We are all outlaws in the eyes of America

images-26In 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.

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Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose

imgres-6At the February 1981 Grammy Awards, something happened that had never happened before and hasn’t happened again since.

At the ceremony where the best musical work of 1980 was being honored, Christopher Cross won in the Best New Artist category.  Okay.  Fine.  Of the nominees that year, The Pretenders would have been the preferred choice of most rock music fans, but otherwise, you couldn’t really argue with Cross and his likable light rock sound.

But then, incredibly, Cross went on to sweep the remaining “Big Four” mainstream categories:  Album of the Year (“Christopher Cross”), Record of the Year for his recording of the hit ballad “Sailing,” AND Song of the Year for composing “Sailing.”  The competition wasn’t all that steep in 1980 (although Pink Floyd’s seismic opus “The Wall” was a nominee for Best Album), but no one, especially a newcomer, had ever won all four major awards.

It’s one of several head-scratching stories to be found when you comb through the history of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ 57 years of awarding Grammys to honor each year’s biggest musical achievements.

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