In the early ’60s, while most of the country was still living in a 1950s mindset, San Francisco was emerging as a mecca for radically new viewpoints, unusual lifestyles, and strident protests against government overreach. The Free Speech Movement at UC-Berkeley epitomized the “Question Authority” way of thinking that had taken hold and found a sympathetic, nurturing atmosphere in the Bay Area.
Coming of age at about that time was a feisty young man named Paul Kantner, born and raised in San Francisco, who considered himself a “devil’s advocate,” as he had been branded in the Catholic schools and military schools he’d been expelled from as a teenager. He had a passion for science fiction literary works and the protest folk songs of Pete Seeger and The Weavers, and by 1965, he was looking to form a band and write songs that reflected the new liberating attitude of the times.
Kantner met singer Marty Balin, and Jefferson Airplane was born.
Now, here it is, 51 years later, and Kantner is dead from complications following a heart attack at age 74. Yet another fallen hero of the counterculture. I’ve lost count how many we’ve lost since 2016 began. Kantner’s name is not as well known to the masses as David Bowie and Glenn Frey and Natalie Cole, but his impact was huge, his legacy rather remarkable, and well worth discussing.