Wednesday, August 7, 2013

May All Your Trains Be Milked

According to Wiki, in 1967, the year Jefferson Airplane hit with Surrealistic Pillow, the former model, erstwhile oboist, and first person to ever say "motherfucker" on live television, Grace Slick (née Wing) would become America's first and preeminent female rock star. Once in the spotlight, Ms. Slick proved herself articulate, courageous, outspoken, and politically motivated (as you'll see below). She also had the kind of spokesmodel good looks America demanded for its trending mistress of counterculture. Based in San Francisco, the Airplane also just happened to be at the movement's spiritual center.

Five years later in 1972, the Jefferson Airplane was preparing to land for the last time. Counterculture was more than a threat now, it was in full engagement. Part of the establishment's irrational fear of the counterculture was for its spectre of hedonist and non-marital sex. Following the repressive 50s and its skirmishes with atomic apocalypses and McCarthyism, sex in itself was a revolution enough. For the under 30 crowd it was liberation, defiance, and just a plain f**king goodtime. With Erica Jong's Fear of Flying on the bestseller lists and Last Tango in Paris and Clockwork Orange in the theaters, much of the cultural language of the time was in full drooling compliance. Slick reflected this language in the entendre of her own Milk Train:
I don't want to stop your milk train running 
I just want to ride it some of the time...I don't have to pay for your open mouth...
I'll give you a free milk tongue bath. 
Cost you nothin'...  
Milk Train was the heretofore relatively unheard of POV of the highly motivated and self-empowered, shall we say, service provider—not unlike the voice of the later Butter Boy. This is not Peaches girl-on-girl dominance, or Melanie's coyish Brand New Key, this was a woman shamelessly waving the flag of her inner slut and taking it to the lucky tool of her choice. Even now, songs like this are far too rare indeed.

Come-ons aside, the music of Milk Train—written by latter day Airplane member Papa John Creech—is what makes this Train roll. Creech's prominent violin jousts with Jorma Kaukonen's guitar and that great opening riff quickly take this train from steam chug to rocket fuel. Jack Casady shows why he's rock's most underrated bass player and Grace Slick shouts more gospel than she ever did before. She belts with her characteristic muscle: no pyrotechnics, no mad parlandos, melismas nor hyperglottic warbling around the notes and no hammering screams, just pure blasts of wind through those well shaped chords. A voice capable of blowing birthday candles out from across a room. It's a chesty power and when it's heaving about milk trains, it's very, very sexy.

Milk Train comes from the last proper Airplane album (1972's Long John Silver) and for a brief moment this smutty little masterpiece actually made it to the radio. Within two years the Airplane would dissolve and rebuild as The Starship, and the arch-psychedelic 'Frisco sound would transform into the mega-platinum yacht rock of the Reagan '80s. By then, Milk Trains had become friends with benefits and entendre would become virtually a lost art.

A smutty masterpiece:

Download: Jefferson Airplane, Milk Train

Ms. Slick on the Smothers Brothers show in 1968 performing in blackface and gloves. The raising of her fist at the end is a show of support for the Black Panthers.

Establishment rep Dick Clark interviewing the band in a minute and a half and showing why he's Dick:

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