“White Rabbit”
Grace Slick: 1960s-2010s

From one of Grace Slick’s Alice-in-Wonderland themed paintings, titled 'Trust,' giclee art on canvas, Area Arts, Santa Rosa, CA.
From one of Grace Slick’s Alice-in-Wonderland themed paintings, titled 'Trust,' giclee art on canvas, Area Arts, Santa Rosa, CA.
At the peak of the psychedelic rock music era in the summer of 1967, a song named “White Rabbit” by the Jefferson Airplane, a San Francisco rock group, was a big part of that summer’s soundtrack.

The song was written by a woman named Grace Slick who also sings the lead vocals on the Jefferson Airplane song with a very strong, distinctive and penetrating voice.

“White Rabbit” was recorded by Jefferson Airplane for their 1967 album, Surrealistic Pillow. The song was also released as a single and became a Top Ten hit and a million seller, reaching No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1967.

The song, however, would become controversial and a lightning rod for some social critics and politicians who charged it encouraged drug use among the nation’s youth. More on that a bit later.

The inspiration for “White Rabbit” and its lyrics came in part from a famous work of literature, Alice’s Adventures in Wonder-land, written by Lewis Carroll in 1865, and its sequel of 1871, Through the Looking-Glass.

Jefferson Airplane, 1967. Top row from left: Jack Casady, Grace Slick, Marty Balin; bottom row from left: Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Kantner, Spencer Dryden.
Jefferson Airplane, 1967. Top row from left: Jack Casady, Grace Slick, Marty Balin; bottom row from left: Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Kantner, Spencer Dryden.
The Grace Slick / Jefferson Airplane song draws on some of the imagery in these stories, and mentions several of the stories’ characters by name. In addition to the White Rabbit, the song also includes Alice, the hookah-smoking caterpillar, the White Knight, the Red Queen, and the Dormouse (lyrics appear later below).


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“White Rabbit”-1967
Grace Slick / Jefferson Airplane

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In the Lewis Carroll story, as well as popularized film versions — there were more than a dozen of these films by the time of the 1967 song, including a popular 1951 Walt Disney film — the White Rabbit character appears at the very beginning.

At the opening of Lewis Carroll’s story, Alice and her sister are sitting along a river bank one summer day reading when a rabbit happens by. However, this was no ordinary rabbit. He was attired in a waistcoat, talking to himself, and looking at his pocket watch. Curiosity got the better of Alice and she followed him down a rabbit hole, where her other-worldly adventures soon began.

Cover of an older book featuring Lewis Carroll’s 1865 story, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
Cover of an older book featuring Lewis Carroll’s 1865 story, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
It was here that Alice would encounter a range of strange creatures and also have a number of experiences that would alter her size and perception.

At one point in the story, for example, there is a caterpillar who tells Alice that eating from one side of the mushroom will make her taller and, from the other side, will make her shorter. Alice eats from the mushroom and partakes of other substances during her adventures, meeting lots of interesting characters along the way.

Grace Slick, like others raised in the 1940s and 1950s, was very familiar with the “Alice in Wonderland” story, having had it read to her many times as a child. But for Slick, the story’s imagery and descriptions remained vivid into her young adult years, having an influence on her as she began writing songs.

Grace Slick was born “Grace Barnett Wing” in 1939 in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. Her father was an investment banker and her mother had briefly been an actress and singer. In the late 1950s, after graduating from an all girls school in Palo Alto, California, Grace attended Finch College, a New York finishing school for girls located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Grace Slick in a recording studio, circa 1960s.
Grace Slick in a recording studio, circa 1960s.
Later, at the University of Miami in 1958-1959, Slick majored in art. A series of odd jobs followed, and then a stint at modeling from 1960-1963 for I. Magnin’s department store.

In 1961, Grace married Jerry Slick, a film student and later successful cinematographer. Some of her first songwriting came during work with Jerry’s film projects.

In 1965, Grace and Jerry also formed a rock band named the Great Society (a play on Lyndon Johnson’s social program of the same name), which performed for a time in San Francisco’s North Beach area. The group also opened for other acts, including a band named Jefferson Airplane.

Although the Great Society group did cut some recordings and played various venues in San Francisco, the band’s fortunes did not soar and soon dissolved.

