Somebody to Love?

A Rock-and-Roll Memoir


By Grace Slick

By Andrea Cagan

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A candid autobiography of the great rock diva of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, revealing her wild life at the forefront of the Sixties and Seventies counterculture.

She has been called rock and roll’s original female outlaw, as famous for her bad behavior as for her haunting singing voice. In her 25-year career as a musician, Grace Slick charted dozens of hits and sold millions of albums. From “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” to “Sarah” and “Miracles”, the songs she performed became the anthems of a generation.

Whether describing her antics at the White House with Abbie Hoffman or the unforgettable experience that was Woodstock, Slick’s recollections have the same rich imagery found in her lyrics. In this provocative narrative, readers will discover the many sides of Grace Slick: as artistic pioneer; she records songs with Jerry Garcia and David Crosby; as practitioner of freedom and rebellion; she sleeps with Jim Morrison and gets arrested for DUI on three separate occasions (without actually being in a car); and as a loving mother to actress China Kantner, she tries to balance casual friendship with parental wisdom.

Slick offers a revealing self-portrait of the complex woman behind the rock-outlaw image, and delivers a behind-the-scenes, no-holds-barred view of the people and spirit that defined a quarter-century of American pop culture. Wildly funny, candid, and evocative, Somebody to Love?tells what it was really like during, and after, the Summer of Love-and how one remarkable woman survived it all to remain today as vibrant and rebellious as ever.


If you purchase this book without a cover you should be aware that this book may have been stolen property and reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher. In such case neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."


Copyright © 1998 by Grace Slick

All right reserved.

Cover design by Rachel McClain

Book design and composition by L&G McRee

Warner Books, Inc., Hachette Book Group, 237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

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First eBook Edition: December 1999

ISBN: 978-0-446-55442-8

Copyright Acknowledgments

The author and publisher gratefully acknowledge permission to reprint the following material:

Lyrics from "Philadelphia Freedom," by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Copyright © 1975 Big Pig Music Ltd. All Rights for U.S. administered by Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. Canadian Rights administered by Chappell Music Canada Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. Warner Bros. Publications U.S., Inc., Miami, FL 33014

Lyrics from "Somebody to Love," by Darby Slick. Copyright © Irving Music. Used by Permission.

Lyrics from "White Rabbit," by Grace Slick. Copyright © Irving Music. Used by Permission.

Lyrics from "Lather," by Grace Slick. Copyright © Icebag Corp. Used by Permission.

Lyrics from "Triad," by David Crosby. Copyright © Stay Straight. Used by Permission.

Lyrics from "Ride the Tiger," by Paul Kantner. Copyright © Ronin Music. Used by Permission.

Lyrics from "Comin' Back to Me," by Marty Balin. Copyright © Icebag Corp. Used by Permission.

Lyrics from "Third Week in the Chelsea," by Jorma Kaukonen. Copyright © Icebag Corp. Used by Permission.

Lyrics from "Starship," by Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Marty Balin, and Gary Blackman. Copyright © God Tunes. Used by Permission.

Lyrics from "Manhole," by Grace Slick. Copyright © Mole Music. Used by Permission.

Lyrics from "Do It the Hard Way," by Grace Slick. Copyright © Ronin Music. Used by Permission.

Lyrics from "Hyperdrive," by Grace Slick. Copyright © Ronin Music. Used by Permission.

Lyrics from "Panda," by Grace Slick. Copyright © Helmets Without Heads. Used by Permission.


The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend

It's Chicago, 1973. Jefferson Airplane is tuning up and I'm standing onstage getting ready to sing. Some guy in the audience stands up and shouts, "Hey, Gracie—take off your chastity belt."

I look directly at him and say, "Hey—I don't even wear underpants." I pull my skirt up over my head for a beaver shot, and the audience explodes with laughter. I can hear the guys in the band behind me muttering, "Oh, Jesus."

