True-Life Rock Tales

Jefferson Airplane’s Scheduled Stop

Issue 130

I had been back in New York for a few months when my sister Ellen called and asked if I wanted to go with her to see Jefferson Airplane at Queens College. It was 1970. Sure, I replied, so she picked me up in a town car and we were driven from Manhattan out to Queens. She was on assignment for some rock magazine to do a story on the band. When we got there, we went in the backstage entrance. She asked one of the backstage security people where Grace Slick’s dressing room was. “Down the hall and first door on the right once you go around the corner.”

Standing outside her dressing room in the hallway was a very dressed up Grace Slick. She looked over at us walking up and said, “Hi Ellen!” (My sister knew everyone.) “Hey Grace, how is it going?” she asked. “Good,” Grace answered. “Grace, this is my little brother Kenny,” and Grace turned to me and said, “hi, little brother Kenny.” A little chit chat and Ellen asked, “can I leave him with you? I have to talk with the band.” Grace says sure and invites me into her dressing room. Actually, it was an empty classroom which had half of the desks and chairs pushed out of the way and the windows papered over.

Grace Slick in 1967.

Grace Slick in 1967.

Inside Grace’s dressing room were a few of her girlfriends. They were not all dressed up like Grace was, though Grace was going on stage. They looked like they have never seen the inside of a beauty parlor. Big floor-length flowing skirts, peasant blouses, no bras or makeup; they looked like clean, scrubbed hippie chicks who I assumed probably, possibly lived on a commune. We each took a chair, and we made a circle with Grace at the top of the circle and her back to the door. “Should we do some goodies?” Grace asked with a naughty smile and she pulled out her make up mirror. After partaking she passed it to her left and it moved around the room. It got to me, I did what everyone else did, and Grace said to me, “so you’re Ellen’s little brother?” I inwardly cringed. “Yes,” I said, and Grace looked at me for a few seconds is if she was considering saying something and then the moment passed, and she turned to one of her friends. To this day I wonder what she was thinking.

The show was held in a big theater and Jefferson Airplane were tight. Grace sounded good but, the sound was a little bouncy and the sound man did not hear that or did not know to simply turn the amplification down a tad, which would have solved the echo problem.

That Saturday, Jefferson Airplane was doing a free concert in Central Park at Sheep Meadow. This was something the Airplane liked to do and in fact they did many free concerts around the world. Besides there being no charge for tickets, the Airplane themselves incurred about two thousand dollars of expenses including the rental of sound equipment and the stage, and various fees. The area was cordoned off by only a thin rope and about 5,000 people showed up. It was crowded but comfortable and everyone was sitting on the lawn of soft green grass facing the stage. Back then everyone stayed in their seats.

When the Airplane took the stage, they brought buckets filled with pieces of Bazooka bubble gum. They threw the individual wrapped pieces of Bazooka bubble gum out to the audience. On the sides of the roped-off area, crew members did the same. They made sure everyone got some Bazooka gum.

Jefferson Airplane, circa 1970.

Jefferson Airplane, circa 1970.

Then the Airplane started to play, and the sound was good for an outdoor concert and the audience was into it. I noticed a few pieces of gum being lobbed up to the stage, and then off to my right and a little behind me this kid stood up and threw one of the Bazooka gum pieces as hard as he could right at the performers on stage. He really put some zip on it and it would have hurt anyone it hit. Fortunately, it hit no one and the Airplane were unaware of it.

But Bill Graham (the famous concert promoter), who was standing at stage left, noticed it. Even though he was easily 200 feet away, Bill saw exactly who threw it. Bill came off the stage and started walking on the outside of the ropes towards the back of the audience, all the while staring at the teenager. The kid was unaware that Bill Graham was fixated on him. Bill lifted the rope and stepped into the audience and made his way towards the kid. Aside from Bill Graham I am probably the only one aware of what’s going on.

Stepping behind the kid, Bill yanks him to his feet and starts yelling at him. This guy is 18 or 19 years old and maybe 150 pounds. He is stunned as Bill angrily asks him, “what the hell were you thinking? Didn’t you know you could seriously injure one of the performers? That is the thanks the Airplane get for doing a free concert?” The kid is really shaken; Bill is really ferocious. After a few minutes of bawling the kid out Bill lets go of him and the kid sinks to the ground. Bill turns and walks back to the rope and steps over it. No one threw any more Bazooka gum that day.

 

The free concert was one of those special afternoon events that required police and parks department approval. The show lasted a little over an hour. When it was over, volunteers handed out plastic bags and asked the everyone pick up their garbage. We all did and then crowd started standing up and leaving. As the audience thinned out, I heard someone call my name and it was this guy Lance. I had met him a few times at Dr. Generosity’s, my favorite watering hole (not to be confused with the former Dr. Generosity’s on Long Island where the New York Islanders used to hang out). )With him was this beautiful girl; she looked like she was a model. She was 5 foot 8 and very slim. An American beauty, she looked like she was from the country, natural and wholesome as a nature scene.

