Thursday, June 28, 2007

Album Covers: Blows Against the Empire

Wow. I have been busy as hell lately, and as a result, I haven't had much time for things. One of which being posting anew here. So here we go.

One of my favorite albums, and covers is "Blows Against the Empire" by Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship. While not a 'true' JS album (in fact this album predates their first as a group by 4 years), this concept album, which was inspired in part by Heinlein's "Methuselah's
Children", is actually a one off band made up of many of members of other San Francisco bands of the day, such as Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, CSN and Quicksilver Messenger Service.


The album is a narrative concept album that tells the story of a counter-culture revolution against the oppressions of "Uncle Samuel" and a plan to steal a starship from orbit and journey into space in search of a new home. The original vinyl release is of course divided into two album sides. Mau Mau (Amerikon) launched Side One, a counter-culture manifesto and call to arms. In the context of the narrative, this is the free music being performed in the park, drawing everyone together.

"Put your old ladies back into bed,
Put your old men into their graves,
Cover their ears so they can't hear us sing,
Cover their eyes so they can't see us play."
"Get out of the way, let the people play,
We gotta get down on you,
Come alive all over you,
Dancing down, into your town."

It celebrates late-sixties counter-culture, depicting people celebrating mind expansion and free love, "We'll ball in your parks, insane with the flash of living... calling for acid, cocaine and grass." They've had enough of the military, domestic and abroad, "You unleash the dogs of a grade-B movie star Governor's war... so drop your fuckin' bombs, burn your demon babies, I will live again!" They condemn the divisive strictures of conservative society, and dream of finding a Utopia.

The Baby Tree, (written by Rosalie Sorrells) an enjoyable if seemingly anachronistic song for this album, is about an imaginary island where babies grow on trees and are collected by happy couples when they fall. The scene develops over the remaining album side, in Let's Go Together and A Child Is Coming, that a couple is among the gathering in a park outside Chicago the night before the hijacking, tripping on acid as dawn approaches. She reveals that she's pregnant, and predictably they resolve to free their child from the government's "files and their numbers game" by joining the hijackers. In this setting, The Baby Tree can be seen as their acid-induced daydream about pregnancy, and so fits neatly into the narrative.

Side Two, informally known as the "Blows Suite," opens with Sunrise, describing the breaking dawn the couple was awaiting, and leads directly into Hijack. The revolutionaries storm the transport to the orbiting starship and head off into space, boarding the ship by the end of Hijack and leaving orbit in Home. As the story progresses with Have You Seen the Stars Tonite, hopes and misgivings are revealed. After the ship's engines and systems are readied in X-M, Starship relates a mutiny fought for control of the ship, to determine whether to surrender and return or to continue on. Eventually the idealists win control and the ship is flung by gravity sling-shot around the sun and out of the solar system."

"Kantner went so far as to write to Heinlein to obtain permission to use his ideas. Heinlein wrote back that over the years, many people had used his ideas but Paul was the first one to ask for permission, which he granted. The album went on to garner a nomination in 1971 for the prestigious Hugo Award for Dramatic Presentation, marking the first time a rock album was so honored."

"The original vinyl album was a single platter in a gatefold sleeve. The cover featured a piece of Russian folk art from a painted lacquer box, attributed to CCCP (U.S.S.R. in Russian). Kantner has said he enjoyed stealing the art from Russia because many of their albums were bootlegged on the Russian black market. The back cover painting depicts a partially opened parcel revealing a room inside with Jerry Garcia peeking out, the parcel being flown on a string by a pair of breasts with wings. Inside the gatefold is more artwork with track listings and credits, done in silver ink on black background and featuring a Paul Kantner caricature with a head of marijuana-leaf hair rising over a mountainous planetscape. The inner dust jacket was decorated with collages of musician photos, writings and doodles. Original pressings included a full-color booklet as well, with lyrics, poetry and drawings mostly done by Slick during the recording sessions and collected daily by Kantner. Subsequent pressings included a black & white version of the booklet."*

I have two copies of this on vinyl. One being the rather beat up copy I found for a buck at a antique shop, and the other being a VG/NM one I found in a record store in Boston complete with the color version of the booklet. I also have it on cassette (remember those?) If you haven't heard it, and like sci-fi inspired rock, and can overlook all the hippie idealism and drug shit, I recomend this record.

*from wikipedia


Becca said...

That really is a great cover for an album I'll admit to never hearing. Cool post!

Anonymous said...

Lyric correction: it's not "I will live again" It's "I will be again"