October 14, 2018 – 3:32 am


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Pop culture is fickle. If you are not in the limelight with a hit, you are not newsworthy. Yet long after the songs, voice and albums have all faded, the artist who never sold out will have retained his integrity and dignity. His works will then shine on. By Rich Whitney.

Further evidence that there is no God: Henry Kissinger is still with us at 95, but we just lost revolutionary artist, poet and vocalist Marty Balin at age 76 (after losing his Jefferson Airplane collaborator Paul Kantner at 74 in 2016).

I know I am not alone in feeling great sorrow at his passing. I also trust that I am not alone in feeling appalled and angered, but not overly surprised, when the soulless corporate media in this country treated his death as a footnote.

Marty Balin deserved better - much better. His was the stirring, soaring voice of the cultural rebellion of the 1960s and ’70s, which unabashedly remained a part of him until his passing on September 27, 2018.

In American pop culture, he became better known for his romantic, admittedly syrupy love songs, especially his big hits from the mid-’70s and early ‘80s - for example, “Miracles,” “Count on Me,” and “Hearts.” He is also justly remembered for his earlier, more poetic paeans to love and heartache, in such Airplane recordings as “Coming Back to Me” and “Today.”

One can’t help but be moved by such earnest expressions of the heart, and Balin continued writing and recording such love ballads until the end. To be candid, one has to be in the right romantic mood to appreciate some of his mushier, middle-of-the-road ballads, and, personally, I can enjoy them only in limited doses. But to quote Paul McCartney: “Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs. And what’s wrong with that?”

Nothing, really. I presume that they probably helped Balin pay the bills.

Moreover, while some of his love songs were simplistic, others, like the little-appreciated 1983 release “What Love Is,” demonstrated that Balin never lost his ability to explore and express the depth and complexity of that most precious emotion. And whether simple or more involved, Balin’s songs always rang true because his voice rang with sincerity. Even the most simplistic of his love songs show us a man who genuinely bared his heart and soul to the world – mushiness and all.

Whether simple or more involved, Marty Balin’s songs always rang true because his voice rang with sincerity. Even the most simplistic of his love songs show us a man who genuinely bared his heart and soul to the world - mushiness and all.

But there were other dimensions to Balin that have received far less recognition - because they were dangerous to the status quo.

He captured - and shredded - the soulless character of modern consumerist culture in songs like “Plastic Fantastic Lover” and “3/5ths of a Mile in Ten Seconds.”

With Grace Slick and Paul Kantner, he guided us through an acid-enhanced Saturday afternoon journey, in “After Bathing At Baxter’s.”

He was the clarion voice for youth rebellion on such classic anthems as “Crown of Creation,” “We Can Be Together,” “Have You Seen the Saucers,” and the always uplifting “Volunteers.”

Younger folks probably don’t know this, and many folks my age have probably forgotten, but the cultural rebellion of the ‘60s and early ‘70s was about more than peace, love and dope. There was a period from 1969 – ’72 or so when talk of “revolution” was in the air.

A nation had witnessed Mayor Daley’s goons cracking the heads of antiwar protestors in the streets of Chicago in August 1968. The peace movement was growing, resistance to racism was becoming more militant, and, while most remained committed to the course of peaceful mass protests, organizations like the SDS, the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers and other groups began to reflect the boiling anger and frustration that many felt about the senseless violence of the Vietnam War and persistence of racism and poverty.

“Volunteers” was released about a month after the “Days of Rage” in Chicago manifested some of that anger and frustration in the Fall of 1969. Mind you, I do not endorse the strategy and tactics that were adopted by the Weather Underground. But there was something to be said for making the war-mongering US ruling class experience a little fear and trepidation that maybe it had gone too far, and that things might be getting out of control.

The Airplane, with Balin, Kantner and Slick, became the most prominent voices of that revolutionary fervor, especially Balin, who urged audiences to “Fight back! Fight back!” whenever “Volunteers” was played.