Lance says, “do you want to smoke?” “Sure, why not,” I answer. So we go into the Ramble. The Ramble is a really overgrown part of Central Park and so thick that you can’t see very far. There are footpaths everywhere but still, because of the thickness of the vegetation it gives you a feeling of privacy. Lance pulls out a joint and lights it up. A minute or two later a New York City uniformed policeman heading north walks in on us and Lance drops the J. The cop looks down at it and says, “Do you guys want to get arrested?” and in unison we all say “no!” “Okay,” he says, “tell you what. I will let this go if you don’t do this anymore. If you do it again, I will arrest you all.” “Thank you, officer, we will not,” and he walked on his way, continuing through the Ramble.

The Ramble, Central Park, Manhattan. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Phil Whitehouse.

The Ramble, Central Park, Manhattan. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Phil Whitehouse.

We just stood there in shock and then Lance picked up the J and I exclaimed, “what are you doing?” Lance said, “he is gone, don’t worry about it!” and took a puff. Getting busted for smoking pot was a big deal in this country back then, and could even result in jail time. As if on cue, a moment later another police officer walking in the same direction came into view and Lance again dropped the J. But this cop says to Lance, “how dumb are you? We give you a friggin break and it means nothing. What kind of stupid are you?”

Then the first cop came back, shaking his head. We are petrified. The original cop says, “I guess we will have to arrest you.” At that very moment Lance drops a baggie on the ground hoping no one would notice. It was a clumsy move, and everyone saw it. “That’s it,” it the cop says, “now you are under arrest,” while picking up the baggie that held a couple of reds (Seconal sleeping pills). They cuffed Lance’s hands behind his back and started taking him away. But they left us alone. Allison and I looked at each other both of us relieved like we just escaped death or some horrible fate.

We walked back to Sheep Meadow and saw the last of the stage and assorted gear being loaded into a truck. Volunteers were picking up the remaining trash and all evidence of a concert having taken place was being effectively removed.

 

Allison and I went back to my apartment in Murray Hill. She told me she was from Oklahoma City and her father had been Oklahoma City’s district attorney. He had been murdered in his office. A convict who that very day was released from prison had walked into her father’s office and shot him to death. Her father had prosecuted him three years prior and this man had been sentenced to prison. I was stunned; my heart went out to her. I was really upset. Allison was more pragmatic about it and she said she had been living with it for a few years and had accepted it. The night moved on and we were getting closer. She spent the night and Sunday evening she went back to her apartment.

Allison was living with three other models in one of those sponsored apartments for models. The big modeling agencies kept these large apartments (with a minimum of three bedrooms) for when their models were in town. They paid a reasonable rent and could leave at any time and move to other cities like Paris, Rome, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo and of course New York if they got work in any of those locations. All the big agencies had apartments in those cities for their clients (the models they represented). There were no leases; these were temporary residential slots managed by the specific agencies for their newer, younger girls.

These dormitories were perfect incubators for new working models, part of their getting schooled on the ins and outs of the business of being a professional model. Agencies never wanted to hear “I didn’t know,” or “nobody told me.” If you made the cut, and these girls did, then the booking agencies wanted to integrate the new talent into the business as seamlessly, efficiently, and quickly as possible. After knowing Allison for several weeks, her agency booked her for some runway work in Paris and off she went.

A few weeks later I am at Dr. G’s (Dr. Generosity’s). it was located on Second Avenue and the corner of 73rd Street. Peanuts and sawdust on the floor, good beer, and music from a great juke box. The food was excellent pub grub. I loved their lobster bisque and RBG (roast beef and garlic) and Reuben sandwiches. Sunday nights, some of the Jets and Giants would come in after the game to drink and socialize. That was when the teams played a home game. Sometimes the visiting teams would come in, too. Even the night before a game – if they had a pregame curfew they’d leave but some would sneak back. Joe Namath came in occasionally during the week; he lived nearby.

Sometimes Dr. G’s would get so crowded that Barry the owner would work the door and do a down-home style of manning the velvet rope barrier. It was a packed busy place that had a long bar and a bunch of different size tables, and one pinball machine that was always being used.

I see Lance at the bar. He walks over to me and says, “why didn’t you come to the police station and try to bail me out?” I looked at him and said, “I do not even know your last name, so how  would I find you?” He looked annoyed and shook his head. I noticed that he did not mention or ask about Allison. Though Allison and I never talked about him either. Allison and I never saw each other again. Time and distance will do that.

Header image : Jefferson Airplane in 1974.

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