No. 33: ‘Eskimo Blue Day’

jefferson airplane volunteers“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.

Comments

  1. TIMOTHY FINNEGAN says:

    My favorite Airplane song. Still remarkable music.

  2. Fly Jefferson Airplane, Get You There On Time….without a doubt my favorite psychedelic band and so much more. After Bathing at Baxters is the best, but also Crown of Creation and Volunteers. Greasy Heart is a great “psychedelic” song.

  3. “And so much more” indeed. The Jefferson Airplane’s music continues to soar through the time barrier. Used to be you only heard “White Rabbit” in other media, but now the rest of the catalog is getting out there. Jorma Kaukonen’s guitar has a lot to do with that.

    I think the Airplane and Moby Grape are the two SF bands that have held up best, by far.

    Thanks for the comments Timothy and el rey, looking forward to your next ones.

    • TIMOTHY FINNEGAN says:

      I loved the Coens use of the Airplane in A SERIOUS MAN. They got their moneysworth out of lyric and soundtrack.

  4. Jagazz Flatts says:

    Grace….what a fox!

  5. The sound at the end of the song (which I’m listening to right now) is a tree being felled. god help us all in this coming century.

    • unreceivedogma says:

      Ed, you are correct. I wanted to use that sound in a 30 second anti-fracking tv ad that I wrote, directed and produced, but I was unsure what it was. The husband of the composer of the music for the ad was a sound engineer. I told him to listen to the end of Eskimo Blue Day, I wanted to match that. He said “that’s easy, it’s a tree being cut down in the forest”. He was able to pull the stock sound recording from his library and played it within minutes.

      My commercial is here:
      https://www.youtube.com/user/ArtistsvsFracking?feature=watch
      May Paul Kantner rest in peace.

  6. heyday2day says:

    Today I can’t pinpoint why, but for years I had an aversion to JA and the SF scene in general. That aversion kept me from really “listening” for years. A shame too, as 60’s psych in general is by far my favorite music. That changed when I watched the “Fly Jefferson Airplane” doc and was blown away by pretty much all of it but especially Kaukonen and Casidy’s interplay and Grace Slick’s dark charisma. In short order I bought all their stuff and am ashamed at myself for ignoring them all these years.

    There are so many JA tracks that qualify for any top 100 psych song lists and this as good as any of the other candidates. “Eskimo” is just the tip of the iceberg for JA. Pretty much anything off of “Baxter’s” would fit as would most of “Crown of Creation” (honorable mention to “Fat Angel” and “Bear Melt” from their late 60’s live album) too. Good on you for putting this together for schlepps like me to read and comment on!

    • Thanks for checking in Heyday… For most other psychedelic bands, “Eskimo” would be a top 10 candidate for our list, but of course Jefferson Airplane could pretty much fill a top 50 by itself. I think you had a lot of company, so many folks forgot about the Airplane over the decades, tired of hearing the hit over and over. The albums are revelations, even with the patches of dated stuff and filler. For me, the Airplane and Moby Grape were the great bands out of that place and time. Some of the live recordings as you say are killer. Look forward to your next comment!

  7. Dan (J-Kat) Kind says:

    I’ve always loved the entire JA catalog. Also a huge fan of all Paul Kantner solo albums. Particularly fond of the song “Have You Seen The Stars Tonite” from Blows Against The Empire. Grace plays excellent piano to Jerry Garcia and David Crosby’s guitars. Beautiful music!

  8. Astroman says:

    I was about to post that I disagreed with your decision to put this song on the list, but I thought before I made a jerk out of myself in front of the entire world I better go back and listen to the song again. Although I’ve owned “Volunteers” for decades, I haven’t listened to it nearly as much as “Pillow,” “Baxter’s,” or “Crown.” After going back and re-familiarizing myself with the track, I can respect your choice of the song. It’s still not one of my favorites, the song or the album.

    “Crown Of Creation” has been my favorite Airplane album for a long time. 1968 was a very dark year (Tet, MLK’s & RFK’s assassinations, the riots at the DNC), and that album seems to mirror that murky mood to perfection. Then again, 1969 was a pretty radical year, what with Tricky Dick taking over, so maybe in its own way “Volunteers” does the same thing “Crown” did the previous year.

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