Grace Slick makes stop in Vail
Vail CO, Colorado
VAIL, Colorado ” When ex-rocker Grace Slick leafs through biographies of her close friend Jerry Garcia, the pictures strike her as inaccurate.
They always show him in a doped-up squint. His eyes look stupid ” and he wasn’t stupid.
“He’s very bright,” Slick said. “So I painted the eyes and the person I knew to counter all the remarks that people make about how miserable everybody was.”
Miserable ” that’s the way biographers portray ’60s rockers, Slick says, and it isn’t true. Her colorful portrait of Garcia shows him with clear eyes and a caption gushing “Passion / Genius / and fire / what’s not to like?”
Most people know Slick as Jefferson Airplane’s smoking’ hot frontwoman, an unabashed party girl who mused about drug use in the chart-topper “White Rabbit.”
Thanks to her metamorphosis into an artist, visiting Masters Gallery in Vail this week was like tuning into a VH1 Behind The Music special.
Slick signed autographs for a steady steam of fans as Woodstock rabble-rousers watched from their portraits on the wall. Canvas renderings depicted Janice Joplin splayed on a chair, Jimi Hendrix behind a sea of clouds in “Kiss the Sky” and Jim Morrison in poetic blues and blacks.
They were some of Slick’s closest friends, and she knows them in ways rock pundits never will. For instance, she knows they weren’t “miserable.”
“Trust me: if you’re 25 years old and you get to screw anybody you want and you’re a rock n’ roll star, and you’ve never heard of alcoholics anonymous, you take all the drugs you want, trust me: you’re not suicidal,” Slick said. “But drugs are difficult. In other words you can kill yourself on them. It’s like Evil Knievel ” you can get a motorcycle and try to jump over 50 barrels and you might make it or you might die.”
Slick may have graduated from what she calls a “finishing school” in New York, but she’s no buttoned-up girl scout.
Famous for her edgy lyrics, she began her career as a model, then quickly traded the runway for the stage.
After starting her career as a model in San Francisco, Slick decided being a singer would be more profitable and more fun. “I went to see a group called Jefferson Airplane and I thought, they made more money in one night than I do all week,” she said. “They get to smoke while they’re playing, drink and hang out and sing songs. My mother was a singer. I can do that.”
Slick teamed up with a group of guys to form the band The Great Society. They started opening for Jefferson Airplane, and when Jefferson Airplane’s female vocalist left the band, Slick stepped into the spotlight.
A pioneer of psychedelic rock, Slick is most famous for the hit songs she recorded with Jefferson Airplane and its successor bands including “Somebody to Love,” “We Built this City,” “Lather” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now.”
As her songs climbed the charts , Slick plunged into a colorful world of promiscuity and drug use.
“I was trying to kick my way out of a dressing room in Germany and I was dressed like a Nazi,” Slick recalled. “I had had all of the mini bar in the hotel and I decided I was going to get back at them for the second world war. I mean, it was just stupid. And I went down to the front row during this show and picked a guy up by his nostrils. And I think they thought we were a punk band or something. And the rest of the band was going, “oh,” she said, while burying her head in her hands.
Another memorable moment took her to the White House during Richard Nixon’s tenure. Slick had something in common with the president’s daughter, Tricia Nixon: they both graduated from New York’s Finch College.
Consequently, when the first daughter decided to host a tea party for Finch alumni at the White House, Slick received an invitation under her maiden name.
“So we were standing in line on the day of the tea party, we were at the White House gates and a security guard came up and said ‘I’m sorry you can’t go in’ and I said, ‘but I have an invitation,'” Slick recalled. “And I showed him the invitation. He said, ‘Yeah, but you’re on the FBI list.’ So he apparently recognized me as Slick. And the whole band was on the FBI list, I guess because of our lyrics. A little too left wing for tricky Dick Nixon.”
Along with a liberal attitude, Slick said she had been harboring LSD under a long fingernail, which she had planned to slip into the president’s tea.
Just before her 50th birthday, Slick did what made sense to her. She quit the music business.
To put it simply, the rock n’ roll lifestyle has a shelf-life and it expires around age 50, she argues.
“You can sing blues forever. You can sing opera until you drop dead. You can sing Chinese music. You can sing bluegrass. But rock n roll and rap ” there’s just something cheesy about it when people do it when they’re old,” Slick said.
Although she may have retired her microphone, the singer quickly discovered she had other passions. Slick took an interest in biomedical research, and soon appeared on national TV to ream out California researchers for failing to test drugs properly.
When she isn’t tongue-lashing pharmaceutical companies, Slick frequents Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She’s pursing a healthier lifestyle in the wake of a brush with death. About two years ago, a bout of diverticulitis (a common digestive disease) landed Slick in a Los Angeles hospital, where she underwent several surgeries. “My heart stopped, lungs stopped, kidneys stopped and they had to do a tracheotomy that night,” she recalled.
Now, having put this life-threatening experience behind her, Slick has been focusing on her art.
Along with famous friends, Slick has a fascination with the fairytale “Alice in Wonderland.” Several works depict the rabbit with his pocketwatch. In “Trust,” the rabbit holds hands with Alice.
“I think the rabbit in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ represents her curiosity because he’s always ahead of her and she follows him,” Slick said. “And I think life is really short and following your curiosity is a real good idea.”
Slick also takes an interest in nudes. One etching depicts a 20-something woman wearing only colorful bracelets, one hand covering her nether region. Other drawings are sparse renderings of the female form.
About 50 pieces were on display at Masters Gallery earlier this week. They sold for $1,500 to $20,000. Gallery director Rayla Kundolf said the work has a nostalgic effect on viewers.
“I feel like I got to know all my rock and roll heroes thorugh her, through her art form as well,” she said.
High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 748-2938 or email@example.com.