Haight Street Beat

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Grace Slick on writing “White Rabbit”

Grace Slick on writing “White Rabbit”

“White Rabbit” was written and performed by Grace Slick while she was still with The Great Society. She joined Jefferson Airplane shortly thereafter to replace their departing female singer, Signe Toly Anderson, who left the band with the birth of her child. The first album Slick recorded with Jefferson Airplane was Surrealistic Pillow, and Slick provided two songs from her previous group: her own “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”, written by her brother-in-law Darby Slick and recorded under the title “Someone to Love” by the Great Society.

The Great Society’s version of “White Rabbit” was much longer than the more aggressive version of Jefferson Airplane. Both songs became top-10 hits for Jefferson Airplane and have ever since been associated with that band.

“White Rabbit” is one of Grace Slick’s earliest songs, written during either late 1965 or early 1966. It uses imagery found in the fantasy works of Lewis Carroll—1865’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its 1871 sequel Through the Looking-Glass—such as changing size after taking pills or drinking an unknown liquid.

Slick said the composition was supposed to be a slap to parents who read their children such novels and then wondered why their children later used drugs. Characters Slick referenced include Alice, the White Rabbit, the hookah-smoking caterpillar, the White Knight, the Red Queen, and the Dormouse.

Slick reportedly wrote the song after an acid trip. For Slick, “White Rabbit” “is about following your curiosity. The White Rabbit is your curiosity”. For her and others in the 1960s, drugs were a part of mind expansion and social experimentation. With its enigmatic lyrics, “White Rabbit” became one of the first songs to sneak drug references past censors on the radio. Even Marty Balin, Slick’s eventual rival in Jefferson Airplane, regarded the song as a “masterpiece.” In interviews, Slick has related that Alice in Wonderland was often read to her as a child and remained a vivid memory well into her adulthood.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Slick mentioned that, in addition to Alice in Wonderland, her other inspiration for the song was Ravel’s Boléro. Like Boléro, “White Rabbit” is essentially one long crescendo. The music combined with the song’s lyrics strongly suggests the sensory distortions experienced with hallucinogens, and the song was later used in pop culture to imply or accompany just such a state. (Wikipedia)

The Jefferson Airplane House

Home to Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane, the 1904 Colonial Revival house was sometimes called The Mansion or The Airplane House. It was purchased in 1968 for $70,000 and painted all black at that time It is said to have been the site of legendary parties. The address was recalled in the title of a 1987 Jefferson Airplane best-of album. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.