Grace Slick, however, was asked to join the Jefferson Airplane, bringing with her two songs she had used with her former group – “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love” (the latter written by brother-in-law Darby Slick at Great Society). These songs would appear on the Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 album, Surrealist Pillow, each becoming Top Ten hits.

“White Rabbit”
Grace Slick / Jefferson Airplane
1967

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she’s ten feet tall

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
Call Alice
When she was just small

When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice
I think she’ll know

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head
Feed your head
Feed your head

In addition to the Alice in Wonderland elements of the “White Rabbit” song, another influence on its construction was the music of jazz musicians Miles Davis and Gil Evans, and in particular, their 1960 album Sketches of Spain.

Prior to Slick’s writing “White Rabbitt,” she had listened to the Davis / Evans album for hours, later saying that the bolero they used in parts of their music – a form of slow, crescendo-building Latin/Spanish dance music – was especially appealing.

Another influence on Slick’s composition was LSD. While composing her song, she had taken LSD – a “mind-expanding” drug then popular among musicians and the youth counterculture in San Francisco.

In fact, when Slick wrote “White Rabbit” in 1965, the music scene in San Francisco had become something of an epicenter of cultural change. A major youth movement and counterculture was underway, with music and drugs at its center, including experimentation with “magic mushrooms” and hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD.

This was the era when ex-Harvard University faculty member, Dr. Timothy Leary, had become a prominent proponent of LSD and “mind expanding” drug experimentation. Cultural norms and authority figures were being challenged as well. And Grace Slick was no shrinking violet (no Alice pun intended), an independent soul who spoke her mind. In fact, Slick would revel in her anti-authority role with the Jefferson Airplane, made larger by the fame that arrived with the success of the group’s music.

1967 magazine ad touting Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow” album and the new single, “White Rabbit.”
1967 magazine ad touting Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow” album and the new single, “White Rabbit.”
In February 1967, the group released their Surrealistic Pillow album in the U.S. Two singles from the album followed. “Somebody to Love” was released in April 1967, and “White Rabbit” in June 1967.


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“Somebody To Love”-1967
Grace Slick / Jefferson Airplane

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“Somebody to Love,” although not written by Slick, also has a couple of zingers in its lyrics, including its opening lines — “When the truth is found to be lies / And all the joy within you dies.” Slick’s delivery of lines like these proved forceful and riveting, distinguishing her as one of the era’s lead female voices. And as the group’s songs rose on the charts, Jefferson Airplane’s fortunes began to soar. It didn’t hurt that in May 1967, Look magazine, then a widely read national bi-weekly, did a feature piece on the band, titled, “Jefferson Airplane Loves You,” which included five pages about the group and a lead photo of Slick on the contents page with a glowing review, as follows:

Grace Slick gets top billing on Look's contents page, May 1967.
Grace Slick gets top billing on Look's contents page, May 1967.

“Look into those blue-gray eyes. Hear that voice, that intent, wailing, uninhibiting, grabbing voice. You will rock, you will forget who you are. Six young people built Jefferson Airplane, but this girl, Grace Slick, is the one who makes it fly. And when it soars on her airborne voice, something electric suffuses you, traps your mind, jerks you into feeling. Call what happens Love Rock, the San Francisco Sound, and know that it cannot exist without you. To find out why, take off on a flight to remember, Jefferson Airplane Loves You, page 58.”

The Look magazine piece helped send Jefferson Airplane to the front of San Francisco music scene. There, they became a lead group among those offering the “love-rock-psychedelic” sound. Also that month, the group appeared as musical guests on CBS-TV’s The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Meanwhile, “White Rabbit” and the group’s album were being touted in trade magazine ads. “Millions read about it in ‘LOOK,” explained RCA in its ad copy (above left). “Their Surrealistic Pillow” album is now Top 10… ‘Pillow’ features their current Top 10 single, ‘Somebody to Love.’ Now, a second great single from the same sensational album: ‘White Rabbit’.”

June 1968: Grace Slick & mates from rock group, Jefferson Airplane, featured on Life magazine cover.
June 1968: Grace Slick & mates from rock group, Jefferson Airplane, featured on Life magazine cover.
In June 1967, Jefferson Airplane played on the second evening of the “Monterey Pop Festival” in Monterey, California. That month, they also performed on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand TV show, then located in California. By July, “White Rabbit” had climbed into the Top Ten on the music charts. In September Surrealistic Pillow was released in the UK in a somewhat different form, as the group’s fortunes continued to rise.

