This was the nadir of an illustrious career that began with Jefferson Airplane, one of the most groundbreaking of the 1960s rock bands. Slick was the world’s very first female rock ‘n’ roll star, and by the time of “We Built This City” — which has recently been voted the lamest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine — she was in her late 40s, posing and pandering to a young audience.
I mentioned this to Slick, who was calling from her home in Los Angeles.
“The ’80s were stupid, we all dressed stupid, and the songs kept getting worse and worse,” she said with a throaty laugh. “But I had stopped drinking and was trying my best to be good.”
It wasn’t long after the debacle of “We Built This City” — which, of course, was a Number One record — that Slick quit the music business altogether.
Part of it, she admitted, was her well–known fondness for alcohol. Mostly, however, she was feeling her age, and she felt like a hypocrite singing “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” when she no longer felt them, or believed them, or thought the audience would rather hear stuff like “We Built This City.”
These days Slick, who’ll turn 68 Tuesday, concentrates on her artwork. She works in pastels, pen and ink and scratchboard, and concentrates mostly on iconic ’60s images — Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the like. She has also painted herself and the other founding members of the Airplane.
She is happy with who she is. One of her favorite phrases is “age–appropriate.”
“I don’t dye my hair, and I’m not busy doing pilates and trying to look 35 years old,” she said. “Even though I live in L.A. and that’s what everybody else is doing. I don’t care.
“I’m an old lady, that’s the way I look, that’s what I am and I do what’s pretty much appropriate for my age.”
Q. So are you officially retired?
A. Sure, call it whatever you want. I thought I was retired when I was 50. Apparently not! People say interesting stuff to me because I’m old and fat and have white hair — they say “Didn’t you used to be Grace Slick?” And they’re right. I used to be a persona that’s Grace Slick.
I don’t like old people on a rock stage. I think they look silly. You can do jazz till you’re 150, you can do opera, blues, country-western … rap and rock ‘n’ roll seem, to me, to be a young person’s medium. For them to scream and yell and get all that anger out.
When you’re in your teens and 20s, you discover that adults don’t know what they’re doing. And it pisses you up so you start yelling about it. Good thing to do! Instead of taking a gun to school and killing a bunch of people, write some angry songs and make them good, and get some money for them.
Q. Others from your old band are still out there performing. I saw Paul Kantner and Marty Balin recently, and the show, honestly, was pretty terrible.
A. The thing is, I can hang it up. They can’t. Paul is notoriously terrible with money. The money’s in publishing — Paul always had more songs on the albums, so he should be the richest guy. And he’s not. Marty has to work to pay medical bills. Paul has to work because he fritters money away.
So they have to do it, because what else are they gonna do? They’re not trained for anything else. And unfortunately it’s not very good.
Some of ’em have to do it to pay the bills, and some of ’em just need that applause.
Now, the Rolling Stones are still pretty good. But you’re listening to somebody singing “I can’t get no satisfaction” who’s got lines all over his face, and the wattles under the chin are wagging back and forth. As soon as your chin doesn’t go with your face, when you turn it real fast, it’s time to get out of rock ‘n’ roll.
You feel like a jerk singing songs that have absolutely no relevance to either the time or your age. I hate to be appropriate at anything, but there’s a thing called age–appropriate.
Q. When did art come into it for you?
A. I started drawing when I was very little, but I can only do one thing at a time. One man, one car, one child. One job at a time. I don’t multi–task. Jerry Garcia used to take his paints on the road — I don’t do that. Either I’m busy being a singer or I’m busy being a painter. Not both. Although sometimes I had little sketches and things inside the album covers.
Q. Why all the ’60s imagery?
A. It started because I was asked to draw rock ‘n’ roll people for a book I wrote. I thought it was way too cute — “Rock ‘n’ roll draws rock ‘n’ roll — aw, isn’t that cute!” But once I started doing it, I got interested in those people, so I don’t mind it. Now, it’s a challenge for me to see what other aspect of them I can bring out.
If I’m not drunk, I do what I’m told. When I’m drunk, I’ll probably do the exact opposite just to piss you off. I’m sarcastic and kind of self–willed sober, but when you put alcohol into anybody, usually whatever they are just gets intensified.
So if my agent says we need more Hendrix, or more bunnies, or more nudes, then I do it. Sometimes it’s a commission from somebody. I won’t do somebody’s uncle, but I’ll do your idea. You can tell me what to draw, but you can’t tell me how to draw it.
Q. You weren’t there when the Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Why?
A. I have a medical thing where I can’t move standing up for more than about 10 minutes. And they were going to play. It’s very rare — whenever my feet get about 64 degrees it feels like somebody poured boiling water on ’em. And they don’t know how to cure it, because there’s so few people with it that the drug companies wouldn’t make any money off the medication even if they could figure it out.
You don’t do rock ‘n’ roll standing in a box of ice. If you’re 67 or 68, get off the stage. That’s what happens when you get old — you’re basically falling apart. Getting on a rock ‘n’ roll stage is just not a cool thing to do, I don’t think.
Q. Are you still drinking?
A. I haven’t had any alcohol for 10 or 11 years. Mainly because it’s not a good enough drug. I don’t have anything against drugs. Man has always taken drugs. So do animals, as a matter of fact. “Just Say No” just cracked me up. Like that’s gonna be happening.
Being an alcoholic, if I have the amount that I like, then the next morning is just too godawful. And I’m too old for that. The older you get, the less your body is able to recover from things.
However, if they were to start making Quaaludes again, I’d be buying ’em. Those are my favorite all–time drugs. I liked those better than alcohol, but they stopped making them about 30 years ago.
Here’s the thing: Now Valium is popular. Do you know how long it takes to get off Valium? Six months! The worst drugs to come down off of are Valium and Methadone. Not heroin!
I’m not saying don’t take drugs. I think drugs are fabulous, including some prescribed by doctors. But you’ve got to know going in, with either the street drugs or the doctors’ drugs, it might kill you. Same thing as being Evel Knievel — you jump over 15 barrels on a motorcycle, that might kill you.
All Valium does to me is make me stupid and tired. If I want to go to sleep, I’ll go to sleep. I don’t need to be stupid AND tired. I can be stupid all by myself.
Q. Do you still listen to music? Any artists that you’re fond of?
A. Oh yeah, there’s a band I just love called Del Castillo, out of Texas. They’re on my deck in the car at the moment. I love Daughtry as a singer, who came out of “American Idol.” If he gets good songs, that’s the problem. All these kids need is a good song.
Celine Dion has really only had one hit song in this country, but her voice is so good. But what she does onstage gags me, because it’s too orchestrated and corny. When you say something about your heart, you don’t point to your f––––in’ heart. Leave your hands alone, honey. Just stand there and sing.
As far as attitude, I like Pink. Christina Aguilera has got a great voice, although I’m not fond of everybody imitating Marilyn Monroe with the platinum hair. Gwen Stefani. Britney Spears when she’s dressed up. I think “Why don’t you invent your own look?”
Q. Do you consider yourself a survivor?
A. Apparently I scraped by without knowing it. It’s not ’cause I’m smart or anything, it’s just that I missed that negative chemical reaction that happened with some other people. For whatever reason.
It’s not that I’m so marvelous, I just missed that boat that goes to Death. A bunch of times. We’re all just a bunch of meat and chemicals, if you get right down to it. The chemicals have all re–organized themselves for me.
And I’m grateful, but I don’t know how that works.