My response to that particular heckle was actually pleasant compared to what I did in Germany, four or five years later, when I was so drunk, I went up to a guy sitting in the front row and picked his nose. It was the night before I left the band for the first time. To be more accurate, I fired myself. Fed up for a variety of reasons I'll discuss later, having ingested the entire contents of the minibar in my hotel room before I arrived at the venue for the show, I stuck my fingers in this guy's nostrils just because I thought they'd probably fit. Luckily, the majority of that particular German audience had never seen us before, so they must have figured we were some kind of punk band and just let it go.

Why did Grace Wing, a well-educated, contented girl who grew up in a Leave It to Beaver household, ultimately embrace such a maverick persona?

Well, sarcasm was always a family trait, but the real reason for my tendency toward raucous behavior can best be explained by a 1949 film that I watched when I was a young girl. I recently saw a rerun, and it was all right up there on the screen: a combination of humor and fantasy that was especially appealing to a young child looking for a Technicolor reality.

TV Guide listing in May 1997:

11:40 (DIS) movie, Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend—comedy (1949) 1:35 Betty Grable.

Love the title.

When I was between the ages of five and nine, the soldiers of the Second World War wanted to have Betty Grable, but I wanted to be Betty Grable. She was the epitome of an alluring woman; she had it all as far as I was concerned.

My mother told me, "She's got caps on her teeth, bleached blonde hair, and no talent." Mom, being a natural blonde with a mouth full of perfectly straight teeth, was feeling some resentment. But Miss Grable could have been head-to-toe Styrofoam for all I cared. Whatever it was, it worked for me. When I saw that movie, I figured I had all the information I needed to ride through life like an armored blonde goddess.

The opening shot of The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend takes place in 1895 in a small western town. Betty's in jail, still in the fabulous outfit she was wearing for her evening's saloon singing. She's only slightly put out by being in the slammer, and a friend tells her, "Don't worry, you'll be out in minutes. Nobody liked the guy you shot, anyway."

After a rousing evening of performing for assorted drunken cowboys in a saloon and shooting a rabble-rouser, she shows up for her trial the next morning, where she speaks out of order and then winds up shooting the judge in the ass.

A comedy.

The point is, what nine-year-old Grace saw was a woman who looked like a princess, behaving in a primarily offensive, often masculine way and producing slapstick results. No heavy feminist stuff, no serious reprimands. Just a series of entertaining events, showcasing the character's comedic qualities and instinct for following her whims.

In scene two, Betty's character, as a little girl, is being coached in sharpshooting by her grandfather.

"Can I go play with my dolls now?" she asks.

"Young lady, the frontier is a wild place," says her grandfather. "Nobody's gonna take care of you; you gotta take care of yourself—and nobody argues with a gun. You get good enough with that piece, you won't find no trouble you can't get out of."

Little Betty blows ten bottles off the wall from twenty paces, and says, "Can I go play with my dolls now?"

"Okay," says Gramps, mumbling under his breath, "Boy, she's an amazing shot."

In the following scenes, Betty's adult character continuously lets fly with sarcastic remarks, takes no guff from children and adults alike, and lets her various suitors know she's charmed by their attention but not available. A class A gunfighter, she hikes up her skirts and plows into the fray with John Wayne–style resolve. When she falls in love with Cesar Romero, she has to save him—both from winding up on the losing end of a gunfight and from his own confused thinking.

Significantly, she takes it all on with no whining or lobbying against sexist attitudes. She just tackles one problem at a time, always with a sense of humor, always self-possessed, always unruffled. At the end of the film, when she discovers that Romero has a woman on the side, she dumps him with a few well-chosen remarks and shoots the same judge in the ass again—this time hitting both cheeks.

"Feminist comedy," practically an oxymoron, had a couple of good years after WWII. Chalk it up to the forced female autonomy that occurred during wartime, when Rosie the Riveter went to work in the factories, constructing the Allies' war machines while taking charge of the finances, the home, and the children. Those movies gave little girls in the audience the green light for self-reliant, admittedly-leaning-toward-violent behavior. No preaching, no bra burning, just facing and enjoying the humor of life as it was, wherever you were, whatever was going on.

All those images on celluloid filled out a picture of how I wanted to be.