By June 1968, Slick and Jefferson Airplane had also appeared on the cover of Life magazine, one of seven rock groups featured in a multi-page spread on “The New Rock.” Robin Richman, the Life reporter who wrote the story, would observe of the group generally, and Slick in particular: “…They all share a compassion for people and they’re reaching out directly with their music. The difference is mainly in their style, they will use whatever device seems appropriate. Any musical or literary form from the oldest to the newest is possible. So Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane has a way of commenting on society, using metaphor and allusion – like Joyce – to get her ideas across…” Slick at the time, along with Janis Joplin, was marking new territory in the rock world’s male-dominated hierarchy, where very few women had become leaders of rock bands.


Sept 24, 1969: Time magazine features “Drugs and the Young” as its cover story and an emerging national issue.
Sept 24, 1969: Time magazine features “Drugs and the Young” as its cover story and an emerging national issue.

Music, Drugs & Politics

On the national political scene, meanwhile, the convulsive year of 1968 produced a series of shocking developments – a year in which Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy had been assassinated; sitting president Lyndon Johnson, mired in the Vietnam War, shocked his party by refusing to seek a second term; and the nation watched a riotous Democratic convention in Chicago as protesters and police clashed in prime time. Amid the tumult, Republican Richard Nixon, was elected President that November. Nixon had campaigned as a law-and-order candidate, also blaming the Democrats for a reign of permissiveness in the 1960s – or as some characterized it, an explosion of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.

In his first few months as president in 1969, Nixon proposed toughening drug enforcement laws, with legislation sent to Congress for review and hearings. The baby boomer counterculture by this time was exploding, and with it drug use. In August 1969 the giant Woodstock musical festival was held in upstate New York, where many famous rock musicians performed, including Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and dozens of others.

August 1969: Grace Slick at Woodstock.
August 1969: Grace Slick at Woodstock.
In September 1969, Time magazine featured “Drugs and the Young” as its cover story, with a long piece inside the magazine titled, “Pop Drugs: The High as a Way of Life.” In that article, the writers noted varying statistics about youth drug use, pointing out, for example, that at the August 1969 Woodstock music festival in upstate New York, “some 90% of the 400,000 participants openly smoked marijuana [bringing] the youthful drug culture to a new apogee.” Time also noted that cultural references to drugs and drug use were cropping up everywhere. “Rock musicians use drugs frequently and openly,” said Time, “and their compositions are riddled with references to drugs, from the Beatles’ ‘I get high with a little help from my friends’ to the Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ (‘Remember what the dormouse said: Feed your head’)….” It would not be the last time that the Beatles’ music, “White Rabbit,” and other rock music would be singled out for its purported influence on the rising drug culture.

The Nixon Administration, meanwhile, initiated “Operation Intercept,” a surprise anti-drug measure announced by the President on September 21, 1969 aimed at disrupting the flow of Mexican marijuana coming into the U.S. The program resulted in a near shutdown of border crossings between Mexico and the U.S., as brief inspections were conducted on every vehicle crossing into the U.S. After a few weeks of complaints from Mexican officials and travelers, the inspections were abandoned as the Nixon Administration declared it had achieved its objective. Some months later, in May 1970, the Jefferson Airplane would release a song titled “Mexico,” written and sung by Grace Slick, that was essentially a rant against the Nixon border operation. The song received little radio air play, and was banned in some states, but it did manage to reach No. #102 on the music charts, just under the Billboard Hot 100.


A ‘Mickey’ for Nixon
Aborted White House Plot

In April 1970, Grace Slick had designs on “slipping a mickey” into Dick Nixon’s tea at a White House reception – the mickey, in this case, a tiny pill of LSD. But the plan never hatched. The President’s daughter, Tricia Nixon, had planned a tea party for alumni of Finch College, the New York girls’ finishing school she had attended. Grace Slick, too, had attended Finch some 10 years earlier. But when Slick went to Finch, she was enrolled under her maiden name, Grace Wing. Tricia had invited all of the Finch alumni to the White House tea party, and Grace Slick received an invitation.

