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Revolutionary with a Rickenbacker

Revolutionary with a Rickenbacker

By Jorma Kaukonen ’64

The brain of the Airplane: Paul Kantner in New York, October ’67. We lost him this winter at age 74. View full image. Photo courtesy Michael Ochs / Getty Images
Remembering Paul Kantner ’63, one of the founding members of Jefferson Airplane

He started on the folk circuit, toting guitar and banjo. San Francisco–born Paul Kantner ’63 never graduated from college, but he helped define a musical era. He co-founded Jefferson Airplane and led its sci-fi transformation into Jefferson Starship. He died Jan. 28. Fellow Airplane crew member Jorma Kaukonen ’64 shares this remembrance.

Here’s to us, and those like us ... damn few left. Paul and I were old friends. Bob Kinzie ’64 introduced me to him when I was in Santa Clara in ’62. Our commonality was always the music and whatever it took to make it happen. We all played the same little dusty, smoky rooms ... struggled to be heard over the hiss of espresso machines … and loved every moment of it.

When Paul enticed me into joining what would become Jefferson Airplane, we rehearsed relentlessly. When we went on the road in the beginning we couch-surfed together. No one could afford hotels. We shared food ... we shared cars … we had one heart.

The Airplane was an amazing aggregate of personalities and talent. That we could all coexist in the same room was amazing. That we could function together and make the lasting art that we did was nothing short of a miracle.

In my opinion, Paul was the catalyst that made the alchemy happen. He held our feet to the flame. He could be argumentative and contentious … he could be loving and kind … his dedication to the Airplane’s destiny as he saw it was undeniable. Over the years he and I occasionally butted heads over things that seem trivial today. I was so pleased last year when he accepted my dinner invitation when I was in San Francisco, and indeed we rediscovered our friendship.

After all those journeys together in the beginning … the different paths our lives took as we got older and all the water under the bridge made us all one in a way that no one who wasn’t there could ever understand. We shared water from the same well. In Heinlein parlance, we were indeed water brothers.

We were all on fire in a fiery time. Time may have dimmed the flame, but the fire in the sky that was so easy to see in youth is still discernible from the grey castle if you know where to look. I will try to keep my eyes open. Friends are always good … you can’t have too many of them. That said, the old ones share that wondrous gift of knowing you when you were young. You can’t buy that.

I will miss your presence on this plane … Ride free to the end of the earth my old friend … I will not forget you!

 
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