Alas, the talk of revolution was mostly just that - talk. As was the case in France in ‘68, revolutionary sentiment went a mile wide but, for most, was only skin deep. It was much more about angry posturing than serious organizing. For most, it was a passing fad, like mini-skirts and bell-bottom jeans.

By 1972 or so, talk of revolution had peaked. Rock artists like Neil Young and Steve Miller started writing about the virtues of living in the country, or other apolitical subjects. A substantial percentage of the same folks prating about revolution in 1972 were voting for Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Matters were not helped by the fact that most, though not all, of the militant leaders of the time did not have a very coherent vision of the future or coherent view about what “revolution” even meant. As reflected in “Volunteers” (and “Crown of Creation,” “What About Me?” by Quicksilver Messenger Service, “Five to One” by the Doors, etc.), there was an unfortunate tendency to view “revolution” in generational, rather than class terms - and that soon ran into its limitations. A revolution of “youth” doesn’t exactly lend itself to an actual plan for a better society, not to mention the obvious problem that youthfulness is a temporary condition.

But revolutionary sentiment was more than just skin deep for Marty Balin. Even when he and Jefferson Starship were riding their mid-1970s wave of popularity, “Volunteers” remained a staple of their repertoire. They presented new works, like “I Want to See Another World,” co-written by Balin, mixing Kantner’s sci-fi visions of literally escaping to another world with aspirations for building a better world, founded on love.

In the mid-1980s, Balin and Kantner wrote “America,” for their one-shot album as the KBC Band (with Jack Casady), urging young people to not be afraid of anything or anyone in struggling for a new revolution in America.

Younger folks probably don’t know this, and many folks my age have probably forgotten, but the cultural rebellion of the ‘60s and early ‘70s was about more than peace, love and dope. There was a period from 1969 - ’72 or so when talk of “revolution” was in the air.

When the Jefferson Airplane came together for a reunion album in 1989, Balin adapted and sang a marvelous rendition of Bertolt Brecht’s “Solidarity,” urging workers of the world to unite, and reminding us that:

All the gang of those who rule us
Hope our quarrels never stop
Helping them to split and fool us
So they can remain on top.

Balin later recorded an even better version of the song on his 2010 solo album, “Blue Highway.”

When a new version of Jefferson Starship re-formed in the 1990s, Balin wrote “Let It Live,” noting the “countless voices crying out” to save the “precious cargo” of “Spaceship Earth,” and wondering out loud whether it was “all that much to ask” for working people to be able to survive as “they struggle to raise their children.”

On “Blue Highway,” Balin delivered a powerful rendition of Bruce Cockburn’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” decrying the horrors of war and the determination to put an end to it. From its opening verse:

Here comes the helicopter
Second time today
Everybody scatters
And hopes it goes away
How many kids they’ve murdered
Only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I’d make somebody pay

I would be remiss if I did not mention Balin’s sheer talent as a vocalist. To be sure, there are live recordings of the Airplane where their vocals sound a little ragged or their harmonies were not quite with it. And there is necessarily a degree of subjectivity in whether one appreciates the stylings of a given vocalist or character of a given set of vocal chords.

However, in my opinion, when he was at his best, Marty Balin was not only a brilliant vocalist; he could rival any of his contemporaries, even Janis Joplin, in the power, exuberance and raw emotion expressed in his voice. An excellent case in point is his performance on the epic Airplane live album, “Bless It’s Pointed Little Head,” where his soaring vocals on “The Other Side of this Life” “It’s No Secret,” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover” provide the perfect counterpoint to Jack Casady’s thundering bass and Jorma Kaukonen’s masterful guitarwork.

Marty Balin, lover and revolutionary, may you rest in peace. The corporate media may not appreciate you, but a lot of us regular folks sure did. Thanks for being a champion of love, peace and justice. Thanks for your artistry. Thanks for leaving behind a rich musical legacy that will continue to inspire those who continue to want to see another world.