April 24, 1970: Grace Slick & Abbie Hoffman on line at the White House for Tricia Nixon’s Finch College alumni tea.  AP Photo/Bob Daugherty
April 24, 1970: Grace Slick & Abbie Hoffman on line at the White House for Tricia Nixon’s Finch College alumni tea. AP Photo/Bob Daugherty
“Her people didn’t know that Grace Wing was Grace Slick,” explained Slick some years later to a Wall Street Journal reporter. “So I called Abbie Hoffman [1960s activist and famous defendant in the Chicago Seven trial of disruptive protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention] and said, ‘Guess where we’re going’.” Slick had planned to spike Richard Nixon’s tea with acid, but she and Abbie never made it through the gates.

Hoffman had been cleaned up a bit, dressed in a respectable suit and tie with well groomed hair. Grace too, appeared reasonably dressed, though sporting a see-through fish net blouse beneath her coat. The tea party, however, was billed as an “all ladies” event, which made Hoffman, waiting on line that day, immediately suspect. When guards approached, he claimed to be Slick’s bodyguard, which didn’t work. He created a bit of flurry thereafter, shifting into his activist mode. Grace Slick, meanwhile, declined to attend once her “bodyguard” was refused entry. Dick Nixon, in any event, was not at the tea that day, and had gone to Camp David. Some 600 Finch ladies did attend the tea that day.

But had Grace Slick shown up that day by herself, she just might have made it into the White House. Getting close enough to the President’s tea, however, even if he had been there, was another matter altogether. She was carrying some 600 micrograms of LSD that day. In any case, her intent, it appears, was not to “poison the guy,” she would later say, but rather, to send him into a bit of embarrassing trippy behavior.
___________________
Sources: “Abbie Hoffman Barred From White House Tea,” New York Times, April 25, 1970; Sally Quinn, “Abbie Left at The Gate,” Washington Post/Times Herald, April 25, 1970, pp. E-1-E-2; and Marc Myers, “She Went Chasing Rabbits,” Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2011.


Oct 23, 1969: President Richard Nixon at left talks with TV personality Art Linkletter during White House meetings where Linkletter urged adoption of an educational program to publicize the evils of dangerous drugs. AP photo.
Oct 23, 1969: President Richard Nixon at left talks with TV personality Art Linkletter during White House meetings where Linkletter urged adoption of an educational program to publicize the evils of dangerous drugs. AP photo.
In 1969, the Nixon Administration was also convening private briefings and strategy sessions on the nation’s drug problem.

One of these sessions was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House in late October 1969, where President Nixon invited a group of congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, Speaker of the House John McCormick, and several others.

At this session, Art Linkletter – a popular TV personality known throughout the nation for his “Kids Say Anything” TV shows and a staunch Nixon campaign supporter – was one of those addressing the group.

The drug problem, in fact, had become quite personal for Linkletter by that time. His 20-year-old daughter, Diane, had committed suicide only weeks before this session, having jumped to her death from the sixth floor of her West Hollywood apartment on October 4, 1969.

Linkletter blamed LSD as the cause of his daughter’s death, and he would become something of national anti-drug campaigner thereafter. During the Cabinet Room session, Linkletter told the group:

…You gentlemen may not realize it but almost every time a “top 40” record is played on the radio, it is an ad for “acid,” marihuana, and trips. The lyrics of the popular songs and the jackets on the albums of the popular songs are all a complete, total campaign for the fun and thrills of trips. If you don’t believe it, you ought to take a good, long look at some of the lyrics and some of the albums with the hidden symbols, with the language that the kids know that you don’t even realize they are talking about…

May 8, 1970: Spiro Agnew on the cover of Life magazine prior to his “drug music” speech. By this time he was also the Nixon Administration’s chief media critic and more.
May 8, 1970: Spiro Agnew on the cover of Life magazine prior to his “drug music” speech. By this time he was also the Nixon Administration’s chief media critic and more.
In December 1969, Nixon convened a Governors’ Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Forty of the nation’s governors attended the gathering at the State Department in Washington, D.C. Nixon addressed the group and so did Art Linkletter, who in his remarks condemned Dr. Timothy Leary, a former Harvard University lecturer, as “that poisonous evil man” who was then a well known promoter of marijuana and LSD.

The Nixon Administration would continue its anti-drug program over the next several years and Art Linkletter would head up a national advisory council on drugs.

Also playing a key role in the Nixon Administration’s anti-drug crusade, its anti-media battles, and generally serving as point man on the “social permissiveness” front, was Vice President Spiro Agnew.