Even though the fifties seemed to regress into the pocket of a fluffy Doris Day apron, I clearly was influenced by the do-it-yourself heroines I'd watched as a child. They took it all on without viewing "it" as something that needed a great deal of support to handle. Consequently, in the early sixties, when women started telling me I should join "the Cause," that we should stand up for each other, march in D.C. and so forth, I thought that was about as interesting as joining the Daughters of the American Revolution. It seemed like a new slant on an old Tupperware party.

By the time I was old enough to consider how I wanted to live my life, I'd read about and heard of Golda Meir; Indira Gandhi; Babe Zaharias; Clare Boothe Luce; Eleanor Roosevelt; Marie Curie; Cassandra of Troy; Cleopatra; Elizabeth Taylor; Melina Mercouri; Anna Pavlova; Moira Shearer; Isadora Duncan; Maria Tallchief; Mary, Queen of Scots; Queen Isabella and Queen Victoria; Mary Shelley; Louisa May Alcott; Betsy Ross; Susan B. Anthony; Marian Anderson; Ella Fitzgerald; Carmen Miranda; Tokyo Rose; Sarah Bernhardt; Georgia O'Keeffe; Gertrude Stein; Annie Oakley; Amelia Earhart; Joan of Arc; Mother Teresa and Guru Ma; Julia Child; Pamela Harriman; Catherine the Great; Evita Peron; and Snow White.

The above-listed women collectively represented every attitude and occupation, so I figured my field of possibilities was wide open. I assumed that women who lived for the home front—housewives, homemakers, whatever the euphemism was—chose to do that; otherwise, they'd be doing something else. I couldn't imagine anybody doing something they didn't want to do.

Apart from rectal examinations and dental visits, why do something you don't like?

Financial circumstances might have demanded certain unpleasant activities, but if you did decide to specialize in the homemaking arts, I thought it should be because you were fulfilling a dream, not bowing to societal pressure.

At the time, that wasn't the accepted way of thinking, but since adults had made the Betty Grable films, I figured some people somewhere knew it was possible to experience life on a grand scale. They knew you didn't have to acquiesce, didn't have to be drab.

For years, I've followed the Grable credo: say what you mean, mean what you say, and throw a joke and a song in the mix now and then.


I Love L.A.

"If I didn't get straight A's on my report card, my mother would beat on my rear end about twenty times with the wooden side of a hairbrush. We wore so many petticoats under our dresses in those days, the spankings didn't hurt as much as she thought they did. I'd try not to laugh out loud when she'd go at it so hard, all the hairpins would come flying out of her head in every direction, ruining that big doughnut-shaped hairdo that was stylish then. By the time she got through running after me, tripping on the hem of her long dress, and working on my butt, she looked like she was the one who'd been punished."

That wasn't me speaking; those were my mother's words. For my grandmother, societal pressure had been everything and my mother received the brunt of her Victorian propriety. When I was growing up, the pressure to conform wasn't exactly imposed; usually it was implied. But God only knows what kind of absolute discipline was acted out on my grandmother, because she never mentioned it. The stories she told me were usually wonderful lies about fantastic adventures she'd enjoyed as a young girl

I called my grandmother Lady Sue, not as a result of any nobility. It was just logic; I liked nicknames, she was a lady and her name was Sue. Lady Sue used to sit in a big chair by my bedroom window and sew costumes for me, because she knew my world was largely inhabited by colorful characters from the children's classics: Robin Hood, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, Peter Pan, and certain cartoon heroes like Red Ryder, Prince Valiant, and Li'l Abner. I became those people, man or woman, it didn't matter. Put on the outfit and the twentieth century disappears. Go back in time, switch gender, change my accent, change my age—no problem.

I'd sit by my grandmother's side, both of us squeezed into the big chair. Her hands moving quickly with the needle and thread, she'd just start talking, never looking up from her work, and as she told each story, the costume for it was materializing.


One day, when she was making a short skirt for me to wear to the ice skating rink, she began, "When I was about your age, I was asked to be the star of a number in the Ice Follies. You see, I could skate so fast, it was like watching a blurred image circling the rink. So, to make it even more spectacular, I attached tiny electric light bulbs to the top of the toes of my skates. What the audience saw was a fifty-mile-an-hour rainbow of colors streaking around the darkened arena."

