“Volunteers” found Jefferson Airplane in a radical mood. The 1969 album was overtly political, while most of the San Francisco group’s works to date had been concerned with romance, whimsy and matters of the head.
“We are forces of chaos and anarchy,” Grace Slick and Marty Balin sang on the opening track, “We Can Be Together.” The song shocked the squares and delighted the freak faithful with its soaring cry of “Up against the wall, motherfucker.” The band had plugged into radical chic.
More widely quoting swearing followed on “Eskimo Blue Day,” the seventh track, which saw the group embrace another social revolution: the nascent ecology movement.
“The human name doesn’t mean shit to a tree,” the lyric went, this news just in from the closest redwood.
The lyrics came from Slick, who shared songwriting credit with her Jefferson Airplane bandmate and lover Paul Kantner. The words exhibited her razor-wire ‘tude and his love of the obscure and exotic. The song seems to anticipate an awareness of global warming by decades — most likely luck, a psychedelic mindset and coincidence, but who knows.
Consider the evidence, in lyric fragments:
Snow cuts loose from the frozen
Until it joins with the African sea
In moving it changes its cold and its name …
If you don’t mind heat in your river and
Fork tongue talking from me …
Snow called water going violent
Damn the end of the stream
“Our greed does mean shit to a tree.” Slick said years later. “The trees are dying. All of our separating ourselves from the planet is stupid because, the larger picture, whether or not you become president of Bank America has nothing to do with evolution.”
The Airplane had become heavier in its old age, with “Eskimo Blue Day” a fine example of its late-period aggressive psychedelics, driven by the team of guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady. The song begins moody and midtempo, building into a rock grove and then setting off a firestorm of distorted guitar, bass and drums.
After the song charges into head-banging territory, it returns to a hurricane eye of calm before charging off yet again. The dynamics over its 6 1/2 minute run are breathtaking. “Eskimo Blue Day” would become a showcase of the Airplane’s late-60s live shows and was part of their Woodstock set.
“Eskimo Blue Day” ends with what could be a glacier breaking apart, perhaps a man-made explosion, maybe the end of the world. An appropriately mysterious end to a baffling and prophetic song.
- Read lyrics to “Eskimo Blue Day” by Grace Slick and Paul Kantner.