Historians Mary Beth Norton, Carol Sheriff, David W. Blight, and Howard Chudacoff, writing in the book A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, note, for example:

…As president, Nixon worked to equate the Republican Party with law and order and the Democrats with permissiveness, crime, drugs, radicalism, and the “hippie lifestyle.” To capitalize on the backlash against the 1960s movements for social change, and consolidate support of those he called “the silent majority,” Nixon fostered divisions, using his outspoken vice president, Spiro Agnew, to attack war protesters and critics as “naughty children,” “effete…snobs,” and “ideological eunuchs….”

Agnew would also become one of the Administration’s “music-and-drugs” messengers. In a September 1970 speech before Republicans in Las Vegas, Agnew echoed the concerns of Linkletter and other drug critics, and took special aim at the music and film industries, charging them with encouraging drug use. Agnew stated that certain rock songs and their lyrics, along with some Hollywood films, books, and underground newspapers, were among the chief culprits in the rising national drug problem.

September 18, 1970: Headline from the Deseret News (Las Vegas)  for Associated Press story reporting on Vice President Spiro Agnew’s speech before 1,200 Republicans at fundraising dinner at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.
September 18, 1970: Headline from the Deseret News (Las Vegas) for Associated Press story reporting on Vice President Spiro Agnew’s speech before 1,200 Republicans at fundraising dinner at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In one mid-September 1970 speech before 1,200 Republicans at a $100-a-plate fundraising dinner at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada — a speech carried over radio and TV throughout the state — Agnew singled out the lyrics of several songs he claimed were part of a cultural “brainwashing” then taking place, leading youth into drug use. From the Beatles, he quoted the lines: “I get by with a little help from friends / I get high with a little help from my friends.” Of the song, Agnew said, “it’s a catchy tune, but until it was pointed out to me, I never realized that the ‘friends’ were assorted drugs.” He also mentioned several other songs, including “White Rabbit,” quoting the lines: “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small / And the ones that mother givers you don’t do anything at all.” Other songs Agnew mentioned in his speech were “Eight Miles High” by the Byrds, “The Acid Queen” by The Who, and “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam,” by Steppenwolf.

The Reading Eagle, Reading, PA.
The Reading Eagle, Reading, PA.
“These songs present the use of drugs in such an attractive light,” Agnew said, “that for the impressionable, turning on becomes the natural and even approved thing to do.” He called it a form of “brainwashing.” In too many of the songs, he said, “the message of the drug culture is purveyed… [A]t its worst, it is blatant drug culture propaganda…” Agnew also mentioned the plot line of one popular film at the time without mentioning the title (“Easy Rider”), in which the film’s two heroes were, according to Agnew, “able to live a carefree life off the illegal proceeds of drugs.”

Agnew’s critique brought a swift reaction from many in the entertainment industry and even a few public officials. One retort to Agnew came from Nicholas Johnson, a minority Democrat at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Johnson cited a number of rock songs that had negative messages on drug use, including songs by Steppenwolf (“The Pusher”), Canned Heat (“Amphetamine Annie”), The Rolling Stones (“Mothers Little Helper”) and others. Other rock music, Johnson noted, lamented the problems of war or environmental degradation. On the other hand, some advertising from establishment pillars such as the Ford Motor Co., used drug-evocative expressions in their TV pitches, as in Ford cars that would “blow your mind.” Johnson argued that more attention be paid to the constant barrage of drug and pharmaceutical TV advertising — i.e., pills to sleep, to wake up, to feel calm, to feel excited, to conquer anxieties, etc. Others believed that trying to interpret musical lyrics for their meaning was something of a fool’s errand, a highly subjective enterprise, with varying outcomes. Exactly what was it that Perry Como had in mind when he sang “climb aboard the butterfly” in the 1949 song “A Dreamer’s Holiday?”

