Popular music has recently lost four important figures, each leaving differing legacies. Surely no one will argue that both Lemmy Kilmister and David Bowie will continue to influence everything from rock star attitude to musical and persona presentation for decades to come. Both leave vast libraries of music that will be mined for ideas, perhaps even riffs to quote, as rock continues its mostly underground existence. While not a fan of The Eagles or Glenn Frey, it’s hard to argue they weren’t an important part of how music evolved through the 1970’s and 1980’s. Then yesterday came news that Jefferson Airplane founder Paul Kantner had died at the age of 74.
I have to say that of the four, I think Kantner’s death had the biggest impact on me. Because, you see, I started listening to Jefferson Airplane in high school. While I certainly heard The Eagles at that time, I was far more attracted to the music the Airplane produced. A group of strong personalities and varying musical styles never quite reached the point of creating “a” sound, except perhaps for the vocal harmonies of Kantner, co-founder Marty Balin, and Grace Slick. They were not only unconventional (in much the way Crosby, Stills, & Nash’s vocal harmonies were unconventional) but Balin’s thin tenor seemed to go so well with Slick’s powerful alto while Kantner could lead or fall in, adding a different texture. Whether playing a straight ahead blues-inspired rocker written and led by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen or one of their more adventurous songs inspired by psychedelics, however, the music never failed to be different than you would expect.
This was not “pop” in the least. Despite the popularity of their songs “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”, this wasn’t a group that would churn out hits. I think what I appreciated when I was younger was that this was a group of adults making music for adults. Young adults, sure, but there was nothing teeny-bopper about them at all. There was a seriousness about their song writing and arranging that I found very appealing; these folks weren’t fooling around. I think that’s true enough of the other San Francisco bands like Santana, The Grateful Dead, and Canned Heat. This was a musical atmosphere where people both had fun, yet didn’t shy away from taking their music seriously enough to create something new and interesting. And I must admit both their “Fuck you” attitude – Volunteers is one great big middle finger to the rising conservatism in California and America – and the simple attraction of Grace Slick were also a big part of why I liked the band. What teenager doesn’t like a bit of rebellion with sexiness?
So, thank you, Paul Kantner for walking up to a stranger (Marty Balin) and asking him if he wanted to form a band. Thank you for wanting to do more than three-minute love songs, or at least traditional three minute love songs. Thank you for being serious even while having a great time. Thank you for making rock something for adults. I know that last is heresy; it’s supposed to be music for teens, both early and late. It’s supposed to be unserious and fun. It’s supposed to be done with insouciance toward the details of production and arrangement – if it has a good beat and can dance to it, that’s supposed to be enough. The Jefferson Airplane produced revolutionary music for the mind, for the ear, and for a different audience than most groups at the time.
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through – “Changes”, lyrics by David Bowie
I sometimes wonder what adults in charge of youth are thinking. Have they forgotten what it is like to be an adolescent? Do they understand the realities of attraction between males and females? Are they aware of the realities of human sexuality? I ask these questions because an old high school buddy of mine who still lives in the area reported on Facebook that a local school district is imposing restrictions on girls’s clothing. Specifically, v-neck tops and sweat pants. As the above photo of a woman in a v-neck demonstrates, it is obvious why they are now banned. Or maybe not. The reasons stated for the change are simple: measures to prevent teen pregnancy. During a time when the teen pregnancy rate continues to drop as shown on this graph:
In an effort, then, to prevent what is already a declining “problem”, the Athens, PA Area School District appears to be adopting the notion that girls wearing clothing that some might consider revealing, provocative, or perhaps just easy to remove (the only thing about sweat pants that seems remotely alluring). Adopting this position places the onus for preventing pregnancy squarely on the shoulders – and legs – of teen girls. It makes girls’s appearance the reason they are becoming pregnant at the lowest rate recorded. It also assumes teen boys, helpless in the face, or perhaps cleavage, of teen girls find themselves a drooling tumescent mass fixated on coitus at any cost.
There is so much wrong with this, I’m not even sure where to begin. Except, perhaps, with the fact that a school districts’s main purpose is to educate our children and youth. What lesson does such a policy teach kids? Beyond the on-going social conditioning that females are (sometimes, perhaps often) unwitting objects of male desire simply because of their dress, I’m not sure what is being taught. Certainly not the realities of sexual desire, or even human sexuality in general. That some people continue to believe the possible glimpse of cleavage sends your typical male into thoughtless lust and a demand for sexual congress is probably among the more ridiculous ideas out there. By not teaching boys and young men how to control their natural pleasure when confronted by girls, we are perpetuating a system in which girls are responsible for their own victimization.
It would be nice if Athens Schools taught sex ed in such a way that it included promotion of safer sex, contraception, and the realities both of physical desire as well as how the act is consummated, relieving from girls the onus of preventing a possible unwanted pregnancy because they might, under certain conditions, reveal more of themselves than some might think preferable. It might also be a good idea for the Athens Area School District Board to look at the ongoing decline in teen pregnancy rates and consider the possibility they are fighting a battle American society as a whole has been winning for a quarter century. I do not think it possible that there has been a sudden uptick in pregnancies locally due to the prevalence of somewhat revealing clothing. Of course, I might be wrong. That doesn’t justify punishing girls for their appearance.