Amiable and informative, if not always compelling, memoir by the folkie who anchored Jefferson Airplane.
As guitarist for Airplane, Kaukonen once wrote a memorable acoustic instrumental named “Embryonic Journey.” That could well serve as a title for this debut, the septuagenarian rocker’s therapeutic account of his inner and outer life and times. The son of a State Department attaché, Kaukonen’s formative years were spent traveling around the world. Along the way, he became an obsessive finger-picking guitarist and, luckily, wound up back on the family’s California home turf at a time when legendary bands were formed at a moment’s notice. Such was the case with the Airplane, which reaped a hefty advance from the beginning and created a new and defiantly trippy sound. “All of a sudden,” he writes, “psychedelic was no longer a door to perception or an excuse to party…it was becoming a genre!” As the money rolled in, so did amphetamines (among many other pharmaceuticals) and more music. “I am convinced that many of the crystalline solos on those Airplane recordings were directly related to that little orange pill,” writes the author. “It’s funny to think that my life could have been so completely ruled by mood-altering substances, but at the time it would never have occurred to me that there might be another way to live.” Kaukonen spares little in describing the winding path of his life, both the ups (writing and playing music) and the downs (addiction and a destructive codependent marriage). Unfortunately, his philosophical and spiritual ramblings become increasingly repetitive and tedious. Also, while he offers factual details about life inside the Airplane (and follow-up band Hot Tuna), he is short on offering the kind of interesting personal details only he would know—e.g, what was/is lead singer Grace Slick really like? Was he affected by the controversies swirling around the provocative “Volunteers” album?
An honest personal portrait but also one where the author could have revealed more—and written less.