“White Rabbit”
An Anti-Drug Interpretation

At least one writer has offered the view that “White Rabbit” could be interpreted as a song that discouraged drug use. Here’s that view from Terence Towles Canote, writing at the blog, A Shroud of Thoughts:

“…On the surface, ‘White Rabbit’ would appear to be a song advocating drug use. Indeed, in making the comparison between Lewis Carroll’s works and the effects of psychoactive drugs, it would seem to be encouraging their use. That having been said, I have often thought the song could also be interpreted as discouraging the use of psychoactive drugs, whether Grace Slick meant it as such or not. From the very beginning the song emphasizes the mind altering effects of such drugs, “One pill makes you larger/And one pill makes you small.” These effects become more extreme as the song proceeds. From growing and shrinking to encounters with white rabbits and hookah-smoking caterpillars, the song moves to chessmen telling one where to go. By the last stanza it would almost seem to be describing a bum trip. Logic and proportion have lost all meaning. The White Knight is talking backwards, perhaps indicating reality has lost all coherence. And worst yet, the Red Queen is apparently demanding decapitations. The growing sense of menace in the song is only amplified by its music, which is a gradually rising crescendo. As the song progresses, the music’s volume grows and with it so does this impending sense of things gone awry, particularly when combined with the lyrics. Given that the lyrics seem to grow darker and more menacing with each stanza, as does the music, I would think that in the end the song would in the end cause people to stay as far away from psychoactive drugs as possible!…”

Still, the Agnew-Linkletter-Nixon attack on rock music had a bit of a chilling effect on the airing of songs perceived to be lauding drug use. In fact, the FCC would later send a public notice memorandum to broadcasters urging them to become aware of music “tending to promote or glorify the use of illegal drugs.” And Nixon himself would speak to a group of some 70 radio broadcasters who attended a day long “White House Conference on Drugs For the Radio Industry” in October 1970.

In his remarks to the broadcasters, Nixon assured them he had no intention of telling them what songs to play or not play, or how to program their broadcasts, but he would “appreciate” their cooperation on the matter of songs that promoted drugs. Dean Burch of the FCC also addressed the group, and noted the commission would look favorably on stations that aired anti-dug messages.

Some of what the Nixon Administration was advocating in terms screening songs for drug messaging appears to have resulted in broadcasters and program managers pulling music off the air and/or preventing it from airing.

In June 1970, after 600 people petitioned the WFAA radio station in Dallas, Texas to quit playing songs with drug lyrics or face a boycott of their sponsors, Charlie Van, director of programming, withdrew any songs with pro-drug lyrics. Elsewhere, Rick Sklar, program director of WABC radio in New York city, stated that his station would not play songs dealing with drugs, “because even if the song is supposedly anti-drug, it tends to glorify the subject.”

In December 1970, the Illinois Crime Commission issued a list of “drug-oriented” rock songs. Among those on the Illinois list were: “White Rabbit,” for “extolling the kicks provided by LSD and other psychedelics;” “Hi-De-Ho” by Blood Sweat & Tears, for the “joys of smoking marijuana;” “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” by Procol Harum, for lyrics related to the “mind-bending characteristics of the psychedelics;” and The Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” since the initial letters of this song’s title formed the word “LSD,” and the song itself “depicts the pleasure of LSD.” But the real kicker in the list was “Puff The Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul & Mary – the song that mentions little Jackie Paper and his imaginary Dragon friend and playmate, Puff. Yes, that song was listed by the Illinois commission with regard to “smoking marijuana and hashish”.

In other cases, artists were dropped from record labels. Billboard magazine reported in November 1970 that “MGM Records president Mike Curb has dropped 18 acts who, in his opinion, promote and exploit hard drugs through music.” At the time, Curb was reportedly alarmed by the drug-related deaths of several rock stars.

Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane in recording studio.
Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane in recording studio.
And yes, around the time of the Nixon Administration’s “drugs-and-rock-music” crusade, there were untimely deaths of prominent rock musicians in which drugs were implicated as the known or suspected cause. Among the departed were: Alan Wilson, lead singer and composer for the group Canned Heat, died September 3, 1970 of a barbiturate overdose; rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, died September 18, 1970 of suspected heroin overdose; blues/rock singer Janis Joplin, died on October 4, 1970 of suspected heroin overdose; and in the following year, on July 3, 1971, Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, died in Paris of a an accidental heroin overdose. Meanwhile, Grace Slick, for her part, had made some effort to offer a word of caution to her listeners, if only in a small way. She wrote some alternative “White Rabbit” lyrics for a public service radio commercial for Do It Now, a California organization sponsoring the message, designed to prevent drug abuse. The alternate wording Slick used for a “White Rabbit” ad were: “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small / But if you shoot speed, you won’t get there at all, because you’ll be dead.”


