Kantner still steering Jefferson Starship

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First Posted: 11/3/2014

To say that Paul Kantner has seen and done it all would be an understatement. The core member of both Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship was on stage at Woodstock in 1969. He played on albums that included tracks such as the thumping “Somebody To Love” and the moody “Miracles.” His musical collaborations include work with everyone from Jerry Garcia to David Crosby and Carlos Santana. The legendary Bill Graham once managed his band. He and the iconic Grace Slick had a child together.

Born in San Francisco, Kantner, 73, was a pioneer of psychedelic rock and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And on November 8, he’ll bring the band he still leads, Jefferson Starship, to The Theater at Lackawanna College.

Weaving through the history of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship can be both fascinating and dizzying. Not only did the name of the group change, but there’s been a revolving door of group members. The use of the word “Jefferson” in the band’s name even involved a lawsuit. At times, things have been messy. For Kantner, however, it all appears to be water under the bridge. He’s a relaxed and happy man. And he still loves taking the group on the road.

“I like to think we have one of the best band’s in the country, if not the world,” says Kantner in an interview with Weekender. “The mystical nature of music just carries me on, endlessly, to go out and do what we do. The thrilling part of it doesn’t stop. Music has always been a thrill for me. What did Kurt Vonnegut say? ‘And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’ It applies very heavily to what we do.”

In addition to his work with music, Kantner has been a political and social activist. Add to that the internal feuds, romances and legal actions that have also all been a part of the Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship journey, and you could say Kantner’s had a volatile life. But in conversation, he still comes off as a laid back, easy-going Californian and a product of the ‘60s generation. He says bumps and turns are to be expected in life. And he enjoys them.

“I’ve always likened it to white water rafting,” he says of his career in music. “You’re going around curves, and you don’t quite know what’s going to happen. You sort of know what’s going to happen, but there’s always something that will hit you and take you to that thrilling place. It’s an alternate quantum universe in its own way. Very few people, in general, get to enjoy the benefits of that kind of life, so not to do it would be worse than doing it. Somebody once said, ‘If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room. ‘ ”

Kantner co-wrote the Jefferson Airplane classic “Volunteers,” a song which helped push forward the counter-culture movement of the ‘60s and could be considered one of the signature songs of the Woodstock generation. He says his own history of standing up to authority dates back to when he was still a child. His mother died when he was in second grade and he was sent to a Catholic military boarding school. It was there, he says, when he first began to feel a strong sense of rebellion.

He did not like the school.

“I figure I ought to be a serial killer by now,” he says with a chuckle. “Fortunately, I channeled it into something else. I like the altered consciousness of it. People say that certain things are forbidden to you. In Catholic school, I asked ‘What are they?’ And then I immediately walked out and got a list in my mind of things I should be doing in life.”

Music topped the list. It continues to inspire him.

“Just the elegant architecture of music itself is something that nobody quite understands,” he says. “Why does a combination of notes and chords and melodies and voices work together in such a thrilling way? You don’t know why it works, but it does. And I’m swept away by it almost every time.”

Throughout nearly 50 years of recording, Kantner is the only member of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship to play on every album with the “Jefferson” name on it. Kantner seems prideful of this, but also finds it amusing.

“On some level, it means I can’t get another job,” he says with a laugh. “What else am I going to do? San Francisco, particularly, represents something to me. I always call it ‘49 square miles surrounded entirely by reality.’ To paraphrase Somerset Maugham: “There’s three rules in rock and roll. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.’ I’m still working on that. And I haven’t been executed yet, so I figure I’m getting away with something, and I haven’t found a better thing to do in this adventure than the alternate quantum that I’m working in. It’s a frontier for me, and it’s always an adventure. You never quite know what’s going to happen, and it generally quite thrilling to go out on a stage and do what we do.”