Note: Rich Whitney is an attorney, disk jockey, environmental and peace activist, co-chair of the Illinois Green Party and Green Party candidate for County Board in Jackson County, Illinois. He is active with the Green Party Peace Action Committee, United National Antiwar Coalition and Chicago Committee Against War and Racism, among other organizations.The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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  2. With all the injustices in the world, spending one’s time and energy raging and ranting that “your” musical heroes or favorite celebrities don’t get as much “recognizance” by the “media” as other people’s musical heroes and favorite celebrities, seems a misplaced use of one’s time and energy.

    By Jack on Oct 14, 2018

  3. Meet the new boss / same as the old boss . Sad to say nothing in life and society will ever change , people, and especially powerful people , politicians , cops , lawyers, judges will always remain corrupt. Humans remain ( generally speaking) heartless savages . It’s been that way since mankind began . It’s the nature of the beast.

    By Bill on Oct 14, 2018

  4. In 50 some odd years we have gone from LBJ / Nixon to Reagan / The Bushes , and now that egomaniacal would be dictator Trump . We just put a possible Rapist on the Supreme Court , partisan politics above all else after all and instead of Viet Nam we have the Middle East , so dispute the hippies and the 60s / 70s protests and attempts to change the world , look at the world today .All that said , the airplane was great and Marty Balin was a great vocalist and musician . All these legends are / were great , but none of them changed the world for the better . Sad to say the world remains a sespool and always will be .

    By Bill on Oct 14, 2018

  5. Lovely appreciation of Marty and yes we don’t seem to have got very far but he flew his freak fly high and maybe that’s what counts but I will switch off the News and play ‘Count On Me’ . . . .

    By swappers on Oct 14, 2018

  6. I try not to even watch the bleeping news anymore . When I was young it was Viet Nam and Watergate. 40 to 50 years later it’s Clinton / W / Trump and the Supreme Court fiascos as well as the bleeping Middle East . It’s always something and it always will be . I just enjoy escaping into great music/ tv shows / movies etc . Society has brought down so many people once thought of as pristine. Think Bill Cosby . You really don’t know who or what to believe in anymore

    By Bill on Oct 14, 2018

  7. Actually two preditors in the Supreme Court if you believe Anita Hill ‘ also two rapists in the White House . The Donald and before that Bubba .

    By C J on Oct 14, 2018

  8. Thank You,grew up in the Bay Area and The Airplane… least through Volunteers were my favorite Bay Area band along with The Sons,Quicksilver and Clover.Just re read Got A Revoloution by Dave Tamarkin….a great read.Bless You Marty……It’s No Secret you were the voice.

    By russ on Oct 15, 2018

  9. Injustice thrives on not being exposed, not being spoken about. Yes, there’s more injustice in the world in this moment than any of us can can shake a stick at. Should we just accept it and just try and grab as much for ourselves as we can? It’s that kind of thinking that’s brought us Trump. Americans are so indifferent to injustice that they don’t even react very strongly to Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border - have you ever heard such a stupid idea in your life? Artist like Marty Balin were just trying to remind us that we don’t have to be indifferent to everything that’s wrong (and has alway been) with our own country and our own humanity. There are still artists who try to make a difference with their songs - knowing all the while that they may only change one mind at a time, but that’s still better than nothing.

    By Just Another Zombie on Oct 15, 2018

  10. And another thing… Some of you may be thinking, “What kind of difference was Marty trying to make when most of the time all he did was write love songs?” In my humble opinion, Marty’s body of work addresses a sort of cosmic riddle. That is - until you find love for yourself, how can you have any love for everyone else?

    By Just Another Zombie on Oct 15, 2018

  11. So glad you gave Marty credit for his enormous contributions to music and the world. I’ll always regret I couldn’t get to see one of his shows before he passed. Though he was overshadowed in the Airplane/Starship at times, his voice and songs were amazing. That high note in “Miracles” still sends shivers up my spine. God bless him (and Paul, Signe, Spencer, Papa John, Joey C. and Skip Spence)!