Cover of Grace Slick’s 1998 rock-and- roll memoir, "Somebody To Love?" w/ Andrea Cagan.
Cover of Grace Slick’s 1998 rock-and- roll memoir, "Somebody To Love?" w/ Andrea Cagan.
Linkletter Names Slick

Some years later, on a 1977 TV show, when drug guru Timothy Leary appeared as an interview guest, Art Linkletter, who happened to be in the viewing audience, made a long telephone call-in comment on that show attacking Leary and also naming Grace Slick. Leary took the brunt of Linkletter’s excoriating remarks about leading young people into drugs, but he also blamed others, including Grace Slick, poet Alan Ginsburg, and Aldous Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception – “all of whom,” Linkletter said during his call, “were promoting the glories of drug abuse in what was a drug world.”

Grace Slick also happened to see the show, and as she would later say in her 1998 book, Somebody to Love?: A Rock-and-Roll Memoir:

“…When I heard Linkletter accuse me, I tried to call the station. I wondered how many celebrities who’d been paid to pitch alcohol had been accused of the millions of traffic deaths attributable to alcohol over the years. Probably none. I wanted to talk to the man, to remind him of the more serious alcohol situation and the hypocrisy associated with it, but the lines [phone lines to the TV show] were jammed with other people who had their own opinions. I suppose Linkletter’s grief would have prevented him from really listening to me anyway…”

Cover art for a “White Rabbit” single.
Cover art for a “White Rabbit” single.
The song, “White Rabbit,” however, would continue to meet with occasional controversy even some years after the Nixon/Linkletter drug wars. In one community in Missouri, for example, a high school marching band in the late 1990s was ordered to stop playing ‘White Rabbit,’ the action upheld by a federal district court. Fort Zummwalt school superintendent, Bernard J DuBray ordered the song removed from the band’s halftime program in September 1998 saying “it’s almost an anthem for the drug culture.” A group os 14 students from Fort Zumwalt North High School in O’Fallon, Missouri had filed a lawsuit asking the district court to restore the song to its playlist, but were turned down.In 1998, one Missouri high school ordered “White Rabbit” removed from the school’s marching band halftime program, citing the song as “almost an anthem for the drug culture.” What made this a curious case, in part, was the fact that the marching band did not use the lyrics of the song, and only played it as an instrumental.

Grace Slick, meanwhile, has stood her ground over the years on why she wrote the song. In a 2011 interview with The Wall Street Journal, she was asked if “White Rabbit” was metaphor for drugs. “Not exactly,” she replied. “It’s about following your curiosity. The White Rabbit is your curiosity. Alice follows him wherever he goes. He leads her to drugs, though, and that’s why the song was written…” But then, as something of a defense on her writing the song, Slick adds: “…Hey, all major children’s books do this. In “Peter Pan,” sparkle dust lets you fly. In the “Wizard of Oz,” they awaken in a poppy field to see the beautiful Emerald City. Our parents read us stories about chemicals that make it possible to have a good time.” Slick would also say that part of her intended audience for “White Rabbit” were the parents who read those stories to their kids – parents who at the time, wondered why their adolescent children were then using drugs.

Unknown artist (not Grace Slick?) offering some characters and expressions from “Alice in Wonderland.”
Unknown artist (not Grace Slick?) offering some characters and expressions from “Alice in Wonderland.”
However, on the matter of LSD, Slick seems to have mellowed a bit on that front. In her 2011 interview with the Wall Street Journal, and answering the question: “What was Jefferson Airplane’s obsession with LSD?,” Slick explained: “LSD was new then. It opened up our heads and gave us new insight into the fact that reality isn’t just one thing. That excited us. But it’s also terrifying if your head isn’t in the right place. So in hindsight, our advocating for LSD was kind of dangerous.”

Slick’s career with the Jefferson Airplane continued through the 1970s and 1980s, as the group changed its name twice – to Jefferson Starship and then Starship – and also went through several changes in personnel and musical style (Slick also left for a time between June 1978 and January 1981).

Still, during these years, the group had another 17 songs that charted in the Top 40, including two Top Ten hits – “Miracles” (#3, 1975) and “Count on Me” (#8, 1978) – and two No. 1 hits – “We Built This City” (November 1985), and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” (April 1987).

During these years, however, Grace Slick had her personal demons, with alcohol becoming a particular problem for her, leading to DUI arrests, blown concert dates, abusive behavior toward fans, and periods in alcohol rehab. In recent years, she has conquered her alcohol problem, remaining sober for nearly two decades.

