Third week in Chelsea – ever watched a band break up?

Even heard a band break up?

I don’t think you have.  You have watched a band break up, sure  The Beatles did that magnificently in ‘Let it Be’.  Maybe its been referred to, or coyly alluded to. However, its certainly never been done as perfectly and beautifully as Jorma Kaukonen did with Jefferson Airplane.  A quick and obligatory set up. Jefferson Airplane was a big San Francisco success that gave us ‘Somebody to Love’, and ‘White Rabbit’. It is NOT the band that brought you ‘We Built this City’.   That is Jefferson Starship. BIG difference. All the people are different, except Grace Slick. Plus, that was 15 years later after this.

The Airplane had a LOT of people in the band, five.  Frankly, it’s too many. See, like every band, they got big and famous and most of them became intolerable, drug addled, assholes.  Paul Kantner, I am looking squarely in your direction. Also, according to absolutely everyone who was there (Grace included), Grace became a raging alcoholic monster.  Also leading to the strife is ‘who’s band is it really?’ You have NO idea how big this one is. It is what broke up the Beatles, and Guns and Roses.

(recently deceased) Marty Balin started the band.  It was his band. I will always think of it as his band.  Grace wasn’t even in the band for years. Thing is, once Grace dropped it… it propelled them to greatness.  She became the focal point for the band, as all great charismatic front men do. Grace got to basically run the show.  But with whom? Again, it depends who Grace was banging in the band at the time. I am serious, and (again), Grace has admitted to this.

Jorma is their awesomely talented guitarist, one of like 6 in the band.  As the are getting big, Jorma is tired of all of it… the rock star-ness, and egos, and clashes, and drugs.  We are lucky that Jorma and Jack (bass player for the band) are still around. And… still touring… together… in their goddamn 70s!  Jorma wakes up on day on tour in Manhattan and just kinda snaps. He writes this ode, ‘Third Week in Chelsea’. I won’t bore you with all the lyrics, but they are here.

What I will bore you with is some key lines.  Again, usually songwriters cloak their feelings in obtuse metaphors.  Not Jorma, god bless ‘im!

So we go on moving trying to make this image real

That what they read in the Rolling Stone has really come to be

And trying to avoid a taste of that reality

All my friends keep telling me that it would be a shame

To break up such a grand success and tear apart a name

But all I know is what I feel whenever I’m not playin’

Emptiness ain’t where it’s at and neither’s feeling pain

Well now what is going to happen now is anybody’s guess

If I can’t spend my time with love I guess I need a rest

Time is getting late now and the sun is getting low

My body’s getting tired of carryin’ another’s load

Oh man, that smarts.  Look at that last time.  “My body’s getting tired of carryin’ another’s load’.  No subtext there.

This song reads to me like.  Like he quit, and the band asked him to stay… and he comes back with this letter.  Can’t argue these lyrics.

And that isn’t even my favorite part of the song.  Btw, the song is GREAT. That is the most important part.  It could be a hummingbird shit, the song stands on its own mightily.  My favorite part is that Grace sings the whole song with him. NOTE: this is him deciding to leave the band because Grace has become insufferable.  I also don’t doubt that the others ‘load he is carrying’ is another reference to Grace. Grace didn’t play any instruments, which means she didn’t write songs.  YET… she is getting all the fame and probably most of the money. What does Grace do when she sees the song? Fire him? Shoot him? Discredit him? No, she embraces it and sings along.  Just because of that, I have endless love and respect for Grace. Ok, wih all that… let’s have a listen, eh?

3 thoughts on “Third week in Chelsea – ever watched a band break up?

  1. Yeah, exactly why I was looking into this. I don’t think Jorma’s message could be any more clear, yet one of the reasons, maybe the main reason, for the situation actually sings along with him. How could this be? I wondered if I misunderstood their situation or if she was just like, WTF, after all we’ve done I’m not gonna flip him off, I’ll just sing along. That to me says more about the relationships in the band, or at least between those two, than all the “Rolling Stone” articles ever said. Did any other band members contribute to the recording?

    • Someone plays a mean harp on there, probably Jorma in overdubs? Also, tough to tell if Casady in there super tight on bass… or if its just perfectly recorded acoustic. I would imagine Jack Casady (bass) is on there, as they are very tight. They still play and tour together… 50 years later! And its not just odd that Grace sings along on a song about what a talentless ahole she is… but she absolutely KILLS it. her vocal is perfect and haunting.

  2. “Grace didn’t play any instruments, which means she didn’t write songs.” She played keyboards, but not much with JA as such. (She did do the keyboard part on “Panda” on their reunion album.) But that had nothing to do with her songwriting; in addition to writing one of JA’s big hits (“White Rabbit”), she also wrote “Rejoyce”, “Lather”, and other pieces released on JA records. (Without looking it up, I’d estimate that she wrote about as much of those records as Kaukonen did; Kantner and Balin were the major songwriters.)

    I really wonder how much this song is aimed at Slick rather than (a) general pressure, and (b) Kantner, who so muscled his way to the front of the band that he’s sometimes cited as co-founder. (See for instance their appearance in _Gimme Shelter_, where Kantner tells the crowd “You knocked out my lead singer!” (Not “our”, “my”.) Like you, I see it as Balin’s band — he collected a style and sound around a unique voice.) Whatever friction there was between Kaukonen and Slick specifically got put aside later; Kaukonen and Casady did a couple of songs on the reunion tour, then were joined by Slick for this one.

    ISTM that five isn’t too many for a band; the Stones have lasted half a century with no more personnel changes than JA had in their brief run. The fact that JA was six people (not five) from the start may have made things harder, but there was also the wide variety of backgrounds; the fact that they caught on so quickly, without having to put aside egos in order to keep together long enough to get a contract, may not have helped.

    PS: Wikipedia claims the harmonica part was done by Will Scarlett — which sounds like a fake name but has a website where he reports playing harmonica on the first two Hot Tuna albums. Seems at least as plausible as Jerry Garcia sitting in on the original of “Comin’ Back to Me”.

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