to her Marin County, Calif., home to investigate a report of a domestic disturbance. A man inside her home had called the cops in a panic, claiming that a drunken Slick was discharging a shotgun in the house. Slick, pointing her firearm at the arriving officers, demanded that they leave her property. Charged with assault with a deadly weapon, she was sentenced to 200 hours of community service and ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Now 70, with white hair pulled back in a ponytail, she is sober and is expressing her creativity through painting. She's as outspoken as ever, often repeating her belief that rockers older than 50 don't belong onstage. She recently told CNN why some of her paintings still reference 'Alice in Wonderland,' which, of course, inspired 'White Rabbit.'
"Following your curiosity is a good idea," she said, "because you don't want to be sitting around at my age going, 'Gee, I was too scared to go for it.'"