Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane: how we made White Rabbit
All fairytales that are read to little girls feature a Prince Charming who comes and saves them. But Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland did not. Alice was on her own, and she was in a very strange place, but she kept on going and she followed her curiosity – that’s the White Rabbit. A lot of women could have taken a message from that story about how you can push your own agenda.
The 1960s resembled Wonderland for me. Like Alice, I met all kinds of strange characters, but I was comfortable with it. I wrote White Rabbit on a red upright piano that cost me about $50. It had eight or 10 keys missing, but that was OK because I could hear in my head the notes that weren’t there. I used that piano to write several different songs. When I started making money I bought a better one.
I heard Ravel’s Bolero on the radio and it surprised the hell out of me. I love Spanish music and I’m inspired by things irrespective of how popular they are. Bolero starts off with a couple of instruments and then more are added. It feels like how an orgasm is built. My song also built in that same way.
The song is a little dark. It’s not saying everything’s going to be wonderful. The Red Queen is shouting “off with her head” and the “White Knight is talking backwards”. Lewis Carroll was looking at how things are run and the people who rule us.
I was performing White Rabbit with The Great Society and Jefferson Airplane asked me to join the band. I said “you betcha!” because I really liked Jack Casady’s playing – the sound of his bass just knocked my socks off. The song is in F sharp, which is difficult for guitar players as it requires some intricate fingering, but [lead guitarist] Jorma [Kaukonen] and Jack are very good musicians so they were able to adapt to it and do it very well.
White Rabbit’s been bringing in royalties for over 50 years. I still get to pay my bills off that one song. Now that’s a good song!
I remember watching this clip on SNL as a kid, thinking it was bizarre and maybe I was just too young to get it. 45 years later still weird, but I enjoy the quirky song itself. George with Crackerbox Palace