    By Chris D on Oct 15, 2018

  12. Yeah guys like Balin were true believers ‘ but what real difference did they make . It’s like an army of ants vs an army of Elephants. As bad as the 60’s and 60’s were ‘ today is even worse . Social Media is running amok ‘ mankind’s inhumanity is worse than ever and powerful people are more corrupt than ever ‘ just like back then . The depressing thing is that today’s powerful people many were children ‘ teens and young adults listening to the Airplane and others of their ilk back in the day . Of course today’s youth don’t even pretend to care ‘ too busy being self absorbed with their Twitter accounts and I phones

    By Bill on Oct 15, 2018

  13. Passionate young people bent on change for the better just end up conforming in the end and become exactly the same as those they protested against . The Machine and the system always has the last laugh

    By Bill on Oct 15, 2018

  14. That’s why I believe don’t worry about it all . Listen to and enjoy the little things , Music , the arts etc . Be pleasent and respectful but don’t buy into the myth that the world and basic human nature will ever change . As you get older you realize life is about enjoying the moments and not wasting time on things that can’t be changed.

    By Bill on Oct 15, 2018

  15. Rumor has it Marty had a big un

    By U L E on Oct 15, 2018

  16. Think Bill Cosby you said . When I think Bill Cosby these days my advice to him is hide the soap .

    By Scaromouch on Oct 15, 2018

  17. My goodness, why try to turn every thing in life into a divisive political issue? Sit back and enjoy the music Marty left us, the music has nothing to do with Trump and it does not sound any better just because “the media” reported extensively on his death or not. Chill out, music is supposed to be fun and uniting, not hateful and divisive.

    By Jack on Oct 16, 2018

  18. That’s what I’ve been saying ( more or less) . Listen to music and artists as entertainment and a way to escape ( if only for a while) the hodgepodge of crap in the world , instead of buying into these cosmic myths

    By Bill on Oct 16, 2018

  19. Mass school shootings will continue. More soldiers will be killed by IED’s in the Middle East. People will continue to get evicted and have their belongings put in the street for being unable to pay their rent . Technology will continue to put people out of work , Brett Kavanaugh will remain on the Supreme Court , and Trump will still be in the White House. Music changes nothing other than it’s ability to help you escape the madness for awhile.

    By Bill on Oct 16, 2018

  20. Bill, shut up please. You are full of shit. Where do I begin…?

    By otis t on Oct 16, 2018

  21. Music changes nothing ***directly***, only people change things directly. But music changes people. If music really made no difference, then why don’t they allow rock and roll to be played openly in the really strict Muslim countries? Why did Russia come down so hard on a harmless little acoustic trio like Pussy Riot? Why did the USA have the PMRC trying to rate albums the same way they rate movies? Why did the Nixon administration try to deport John Lennon? Those are not cosmic myths, those are facts.

    By Just Another Zombie on Oct 17, 2018

  22. Think Bill hit a nerve with his accurate assessments. The world and humanity in general sucks . And yes Otis please begin with you’re rebuttals” we’re all ears .

    By C J on Oct 17, 2018

  23. And Zombie “ how many people has music changed ? And how have people really changed things ? Look at today’s world “ corrupt as ever .

    By C J on Oct 17, 2018

  24. The ants vs Elephants analogy was a good one .

    By C J on Oct 17, 2018

  25. Children ‘ The rapture is the only thing that will change the world . A cleansing is needed . Children ‘ Children

    By Reverend Harry Powell on Oct 17, 2018

  26. Glad not to have such a heavy burden, as all you so deep and caring carriers of the “truth”. Learn to think more objectively. Can you assume a person(not me, obviously) with which you are having conversation with might know something you don’t? We’re all adults here and know by now government is synonymous with corruption? yawn! It won’t get any better with MORE government, you think?