Artist Grace Slick at work, circa 2006 or so.
Artist Grace Slick at work, circa 2006 or so.
After retiring from the rock scene in 1989, Grace Slick began something of a second career drawing and painting. Among her works are Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired paintings, a number of which feature white rabbits in various settings, with and without Alice. Some of her work appears in the pages of her 1998 autobiography, Somebody to Love? In recent years, she has joined forces with Area Arts of Santa Rosa, California to help market her work, and she had her first exhibition in 2000. Her work has appeared in shows all across the U.S. In 2006, the popularity of her “Alice in Wonderland” works led to a partnership with Dark Horse Comics, Inc. that resulted in the release of stationery and journals with the “Wonderland” motif. She has also done some album art as well as portraits of Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Pete Townsend, Sting, and other musicians. Samples of her work can be viewed at the Area Arts website.

Poster announcing art works of Grace Slick.
Poster announcing art works of Grace Slick.
Still, for Grace Slick the lead singer of the 1960s Jefferson Airplane, it is the two hit songs of that era which remain the prominent musical milestones. “Somebody to Love” is ranked No. 274 on Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” while “White Rabbit” is ranked No. 478 on that same list. Both songs have also been used in soundtracks for several Hollywood films and TV movies. “White Rabbit” has been used in more than two dozen TV and Hollywood films, including Vietnam War-era films Platoon (1986), and Coming Home (1978), the latter starring Jane Fonda, Jon Voight and Bruce Dern. It is also used in The Game (1997), starring Michael Douglas and in The Soprano’s TV series. “Somebody to Love” is heard in the 1998 film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and also in the prologue of the 1998 TV film, A Bright Shining Lie, about the Vietnam War.

See also at this website, “Joplin’s Shooting Star: 1966-1970,” a profile of Janis Joplin’s life and music career; “Joni’s Music: 1962-2000s,” a profile of singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell; and, “Legend of a Mind: Timothy Leary & LSD,” a story that uses a Moody Blues song as an introductory segue into a short history of Leary’s travels from Harvard to the San Francisco drug scene and the counterculture history of that era.

Additional stories profiling songs, musicians, and songwriters can be found at the “Annals of Music” page, and see also the “Politics & Culture” page for more stories in that category. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please help support the research and writing at this website with a donation. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 31 December 2015
Last Update: 30 January 2016
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “White Rabbit: Grace Slick: 1960s-1970s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, December 31, 2015.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Grace Slick and David Miner from The Great Society group in an early recording session, 1965–1966.
Grace Slick and David Miner from The Great Society group in an early recording session, 1965–1966.
Dick Clark interviewing Grace Slick after Jefferson Airplane performance, American Bandstand, June 5, 1967.
Dick Clark interviewing Grace Slick after Jefferson Airplane performance, American Bandstand, June 5, 1967.
Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick on cover of Rolling Stone, 12 November 1970, featured in interview.
Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick on cover of Rolling Stone, 12 November 1970, featured in interview.
Grace Slick and Janis Joplin, possibly 1969-1970.
Grace Slick and Janis Joplin, possibly 1969-1970.
Grace Slick & Janis Joplin clowning.
Grace Slick & Janis Joplin clowning.
Rolling Stone, January 1st, 1976 cover story: “Kantner, Slick & Balin of Jefferson Starship: The Miracle Rockers Who Turn Old Airplane Parts into Gold.”
Rolling Stone, January 1st, 1976 cover story: “Kantner, Slick & Balin of Jefferson Starship: The Miracle Rockers Who Turn Old Airplane Parts into Gold.”
Undated, unattributed photo of Grace Slick, possibly late 1960s-early 1970s.
Undated, unattributed photo of Grace Slick, possibly late 1960s-early 1970s.
Book cover for “ Grace Slick, The Biography,” by Barbara Rowes, Doubleday, 1980, 215 pp.
Book cover for “ Grace Slick, The Biography,” by Barbara Rowes, Doubleday, 1980, 215 pp.
March 1980: Grace Slick during interview with John Roszak for San Francisco PBS-TV “Evening Edition” at station KQED.  Click for outtakes video.
March 1980: Grace Slick during interview with John Roszak for San Francisco PBS-TV “Evening Edition” at station KQED. Click for outtakes video.

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