Of course, when she was a little girl, they couldn't do that with electric lights. My forward-thinking grandmother. She and I both knew she was making up stories as she went along, but together, we entered altered states with amused conviction. My mother would walk into the room from time to time and smile at what looked to her like two children thoroughly lost in make-believe. She couldn't join in—it was a small club, and she was too pragmatic for the existing members.

My mother, Virginia, was a twentieth-century woman, modern, sophisticated, and elegant. Her land of enchantment was "right now." No going back, no sci-fi. She wasn't tedious about it, though. She had her own way of "dressing up," and she was good at it. So good, I often viewed her persona as some elevated, barely attainable level of existence.

In the early thirties, my mother had taken a shot at Hollywood, becoming an understudy for Marion Davies (newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst's paramour). She also did some nightclub work as a band singer, performing at the old Pantages Theater on Sunset Boulevard. But when it came time to be the wife of a young investment banker, her less than pristine entertainer's life had to stop. Maybe, if she'd made it to the Betty Grable stage, I wouldn't be here at all. She'd probably be on her fifth husband and her unfortunate daughter would be writing a nasty little book about her.

My parents both graduated from the University of Washington, Seattle. Soon after they were married, my father was transferred from the San Francisco–based investment firm of Weeden and Company to the Chicago office. Then, on October 30, 1939, at Chicago Hope Hospital, Virginia Wing gave birth to Grace Barnett Wing at 7:47 A.M. Well, not really. I don't know my actual time of birth or the name of the hospital, because they weren't written on my birth certificate. Back then, record keepers weren't as anal-compulsive as they are today, so I've always made up my own stats when it was time to fill in the blanks.

After my mother had taken lots of legal drugs (they weren't into natural childbirth in those days), with no perceptible complications, she and my father, Ivan, took their firstborn back home to 1731 Rice Street, Highland Park, Illinois. (That address is on the birth certificate.) We lived in an old, dark wood-shingled house surrounded by trees, flowers, squirrels, and birds. My mom and dad were the prototypical Leave It to Beaver–type parents, as yet unsuspecting of the iconoclastic behavior that would shortly issue from their fat blonde daughter. Yup, I was blonde at birth and stayed that way until puberty.

My only memories of that time come from what my parents told me, or from the pictures in my father's photo albums. Whether or not we're supposed to remember what those big faces were saying about us when they were hovering over our cribs, I don't know, but a train ride is one of the first things I can remember, unaided by photographs.

When I was three years old, my father was once again transferred to another office, this time in Los Angeles. While my parents stayed behind in Chicago to take care of packing up our belongings, my mother's youngest sister accompanied me for the three-day trip on one of the old Pullman sleeper trains. Navy blue-uniformed porters set up a small hammock directly over my aunt's berth by the window. That was my bed. My most vivid memories are of the constant train rhythms, a dance where you don't have to move, it moves you. The hammock's swinging, trees and buildings parading past the window, the clacking of the wheels as they hit the small splits in the rail, the diesel smell that overpowered the fragrance of a single flower in a white vase on a white tablecloth in the dining car—these are all clear pictures and sensations I have in my head of the train working its way west. But I don't remember how my aunt looked or what she said. My memory is only of the machinery.

Infanta: me at three. (Ivan Wing)

All of my mother's relatives lived in Los Angeles: three sisters, their husbands and children, one brother, and my grandmother. Suddenly, I had a huge family. "I love L.A.," croons songwriter/singer Randy Newman.

So do I.

Our big family would get together at my uncle Fred's Malibu home, where various sisters, aunts, children, assorted family friends and dogs wandered in and out of the beach house talking, laughing, and eating. The country was at war in Europe and Asia then, but I was aware of it only through the adults' conversations. And even then, the impact on me was minimal: squeeze the red dot in the margarine to make the white cube look yellow like butter, pull the shades down for blackouts, and cover your ears during air raid sirens. It all seemed like a game. I was too young to understand and lucky enough to be unaffected.

