Airplane Protest Song

President Richard Nixon engaged in anti-drug measure that went into effect from September 21 – October 11 in 1969 in order to fulfill a campaign promise, which resulted in a near shutdown of border crossings between Mexico and the United States.  He wanted to seal the border to stop the steady flow of marijuana into the states and he was determined to prove that he could establish law and order in a nation that seemed to be spinning out of control.  He called it Operation Intercept, and it did not sit well with Jefferson Airplane.  In the early part of 1970, the Jefferson Airplane released a single entitled ‘Mexico’ that was written and sung by Grace Slick.  The song was not played on some radio stations at the time because the lyrics referred to Operation Intercept, but this song became a classic on many of the so-called underground radio stations and it did reach #102 on the Billboard charts.  Five months after the release of ‘Mexico’, President Nixon requested that songs relating to drug abuse not be broadcast.

The Jefferson Airplane single ‘Have You Seen The Saucers’/‘Mexico’ was their last release for RCA before assembling their own subsidiary label, Grunt and it would be the only new material in 1970 that they released as The Airplane.  That year Paul Kantner released his epic Blows Against The Empire album and Hot Tuna’s self-titled live acoustic debut marked a separation for the band.  The single was recorded by Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Marty Balin, Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen, Spencer Dryden and Joey Covington.  1970 was a year of total chaos for The Airplane, as Jack and Jorma played countless gigs as Hot Tuna, both Dryden and Balin quit and Paul and Grace would become a couple, but yet their live recordings from this period rank as some of their most aggressive and raw.

Grace Slick starts out this song by dropping the names “Owsley and Charlie”, and I knew right away who Owsley was, but I was curious about Charlie.  My first thought was Charlie Manson, but he was only arrested in October 1969 on unrelated charges, and his trial didn’t begin till July 15, 1970, so I don’t think that Grace knew who he was before she wrote this song.  Near the end of this song Grace mentions Charlie again saying, “But thanks Uncle Charlie” and other than discovering that drummer Spencer Dryden’s half-uncle was Charlie Chaplin, and that Charlie is often a reference to cocaine, I have no clue who Charlie is.  Maybe he was a marijuana dealer who inspired Grace Slick to write this touching and heartfelt tribute, but the only other name that popped us was a journalist and hippie named Charles Perry.

Grace seems infuriated saying, “donde esta la planta”, which translates to where is the plant and it is very clear that the lyrics in the song ‘Mexico’ are about pot.  She says that Mexico is under the thumb of Richard who she says is a small-headed man.  Nixon’s anti-drug stance, and his advocacy for conservative values did not sit well with many of the nation’s youth, especially the revolutionary Grace Slick.

In April 1970, Slick received an invitation to attend a tea party at the White House being thrown by the president’s daughter Tricia.  Tricia and Slick were both alumni of Finch College, an all-girls school located in upstate New York.  Tricia was a recent graduate and this would have been like a ten-year reunion for Slick, who attended under her maiden name, Grace Wing.  Slick invited Abbie Hoffman as her date to the April 24 event.  Slick had 600 micrograms of LSD powder in her pocket, more than enough to provide a powerful hallucinogenic experience for anyone who ingested it.  Her plan was to tuck the powder into her long fingernail and drop it into Nixon’s tea cup during some polite conversation.  When Grace and Abbie were on line, a security guard wouldn’t let them in.  He told Grace that Abbie had been branded as domestic security risk for his anti-establishment views and actions.  Hoffman then took out a black flag with a multicolored marijuana leaf and hung it on the White House gate.

In the last verse of this song, Slick mentions the power in numbers referencing how Jefferson Airplane gave an early morning performance at Woodstock when she says, “There were a half a million people on the lawn and we sang to the faces in the dark”.  She then speaks about injustice where a black panther was tortured and interrogated by the FBI for two days until he confessed to a murder that took place on May 21, 1969 which would result in the New Haven Black Panther trials the next year.

In 1965, Charles Perry wrote The Haight-Ashbury: A History from his well-documented investigative research, and this definitive history examines the drama, and the energy of counter-cultures, as he discusses free love, sexual liberation, drugs, and rock n roll, all of which defined the ‘60s and he tells how it all evolved.  He mentions the Jefferson Airplane multiple times along with many other groups in this book.  He talks about the Red Dog saloon, The Fillmore, The Be-In at Golden Gate Park, the Merry Pranksters, Owsley Stanley making LSD, smuggling grass from Mexico to San Francisco, a radical community-action group known as The Diggers, protests, but it wasn’t published till 1984 by Rolling Stone Press.

Owsley and Charlie, twins of the trade
Come to the Poet’s Room
Talking about the problems of the leaf
And yes, it’ll be back soon

There used to be tons of gold and green
Comin’ up here from Mexico
A donde esta la planta, mi amigo, del sol?

But Mexico is under the thumb
Of a man we call Richard
And he’s come to call himself king
But he’s a small-headed man
And he doesn’t know a thing
About how to deal for you

How to deal for you
There are millions of you now
I mean it’s not as if you were alone
There are brothers everywhere
Just waiting for a toke on that gold
And God knows how far it can go

But thanks Uncle Charlie
For your Mexican smoke
You’re a legend Owsley
For your righteous dope

There were a half a million people on the lawn
And we sang to the faces in the dark
How long must that damn race
Wait for the jailer’s time to end?
How long must the Panther race
Wait for the iron bars to bend?
And no no no no no nobody waits

Written for Song Lyric Sunday where the prompt is Burrito/Fajita/Mexican/Tequila.

15 thoughts on “Airplane Protest Song

  1. I like the music of Jefferson Airplane even though I have a love for its predecessor, Starship. But wasn’t Jefferson Starship famous for its songs about drugs? My mom used to tell me that White Rabbit was all about LSD. I wonder what changed from “White Rabbit” to “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”.

    But Grace Slick is such a brave woman with her plan to tamper Nixon’s teacup. She is such a gift musician though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have planned writing about White Rabbit on June 7, 2020 when the prompt will be Big/Large/Little/Small/Tall/Tiny and it is about drugs, but also about Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice in Wonderland. Nixon was messing with Slick by banning her song from the radio airwaves and besides that Nixon did not need any LSD as he was already screwed up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t live when Nixon was president but knew about him through the history books and media. I saw The Post and it was pretty good. Did you see it?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Jim… first of all…sorry I’m behind. I heard about that happening but you gave me more detail than I knew. If she wouldn’t have taken Hoffman she might have had a chance. Just think if she would have succeeded?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. One of the most paranoid people I’ve ever read about.
        You never know…maybe it would have opened his….NAH…nevermind.

        Liked by 1 person

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