    By otis t on Oct 17, 2018

  27. If YOU are having a bad trip, then don’t everyone else down. It’s all subjective.

    By otis t on Oct 17, 2018

  28. then don’t bring everyone else down, that previous comment should have read.

    By otis t on Oct 17, 2018

  29. Certain Peiple have said that music can change the world . Where is the evidence? No need to repeat the many examples to the contrary listed above . Music and other forms of entertainment are an escape even if only for a little while from the ses pool of inhumanity and corruption that has and always will exist .So yes in a sense Music and entertainment serve an important purpose.

    By Bill on Oct 18, 2018

  30. I’m currently listening to Sticky Fingers and enjoying the crap out of my favorite stones album and one of the greatest rock albums of all time . It’ll make having to turn on the tv and see Trumps ugly mug as well as the other depressing news of the day easier to bear . So purpose served.

    By Bill on Oct 18, 2018

  31. Depressing to think that many of the fans of The Airplane and the sixties youth movement are now corrupt old fart politicians and government officials but I guess that’s the reality.

    By George on Oct 18, 2018

  32. To me the greatest album is Who’s next . Won’t get fooled again ‘ applies to the world today as much as it did in 71

    By George on Oct 18, 2018

  33. There’s a song by L7 called “Pretend We’re Dead”. That’s always an option. Obviously, no one can make the world perfect, and it’s a huge stuggle even to make it less fucked-up. But John Lennon asked us imagine something better, which is all a song can do. Anyone think that Pete Townshend really believes we won’t get fooled again? The point is, he gave everyone something to think about. As for music changing or not changing things, all I can say is, try doing without it for an extended period and see if that changes anything for you.

    By Just Another Zombie on Oct 18, 2018

  34. What it changes is one’s mental outlook , nothing more . It de stresses you . But when I turn on CNN or Fox News , there’s still Kavanaugh stories , Bill Cosby and the other overhyped Me too bullshit , school shootings , cops killing blacks stories Poverty , unemployment, , technology putting people out of work ,. Soldiers STILL deployed in the barbaric Middle East . Jeff Sessions, Nancy Pelosi , Diane Feinstein, Lindsey Graham and of course that orange faced egomaniac with the bad wig Trump . Listening to great music acts as a seditive to balance out that crap .

    By Bill on Oct 18, 2018

  35. To quote the Clinton #1 campaign “the economy, stupid”. It’s kinda obvious that many issues flames are are fanned by the media (a wing a one political party in USA), to create NEWS. Or as somebody coined, “FAKE NEWS”. People are not really that concerned if their President has a small dick, “hey man, the economy is great”. All you can do is vote in regards to all the politicians misdeeds. And referring to Kavanaugh as a gang rapist is a stretch. I’m not a lawyer, but i used to play one on t.v.

    By otis t on Oct 18, 2018

  36. Small ‘ Hogwash . Rumor has. It The Donald gots a big un

    By U L E on Oct 19, 2018

  37. He said so hisself

    By U L E on Oct 19, 2018

  38. He lied

    By Stormy Daniels on Oct 19, 2018

  39. hey Horseface, those are called “alternative facts”.

    By otis t on Oct 19, 2018

  40. Small hands / Small Penis

    By Marco Rubio on Oct 20, 2018

  41. To fatalistically say that the world is shit and always will be is the surest way to ensure it never changes. Progress comes and goes, but not everything gets worse. In my lifetime we have gone from imprisoning homosexuals to marriage equality in many countries; from widespread capital punishment to now, when the death penalty is almost extinct in Europe and declining in many other countries; from mass famines to relative global food security; from segregation to seeing an African-American in the White House. We have seen the end of apartheid in South Africa and the eradication of smallpox. Sure it’s always two steps forward and one Trumpian step back, but let’s celebrate the forward steps - and the music that accompanies and inspires us on that journey.

    By Rod on Nov 9, 2018

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