My uncle Fred, a writer, sometimes took me to his office at the Farmer's Market, where I loved the carnival-like atmosphere. Colored booths and outdoor shops were decorated with Mexican hats and dolls, and garlands of red peppers and postcards were strung across restaurants serving food to laughing bronze-colored people in big sunglasses. Another uncle, Daniel, was a cinematographer at MGM. He introduced me to Dore Schary, who was then the head of the studio, but I wasn't as impressed with the production end of the business as I was with the "artists." I thought films were the ultimate art form, a medium that included all of the other arts—music, dancing, set decoration, photography, costume design, acting, and writing. It was moving art, not something that was tucked away in a palace where only a privileged few could appreciate it, but an accessible and constantly changing experience for everyone.

On the first day of preschool in L.A., I inadvertently marked my territory (like a good dog does) by being too polite. The teacher was speaking and I had to go to the bathroom, but I didn't want to disrupt the class by butting in with a request to leave the room. I thought I could hold it, but just before she finished her speech, I raced from the room, trailing a yellow stream behind me.

Welcome to higher learning.

That was my first taste of embarrassing myself in public. I must have enjoyed something about it because I've been getting myself into embarrassing situations ever since. Sometimes they're inadvertent, usually they're planned, or at least they seem like a good idea at the time.


Geisha Grace

In 1945, reality kicked in again. Another transfer for my father, this time to the main office in San Francisco.

We moved into a small stucco row house, 1017 Portola Drive, a busy extension of Market Street, one of the city's main thoroughfares. Directly across the street was Saint Brendan's Catholic school, and I felt sorry for those kids, all having to dress the same, constantly being watched by those strange, gray-faced women in the long black outfits. I was glad my parents didn't belong to any weird organization that required such rigid, ritualized behavior. It was much later that I learned how each person imposes some version of rigidity on themselves anyway, with or without the help of organized religion.

I went to kindergarten at Miraloma, an old World War I army barracks with cloakrooms and coal-burning stoves. We lived directly below Mount Davidson, which was covered by forest and crowned with a gigantic cement cross, and I instantly became Robin Hood on that hillside. I'd drop the twentieth century and all its prefab buildings and drab clothing, and go back to a time when everything was handmade—when artisans spent long hours creating the houses, the bridges, the clothes, and the books. No assembly-line products, no carbon monoxide, no atom bomb, no DDT. I followed my imagination to the Renaissance, to the grass banks of the River Thames, to the turn-of-the-century Wild West, to the court of Priam of Troy, to the steps of Notre Dame, to the palace of Ramses, to Jerusalem, Kenya, Oslo, Saint Petersburg—anywhere but where I was. Anywhere I could invent myself all over again.

One of those places for invention was here and now, however—the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Located across from the band shell and the aquarium, it was a grand and beautiful neoclassical building filled with antiquities, the four-structure enclosure spreading out from the Japanese tea gardens to the tree-lined streets. Every time I walked up the steps to the museum, I knew I was about to be surrounded by handmade beauty: paintings, sculpture, suits of armor, displays of antique clothing, and the elegant exterior of the building itself.

A quiet appreciation of the museum's contents instilled itself in everyone who entered—children and adults alike. Some people who'd been loud and hurried outside became quiet and reverent as soon as they entered the main hall. Because of its size, there was a noticeable echo and a nice residual sound from the clicking of high heels on the marble floor. Red velvet cords looped through brass poles, which were placed four feet in front of the paintings as a reminder to "look but don't touch." They were right to rope off the exhibits. I would have loved to have touched those paintings, to have felt the ridges of the brush strokes. I moved in as closely as I could to see the manner in which the artist had layered the paint.

Just below the museum was the band shell, where I used to watch orchestras play. I loved to see the forties musicians with their chairs, sheet music, dark suits or long dresses, and, of course, the conductor. As an adult, I played that same stage many times, but we had amplifiers, no written music, jeans and T-shirts—and no conductor. Instead, we had a wild assortment of individuals wandering around onstage "shit-dancing" (a term my daughter uses to describe the way white people move awkwardly to rock music), smoking dope, handing out flyers, and interacting in their own way to whatever was going on. Little did I know then, as I watched the rigidity of the forties performances, that I'd be a part of loosening up the band shell ritual. Today, there are still "respectable" orchestras playing there, but the rock bands broke the tradition of formality generally associated with Sunday concerts in the park.

On one side of the De Young Museum was a Japanese tea garden. It offered an excellent duplicate of the seemingly free-form arrangements of plants, rocks, steps, and flowers that typify the Japanese style of specific placement, which ironically gives the illusion of impressive spontaneous growth. Even during the time we were at war in the Pacific, the tea gardens continued to employ delicate-looking, young Oriental girls dressed in the elaborate costumes of Japan's Meiji era. The girls served tea and cakes to a steady stream of tourists and locals who, for at least a half hour, were able to suspend knowledge of the carnage that was taking place half a world away.

The weekly art classes I joined in 1946 met right there at the tea gardens. About ten elderly women and seven-year-old Grace would bring paper and pencils and, for an hour and a half, struggle to capture the beauty of the place. Each of us was hampered by a lack of artistic ability, but we'd all compliment each other, primarily for persistence. If I finished or gave up before the allotted time, I'd drift into a reverie and "become" a fifteen-year-old geisha girl, serenely waiting to be the performer in some elaborate ancient ceremony.

At seven years of age, I not only imagined myself as various characters, but I rummaged around in our closets and my mother's sewing boxes for actual costume and prop possibilities. On one dress-up occasion, I managed to make my parents run for the camera and, if only for a moment, reconsider their Republican political choices.

I cut out a rectangle from a black piece of paper and stuck it on my upper lip—Adolf Hitler. I put on my father's coat and hat, which, with the mustache, softened Hitler into the then current presidential Republican candidate, Thomas E. Dewey. Finally, I stuck my hand into the coat between the second and third button for the Napoleon look, completing my impromptu triad of conservative power freaks. My parents still voted for Dewey, unswayed by their incipient liberal daughter, who was simply filling time until Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce would really have them in the aisles.

Since my favorite cartoon character was Red Ryder, on my eighth birthday, I got a blue fat-tired Schwinn bicycle, a cowboy hat and boots, two pearl-handled thirty-eights with a double holster, a plaid flannel shirt, and a pair of Levis. So I was Red Ryder for at least six months. Then, at Christmastime, I turned my parents' hearts to mush by "becoming" the Virgin Mary, complete with white cardboard halos for me and my doll named Jesus, a white sheet draped over my head and down my body, some Kleenex swaddling diapers for Jesus, and a nauseatingly benign smile plastered on my face for the duration of the performance. You would think with all this carrying-on that I would have become an actress, but the idea of having to say someone else's lines has always bothered me, right up through the writing of this book.

Don't put your words in my mouth.

Fear of forgetting lines added to my distaste for the acting profession. If someone gave me a situation and let me make up the dialogue as I went along, I would have loved it. But movies cost too much to rely on that much freedom of expression.

At my school's fourth-grade talent show, I decided to die. The decision was inspired by Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite (one of the three albums that composed my parents' record collection), which had a particular cut I liked, an instrumental piece called "Asa's Death." I purloined one of my mother's old gray curtains, wrapped myself in it, and did an unintentionally funny four-minute dying scene, writhing around on the floor to the accompaniment of the dolorous music. "It looked," my mother said, "like a send-up of Isadora Duncan." But she was kind enough to keep that criticism to herself until I was old enough (thirty-five) to appreciate the humor.

In hindsight, the most appropriate getup of all was the Alice in Wonderland costume Lady Sue made for me to wear in my school's Halloween parade. I was about the right age, eight, and at that time, I had long blonde hair, so apart from being a bit too chubby, it was probably the closest I came to actually looking like the character I'd chosen to inhabit for the day. That was my second-favorite Halloween costume, the very best being an accident of nature and my own stupidity.


On Sale
Dec 14, 2008
Page Count
384 pages